Dreams as an experience: An exploration of meaning-making
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Dreams are hard to pin down. They can be paradoxical: strikingly vivid, easily forgotten and hard to forget, apparently clear in meaning, and difficult to understand. This research study examines the lived experience of several dreams of one psychotherapy client. The study is concerned with the unique lens of the dreamer’s subjective perspective of the dreams. A case study framework structures this investigation which is informed by hermeneutic phenomenology. The challenge this research seeks to address is to explore and understand dreaming from the dreamer’s perspective, both the experience of dreaming and the meaning made of the experience. Psychoanalytic concepts inform my understanding as a psychotherapist and a researcher. However the exploration of dreams is not limited to this perspective. Other approaches such as Jungian dream theory, phenomenology and a cultural and spiritual perspective are referred to in this study. The dreamer’s interpretation of dream meaning was not restricted to one perspective, but incorporated a range of theoretical perspectives. The literature reveals that much research on the meaning of dreams has been explored from the perspective of the clinician, not the dreamer. Few studies have researched the dreamer’s subjective experience and own meaning-making process. It is this process of personal meaning-making and its relationship to the dream as a lived-experience which is the focus of this research study and its significance lies in its investigation of this perspective. The study discovers that the participant/dreamer in seeking to find meaning within his dreams searches for one ‘true’ meaning of a dream. It is partly an elusive search because the dreamer paradoxically finds that the meaning-making process does not end with the discovery of one meaning, but rather new and different meanings continue to arise, and enrich the dream. Exploration of the dream experience showed that time, space and identity had a fluidity that contributed to the richness of the dream. Such experiences were shown to be memorable and enduring, and contributed to the meaning made of a dream. Finally this study discovered that even if meaning was not able to be made of a dream, the experience of the dream was valued and continued to be felt long after the dream had occurred.