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Dreams of Another Are All About the Dreamer

January 1, 2006
by Roger Martinez, LADC, NCAC II
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I spoke with a coworker who has stated to me several times an interest in dream work. However, he has found it difficult to elicit clients' dreams during his sessions. After reading the March, May, and September 2005 columns inAddiction Professional, he stated he would like to do more with clients' dreams.

Roger martinez, ladc, ncac ii
Roger Martinez, LADC, NCAC II

As we spoke further, I gave him examples of different clients' dream experiences. I started with the first client who shared a dream with me in a therapeutic setting, back in 1992. This client and I were able to discuss the dream along with some ideas of what dream work is about, with an explanation that the dream does come to help the dreamer in attaining improved health, both physically and psychologically. It then becomes our duty to follow through on the needs that the dream has presented.

Both nightmares and repetitive dream sequences present lessons for the dreamer. In this client's dream, his son was in a dangerous situation, and he was able to help his son get out of trouble. Many times there are at least two ways, if not more, to work with a dream. The first is the practical, that which is obvious to our daily waking life. The second is to look at the metaphor; that is, what the dream is trying to get across. One can, of course, always delve further into any dream, as dreams have no relation to time as we know it. A dream in the present could easily affect someone throughout one's life.

Let's look first at the practical. In a dream I had a few years ago, I had left open my home's front door. As I came downstairs, many people were walking in and out of my home. Upon waking, I did find my front door unlocked. I realized the dream had caught that I had left the door unlocked.

I easily could have left the dream alone and closed it off as a lesson learned. I decided to take it one step further. I realized that at work I was being given too much to do; much of it was unrealistic because of time constraints. Because of that dream, I had realized that I was accepting more responsibility than I could handle, just to try to help others. The dream opened up the idea that I needed to shut my door to people; that is, to say no and do only what was realistic. That day at work, I said no for the first time, and no one was hurt or offended.

In my client's dream, the practical for him was to look at his son's actual trouble. Realizing that the trouble was already more than he could do anything about, I asked him to look at the trouble he may be in. I explained that most any dream he has is actually about him, rather than the symbol or representation in the dream. The symbol within the dream is there usually representing an aspect of ourselves.

For example, a child in a dream may represent a childlike aspect of our personality. A dog may represent something instinctual or related to loyalty; a cat also may represent something related to instinct but focused more on independence. An elderly person in a dream may represent wisdom or frailty, and the weather may represent our emotions.

For my client, the image of his son might have represented his own troubles in life, and the closing of the dream might have shown him that he can actually help himself out of his troubles. When he recognized this, he was able to see that he did have the potential to change his current situation, and then he was able to implement his strategy. From here he was able to make distinct changes that positively influenced his life.


I have been asked many times about nightmares' origins. Many people usually offer their ideas, such as eating too late, eating particular foods, drinking alcoholic beverages, dealing with stress, or sleeping in awkward positions. These can all influence a dream. The nightmare is caused by something not going well in the person, whether physical or emotional, spiritual, or work- or school-related.

Regarding food, some believe that if one eats much later than usual and the body has difficulty with digestion, the dream may express itself as a nightmare. This is not substantiated in my readings, although many people have expressed being told this by their mothers or grandmothers.

If anything is going wrong, or not just right in any aspect of one's life, the potential for a nightmare exists. In The Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Sourcebook, Glenn R. Schiraldi, PhD, writes, “Post-traumatic stress disorder results from exposure to an overwhelmingly stressful event or series of events, such as war, rape, or abuse. It is a normal response by normal people to an abnormal situation.” The stressor has overwhelmed normal coping responses. I would also include various accidents or situations that have caused injury both emotionally and physically.

Having worked with clients who have experienced trauma (including war veterans; rape, abuse, and incest victims; and accident victims), I have found similarities in repetition and in nightmare content. Nightmare researchers such as Alan Siegel, PhD; Barry Krakow, MD; Patricia Garfield, PhD; and others have recognized similar phenomena in their work. (Contact me for a more complete list of researchers and a list of authors and books focusing on nightmares and nightmare treatment.) Although each theorist and therapist varies in how he/she facilitates nightmare work, many similarities guide the process. I use a combination of what each of these authors prescribe.