Homeopathic treatment begins with a thorough investigation into all aspects of the patient’s life. During the initial interview the homeopath routinely enquires about dreams (especially childhood dreams, memorable past dreams, recurrent dreams, and nightmares), because dreams have proven to be helpful clinical indicators in many patients’ cases.
But dreams must be amongst the most contentious, mysterious, and thoroughly unobjective of phenomena! Why, then, are they nevertheless considered valuable in homeopathic diagnosis and treatment?
In this article I will describe the ways in which dreams may be incorporated into the homeopathic diagnosis. Their value lies in their ability to reveal the true state of the patient and to point the way to a confident selection of homeopathic remedy. In a followup article I will further explain how changes in sleep and dreaming patterns are sensitive indicators of the progress of healing once treatment has begun.
Dreams: Precious psychic gems or rubble of the mind?
One of the enduring mysteries of life is the nature of dreams. Scientists have a relatively poor understanding of the unique physiological states that occur during sleep and dreaming, let alone of the reasons for the bewildering array of dream content that we experience. In any event science does not yet possess a convincing theory that explains why we must, in the first place, sleep and experience dreaming states to function normally and stay alive (prolonged sleep deprivation of experimental animals leads to dire consequences).
The actual content of dreams is normally considered irrelevant or not amenable to the scientific mode of investigation. For example, one theory holds that dreams are simply the mind’s attempt at making sense of the electrical noise produced by brain metabolism: whereas in the waking state these signals find an outlet in miniature muscular contractions throughout the body, during the paralysis of sleep these signals are transformed into thoughts which bring about the dreaming experience.
But science apart and life apart: people of all cultures routinely interpret their dreams, finding patterns of meaning even when reasonably there are none to be found. Psychologists and occult practitioners of all kind investigate the dream world, hoping to offer insight and assistance to their clients through correct interpretation of their dreams.
Many spiritual traditions concur in their view that during sleep our soul leaves the body and locates itself in some other realm in which actions are not bound by physical laws. In the modern world dreams are regarded more conservatively, but not necessarily more accurately, as windows into the individual’s subconscious — a realm beyond the purview of science, governed (if at all) by the mysterious laws of spirit.
How do homeopaths make use of dreams?
The homeopathic approach to dreams is straightforward: on the one hand homeopaths fully accept the legitimacy of dream material (along with all of the subjective phenomena reported by patients), while on the other hand they strive to avoid dream interpretation.
Being that it is prone to error and speculation, dream interpretation is not considered a reliable foundation for homeopathic diagnosis, although it has its place within the healing dialogue between patient and homeopath. Instead, homeopaths employ dreams in these two ways: (i) as symptoms just like any other homeopathic symptom, and (ii) as pointers to the true state of the patient.
(i) Dreams are ordinary homeopathic symptoms
Dreams can be incorporated into the diagnosis simply as ordinary homeopathic symptoms alongside, because among the physical and psychological symptoms listed under the materia medica (clinical description) of each remedy are listed dream rubrics such as:
- Dreams - children
- Dreams - dogs
- Dreams - dancing
- Dreams - war
as well as dream qualities such as:
- Dreams - obscene
- Dreams - pleasant
- Dreams - vivid
Associated with each such category are remedies listed in the homeopathic repertory (index of symptoms). In a patient with a clear history of dreams the homeopath thus can narrow down the field of possibilities and concentrate his mind on a smaller set of potential remedies.
The use of dreams as reported phenomena just like any other mental and subjective symptoms is universally accepted among classical homeopaths.
(ii) Dreams point to the true state of the patient
The second use of dreams involves drawing out mental attributes from the raw dream reports. This is done under two assumptions: first, that dreams are meaningfully related to the person’s state and, second, that they are at least as good a representation of this state as are the non-dream reports.
Because people are frequently unaware of aspects of their psyche, fears or delusions (perceptions in mentally healthy people that are not reflective of reality) are often revealed only through dreams. For example, a patient who has frightful encounters with snakes in her dreams might merit the designation and corresponding rubric “Fear of snakes,” while a patient who is regularly dreams of being involved in warfare might merit the rubric “Delusion - he is a soldier.”
Dream translation has to be done both skillfully and conservatively lest it devolve into speculation. Not surprisingly, homeopaths differ in their opinion about the legitimacy of using dreams in this indirect manner. Those, like myself, who consider it legitimate to venture into the dream world find in dreams a most-reliable gateway to the psyche: when correctly handled, dreams offer a precise view of the hidden dynamics that motivate the patient’s life, frequently leading to a correspondingly precise diagnosis and prescription.
The key to not abusing this approach lies in integrating the inferences from the patient’s dream world with the rest of the patient’s description by verifying that the dream element is corroborated elsewhere in the clinical report.
Further uses of dreams
Dreams can further be exploited as starting points for drawing out psychological material that the patient is aware of yet does not wish or is unable to divulge directly.
From their dream reports patients can be led rather craftily to reveal aspects of their persona that they are either reluctant to discuss or which they incorrectly consider irrelevant for the homeopathic interview. When used by the homeopath with the pure intention of helping the patient, this approach creates no harm and enables a precise diagnosis even in an uncooperative patient.
Finally, dreams can reveal the psychic makeup of children who are old enough to retell their dreams but not yet intellectually capable of answering more abstract enquiries into their mental state.
Dreams are valuable because they bypass compensations
In the final analysis, the key reason for the diagnostic importance of dreams is that much of the conscious reporting of the patient is based on his or her compensated state. Compensation involves the funneling of thoughts and behavioural impulses that are inappropriate to the situation toward more productive or socially acceptable outcomes.
Such restraint and rechanelling of behaviour is a cardinal ingredient of any civilized society, but it makes the homeopath’s task of correct diagnosis more difficult. For example, a person with violent impulses might take up Tai Chi, cultivating the peaceful, meditative aspect of the art and speaking at length about values such as inner calm and forgiveness. If asked directly about violent tendencies (i.e., if the homeopath were to suspect this from the patient’s ‘feel’ or appearance) such a patient would answer in denial. Yet a reported violent dream might reveal what lies hidden underneath the peacful outward manner.