Collage of pictures of dream catchers from the Native American tradition and pictures representing dreams

Dreams and journaling – Part One & Two – for mindfulness, insight, and well-being

Dreams are a valued resource for getting unstuck, aware, inspired, insightful, and more organized and productive.

Welcome to the Mind Wise podcast and newsletter, presenting perspective and information about mental health, holistic health care, wellness, neuroscience, psychiatry, philosophy, and spirituality. I am your host, Ron Parks, M.P.H., M.D., writer, teacher, and consultant.

Today I begin a 2-part series exploring a readily available phenomenon that occurs in your slumber and sleep world—dreaming.

Part One – The Dream Catcher

Dream catchers are integral to Native American tradition, particularly from the Ojibwe tribe. They serve as protective symbols, filtering out negative dreams and allowing positive ones to pass through. The dream catcher traditionally consisted of a willow hoop adorned with feathers, arrowheads, and beads. When hung near the bed, it intercepts dreams as they flow through the night air. Good dreams effortlessly navigate through the outer holes, descending along the feathers without the sleeper realizing they are dreaming. Bad dreams become entangled and vanish with the dawn. Dream catchers symbolize strength, unity, and the power to capture positive dreams.1

Dreams are a valuable resource in managing life’s challenges.

“I was attending a university program and staying in a room in a dorm-like hotel. My course required crafting an original story with characters and a captivating plot to keep the reader’s attention. Some older, experienced writers in the program liked mentoring other writers, and if you were on their list, they would call at certain times of day regularly to check in on you and maybe give you some guidance. I had many competing responsibilities, and it was hard to prioritize doing more work with a mentor. I was juggling too many things. I thought that would be a good thing to do with these other writers but didn’t have the time to do it, so I felt a bit like I was making progress but maybe floundering around and not really on the target with a focus on the story writing and taking advantage of the learning program. As I was leaving the dorm, I ran into my smiling father, who seemed happy and amused at my frenetic activity in what I was doing. Though he didn’t speak, I felt he conveyed that I needed to do my best and not take life so seriously, as it all passes quickly, and one needs to be present as much as possible and involved in meaningful life needs and relationships.”

The above was a recent dream segment and shared as an example of one of my ways of recording and reflecting on dream experiences. Understanding, interpretations, and application of dream material are personal and unique to the dreamer. It is primarily helpful to the person doing the dream work and journaling themselves or with a therapist or guide. My arising morning reflections and journaling were feedback that maybe I was worried about my overload of too much-unfocused activities. The dream caught some of my concerns and worries about doing too much and exceeding my capacity to accomplish things. The reflection and journaling reminded me not to get overextended or compelled to do something in my mind that I might have felt needed to prove myself, feel important, or be relevant. My father’s appearance in the dream was a pleasant visit as he died many years ago, but he still comes up in my dreams. In his actual life, he was often overinvolved in all kinds of business activities to support himself and his family and had to endure many setbacks and tragedies in his 81 years of life. 

Did you ever wonder what a dream means, if it has any value, whether it predicts some outcome or portends some possible threat or danger? Dreams have fascinated people for centuries. There are luminous books and literature on the subject, some written by scientists trying to understand the phenomenon that is part of our sleep and recovery cycle. Philosophers, psychologists, psychiatrists, therapists, artists, and many other interested researchers and academics have tried to unravel the nature and meanings of dreams. Some early pioneers in mental health work have sought to figure out the brain phenomenon of dreaming through neuroscience and research. Others have focused on harnessing dream experiences to improve mental and emotional health and functioning.

Early pioneers in psychology and psychiatry focused on understanding what is in the mind’s hidden layers of memory or the unconscious that influences or interferes with daily functioning during our waking hours. Dream studies have examined the relation of dream material to forgotten past experiences or trauma hidden from awareness and waking memory. The understanding and analysis of dream occurrences have evolved as some dreams seem related to emotional turmoil and disrupt sleep and its restorative benefits. Dream research has new specialty fields, such as sleep medicine and chronobiology, with an interest in sleep architecture and the function of dreams. There are even international organizations devoted to dream studies and their understanding.

Dream phenomena can be of a great variety of compositions, stories, emotions, environments, and backdrop, with sound or graphic (picture) like scenes in color or not, people or monsters, or loving creatures, all very much influenced by incomplete residues of incomplete mental or emotional work from the proceeding days, that the active part of the brain, thought to be the left brain, is trying to complete or bring an undertaking to fulfillment. The residues in functional storage areas have stayed active until completion to put files away in memory for future service—at least felt to be so in the minds of some neuroscientists or dreamer researchers. A significant amount of arising dream material is undoubtedly influenced and colored by the accumulation of the individual’s past emotional and physical experiences and current concerns and worries.

Dreamwork is a valuable resource and aid in self-help and therapy work. It is a practical and always available tool that supports personal growth, productivity, and mental and emotional health. Learning to do dream work is generally easy if one has the interest, motivation, and discipline to practice when dream material is available. It is much like getting on a good nutrition, exercise, or self-improvement program, which requires learning and mastering the necessary skills and consistent practice and application. Increasing gratification and benefit comes with consistency and persistence in journaling and related learning activities. Mastery of dreamwork and journaling comes quickly for some and longer for others.

Sometimes, according to the needs of the individual, dream work and its application must be individualized and structured according to the person’s schedule and preferences. Suppose there has been a history of emotional or mood disturbance. In that case, there may be a need for a teacher, mental health practitioner, or therapist experienced in dream work and its application. If one’s dream work has a guide or therapist, the process and assistance are according to the training, orientation, and experience of the person assisting with the therapy. An example would be someone trained in Jungian or psychodynamic, psychoanalytic psychotherapy, or transpersonal, existential psychotherapist might have different methods or orientations in doing dream work. Getting as much information as possible and talking to several prospective therapists may be necessary to see what fits your needs best.

Dream journaling can be simple without much fuss or educated know-how.

Many don’t have a complex history of significant trauma or emotional and mental health issues; they may simply want to learn some self-help ways and practices you can learn and practice on your own for the positive benefits there are for you. If desired, Dreamwork and its framework can be an easily obtainable resource for growth, wisdom, and well-being.

Most take dreaming and sleeping for granted. Dreams are often forgotten or thought of as silly concoctions fabricated during sleep. If a scary or threatening dream occurs, as the notorious nightmare, it feels like a sleep nuisance and sometimes frightening. When associated with a flashback, recall, or re-experiencing of past trauma, as in Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), it can terrify and interfere with restorative sleep and functioning the next day. If persistent, it could require mental health and medical intervention.

Continue reading Part Two below with tips and references.

Dr. Parks offers sessions for help in gaining clarity and perspective. If interested, click here.

1 Dream Catcher History & LegendMeaning of the DreamcatcherThe Truth About Dreamcatchers

Dreams and journaling – Part Two – for mindfulness, insight, and well-being

Dreams are a valued resource for getting unstuck, aware, inspired, insightful, and more organized and productive.

Collage of pictures of dream catchers from the Native American tradition and pictures representing dreams
Dream catcher & dream work – by RRP design with Canva & stock photos – by RRP design with Canva & stock photos

Dream of Dream Work

“I was getting off an elevator in a building, and another younger gentleman, who seemed focused on his work and position, recognized me. He asked about the dream journaling article I discussed at a party we all had attended. He seemed interested in the topic, but I wasn’t sure from his playful tone if he was interested in some practical information or if he wanted to tell me something about personal concerns or a dream he had had.”

Reflection and journaling on the above dream segment reminded me that I had been approached earlier at a party, where I was discussing my dream journaling article. The interested person shared a dream with me and asked what I thought it meant. I replied kiddingly that he’d have to read my article. But then I said that the dream is for the individual to work with because he knows best how to make sense of it. I realized my dream segment reminded me that instead of completing my current dream article and publishing it, I wasn’t sure where I was going with it. My floundering around had kept me adding things and making the articles too long. Part of our brain works, always trying to complete undone awake thoughts or emotions in our dream stories or images. The attempts, sometimes fulfilled, are to bring these residues of incomplete segments of ideas and feelings towards satisfactory closure and to be stored away in less active memory storage areas. Any material from remembered dreams or pieces is fertile ground for getting insight, perspective, and sometimes direction for application in waking hours.

My interest in dreamwork and journaling started when I began my psychiatry residency and my mentoring by faculty in my training programs that had in-depth training and experience in Psychoanalytic and psychodynamic psychotherapy work and Jungian depth, analytical psychology with its exploration of the unconscious and transpersonal aspects of human experience with the investigation of dreams, complexes, and archetypes. I used to facilitate a dream group with 8-10 people meeting weekly in the earlier years of my career, further developing my interest and appreciation of dream work. I was also fortunate to have done some Jungian analysis with talented people who utilized dreamwork as part of their psychotherapeutic process.

Most importantly, much of what I learned about dreamwork came from periods when I consistently did dream journaling and personal reflection about the meaning and relevance of dreams to my daily life. The seeking and journey toward wisdom and knowledge is a valued goal for many, as it has been for philosophers, teachers, and spiritual seekers. Dreamwork can be an asset in seeking and exploring a deeper meaning and understanding of yourself and others.

Dialogue as a Key to Finding Perspective and Wisdom

The usual internal mental dialogue and reasoning during wakeful hours help us find perspective and guidance in making choices as often relate to life activities and relationships. External exchanges in a social context with others, including significant relationships, are vital in getting us out of the stuck or locked-in perspectives of our closed-in internal reasonings, beliefs, and rigid ideas. Likewise, dreamwork allows you to develop a self-dialogue between your waking mind and remembered dream material on which you can reflect for insight and perspective on your life and activities. Dream journaling and dreamwork are avenues for use alone by yourself, with a teacher of the art of dreamwork or a trained psychotherapist knowledgeable in doing dreamwork. Dreamwork is a great help to gain perspective, new ideas for your work, insight into your relationships, and deep-help beliefs about yourself.

For some, getting out of locked perspectives and rigid thinking is possible with self-work and self-learned skills. Most can learn reflective journaling, mindfulness, and insight work can be learned and done on one’s own. However, a relationship with a skilled psychotherapist can be of great value when one is significantly stuck or caught in mental and emotional issues or past trauma experiences. The therapist is often a trained facilitator in a safe and non-threatening space where the interchanges and discussion can help transition one out of the self-imposed isolation of their thinking and cognitive processing to gain insight and perspective from a supportive and caring other.

The Art of Dream Journaling and Dreamwork

You can harness dreams to witness the informative interaction of yourself or a figure with whom you identify in the dream events that are occurring analogous to what is happening in your awake life or similarity to events or dramas of the day: anything from a relationship with a significant other, a boss, or a person on the street, or in a movie seen on T.V. Dream journaling becomes a revealing inner dialogue with yourself which can bring insight and precious perspective on life issues which can enhance growth and creativity.

Reflection on Dreamwork, Dream Interpretation, and Benefits 

The dream’s story, characters, or images, when reflected on after awakening, can often bring up the recall of related recent events or linked memories from the past. These can help in understanding and gaining valuable perspective on present life experiences. When helpful, dreams may bring benefits for better clarity, direction, and making wiser, thought-out choices. The anxiety in a dream story and its relation to memories or significant figures in my life have often informed me to take a wiser course of action or proceed with something with more caution and further reflection.

Dreamwork1 is a helpful tool for enhancing awareness and recognizing anxiety, conflict, or indecision that may need attention. It offers a reflective time to tap into a resource that can benefit your life’s journey and emotional and mental health—it is like your own handy personal tool, monitoring and feedback for what you might not be aware of or what you may need to see but are avoiding. Healers and therapists, at least in the past, were often trained to study and reflect on their dreams and inner emotional life to be more available and steadier with their own emotional and mental functioning, to be as present as possible for helping another without getting their unworked out inner difficulties entangled with the person for whom they were trying to be helpful.

Interpretation of dreams is an endeavor best accomplished by you, as the dreamer, who can best make associations with the variety and complexities of one’s unique life experiences and memories. One can self-learn and improve skills with time, self-study, and practice. Others may need or benefit from a teacher or therapist who can teach them about dreamwork until they are confident and motivated to apply it independently. It can become a path for getting closer to understanding oneself, potentialities, and the realities of one’s life. It can be a journey towards self-actualization, as Carl Jung, the renowned writer and psychiatrist, discussed in some of his classic writings.2

For dream journaling,3 any available recording means can be used. It has traditionally been in a dedicated writing pad or notebook where one could write and draw or sketch. A mobile phone app can handily record into a journal like a Word document by quick and easy dictation. Whatever works for you is fine. Recording and journaling allow one to go back, further reflect, and add other associations and thoughts that arise. Some, like me, are slower learners at times and need the benefits of seeing a similar story, theme, symbol, or message to understand what is being conveyed in a dream. For example, suppose someone has a current situation that is very perplexing, stressful, or threatening. In that case, dream journaling might give the impetus to do something about it, get help, change course in one’s awake life and activities, or attend to something that needs your attention.

I remember in my early days of dream journalling to have dreams about some malfunction in my car, and in ignoring, not attending to the care of my car, I soon woke to some problem with my car as a flat tire. Of course, there have been prominent warnings that would point to significant areas, such as my work, health, and relationships, that needed attention. A myriad of books and courses are available on sleep and dreaming. There are many skills, however, from which one can learn and benefit in the quest for enhanced sleep and dreaming.

The anxious or frightened mind is often super-alert, focused, or hypervigilant, scanning the environment for a threat. It is the reason the sleep quality can be poor. If dreams arise, they can be nightmarish and wake one up when the luxury of deep sleep is most wanted. Disruptive dreams interfere with our need for restorative sleep to recharge the body and mind. Panic attacks can occur when trauma memories arise, and the body-mind gets hyper-aroused and in a preparatory state. A panic attack’s intense physiologic arousal prepares the body for combat or attack, to run or fight. Episodes can be brief but sometimes more prolonged, with a pounding heart, rapid pulse, sweating, racing thoughts, and fearful dread of impending loss of control, death, or physical harm.4,5

You may need support or help if these occurrences repeatedly happen, which could signal developing or impending medical, emotional, or mental health difficulties. It may be the time to seek help or assistance from a trusted other or health care professional. Intense episodes like those described can also mean that the body and mind seek healing, restoration, or emergence to a higher order of wellness and well-being, as in the Spiritual Emergence-oriented transpersonal psychology approach.6


Sleep is the gateway to dreams and is essential for health maintenance and recovery from illness or for the emergence of a higher level of emotion, mental, physical, and spiritual health and well-being. Learn the skill to enhance or get consistent restorative sleep. Always be the caretaker of the body-mind-spirit and sleep, and appreciate the value of dreams and journaling as a self-help and care tool.7

If you have disruptive, disturbed sleep, don’t feel restored the next day, or have excessive daytime sleepiness. There are often correctable, underlying causes, and resources are always available, and you are encouraged to seek them out.

Likewise, suppose your sleep and waking life are disturbed by severe anxiety, dreams, nightmares, depression, mood swings, panic attacks, residual upset after severe loss or trauma, or a major disruptive life event. In that case, you may benefit from getting help from a trusted resource, your primary healthcare person, a sleep specialist, or a mental health provider.

Dreamwork can be an invaluable tool that you can use to support yourself in your daily life activities. It can provide a better understanding to help resolve inner turmoil, conflicts, and indecision. It is also a path towards greater understanding and awareness about yourself and others. It can be a tool to support your creativity and benefit you in your life management and relationships. Your interest, further study, and skill-building in dreamwork can be enriching and valuable.8

Dr. Parks offers sessions for help in gaining clarity and perspective. If interested, click here.

I appreciate your interest. Please share with others. Subscribe to my Substack newsletter and podcast at www.inmindwise.comAll content in this podcast is created and published for educational purposes only, is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, and should not be relied on for medical decisions. Always seek your healthcare provider’s guidance regarding medical or mental health conditions. Thank you.

1. Dreamwork for Insight, Creativity, and Growth:

2. Memories, Dreams, Reflections Kindle Edition by Carl Gustav Jung 

3. Parks on journal keeping: Journal Keeping for Health and ProductivityPurpose, Types, Benefits, and Tips,

4. Dr. Parks on avoiding anxiety and trauma related conditions: Avoiding Anxiety and Trauma-Related Conditions;

5. NYT’s article: The Anatomy of a Panic Attack

6. Spiritual Emergence:

7. Sleep Scientist Tip. Article from the NYTimes:

8. Dream, Dream Work and Journaling, references, and resources: 

Dreams, dreamwork, holistic therapies, holistic treatment, integrative approaches, Integrative Psychiatry, Journaling


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