New Studies Shed Light on Dreams' Meanings

ByABC News
September 9, 2003, 2:09 PM

Sept. 11 -- It's the first week of school, and there you are, a college freshman, standing in the middle of a campus crowd, buck naked. No one around you seems to be paying any attention to you, but you, of course, are horrified.

Sound familiar?

It should. Most of us have had that dream at one time or another in our lives, most likely when we were thrust into a new situation where we weren't quite sure what we were expected to do, or how we should behave.

"It's the typical first-year college student dream," says Veronica Tonay, a clinical psychologist and lecturer at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Tonay has spent years studying other people's dreams, and she takes them very seriously. Like many others in her field, she believes dreams play a crucial role in helping us handle the many challenges of surviving and coping in a world filled with complexity.

That's fitting because our dreams are also extremely complex, sometimes revealing the fears and phobias that govern so much of our activities, and rarely as sinister as they seem on the surface.

Message to Self

Just because you dreamed of being naked in front of all of your friends doesn't necessarily mean you are a closet exhibitionist and a sexual deviant. But of course you can't be sure, unless you truly understand your dream, which in turn should tell you a little about who you really are.

"Dreams are extremely useful," Tonay says. "They're messages from yourself, really."

Tonay is so hooked on dreams that she has written several books, including the recently published Every Dream Interpreted, to help people analyze their own dreams instead of sending off a few bucks to some Internet sharpie who may, or may not, have a clue as to what dreams really mean.

Ever since Sigmund Freud first postulated that our dreams reflect what we do while we're awake, and indeed even allow us to sleep because we can deal with some problems in our dreams instead of leaping out of bed to attack them head on, experts in psychoanalysis and the neuro-sciences have been trying to figure out why we dream and whether our dreams are significant.