The Study of Dreams from Freud to Jung
by Elise Wardle MA, MBACP


The study of dream interpretation has been a subject debated throughout history and continues to this day to hold a fascination not only for those involved in the world of psychology, medicine, religion and philosophy, but also to others who merely wish to gain a greater insight into their own psyche through the study of their dreams. As the pioneer of dream-work within a psychoanalytic framework, Freud’s theories were revolutionary and his original ideas are still relevant today. Many have followed Freud and expanded on his pioneering work, making further contributions to the theories of dream analysis, the most notable being Carl Jung. Hence this work commences with an overview of Freud’s theories prior to his association and collaboration with Jung, whom he viewed as his successor. It continues to explore the relationship and differences between Freud and Jung, leading to the break in their association, followed by an exploration of Jungian theory in relation to dreams. An overview of some post-Jungian concepts precedes a brief conclusion to this article.

Freud as the pioneer of dream interpretation

Freud developed his pioneering work with dreams over a period of years, renowned for his statement that the interpretation of dreams is ‘the royal road to knowledge of the unconscious activities of the mind’.1  Following Freud’s father’s death in 1896, his self-analysis led to increased concern with dream-interpretation and the way in which he treated his patients.2  Freud worked on the general assumption that dreams are not a matter of chance but associated with conscious thoughts and problems. Appearing to be split off areas of the conscious mind, and based upon the conclusion of eminent neurologists, it was believed that neurotic symptoms are related to some conscious experience.3

Thus, from Freud’s point of view, dreams look back retrospectively and contain some indication of the causes of neuroses and complexes, the complex being defined as a group of interconnected ideas, both conscious and unconscious, which have a dynamic effect on our behaviour.4 We may further consider that as dreams are such a common phenomena, that interpretation may be one of the most useful methods by which to work with the resistance of neurotic patients.5

Freud’s ‘The Interpretation of Dreams”, (1900), is one of the most important works of the 20th century on dream analysis and formed the basis from which others followed with further psychoanalytic theories. His hypotheses are based on the understanding that dreams are fulfillment of disguised or repressed wishes that touch upon the desires of infancy.6 It is argued that the problematic of Freud’s proposition lies in Freud’s adherence to the view that all dreams are, in some way, fulfillment of wishes, and ultimately, that this results from repressed or frustrated sexual desires occasionally triggering nightmares from surrounding anxieties.7

According to Freud’s original theories, dreams have both a manifest content (as the dream is experienced, reported or recalled) and a latent or hidden content which may only be revealed by interpretation. Freud believed that dreams have an original text, which encounters censorship on publication and needs to be redrafted in a way that the censor cannot understand. Thus the original draft is the latent content, the redrafting is the dream-work, and the final published draft is the manifest content.9  Freud’s wish fulfilment theory defines the latent content as a wish fulfilled in hallucinatory form in the dream10, on which he comments, ‘Dreams are things which get rid of (psychical) stimuli disturbing sleep, by the method of hallucinatory satisfaction.’11  Illustrating this in a simple dream of undisguised wish fulfilment, Freud discusses a dream of his daughter, Anna, who at nineteen months, after a day without food following a stomach upset, dreamed of a menu with her own name on it:
‘Anna F., stwawbewwies, wild stwawbewwies, omblet, pudden!’
Anna’s stomach upset had been traced back to the fruit which appeared twice in the dream, a reaction to a day of starvation.12

Translation into the manifest content is necessitated by both the physiological conditions of sleep, determining that dreaming is a visual process, and that the wish is unacceptable to the waking ego and needs to be disguised in order to pass the censor. One may view nightmares and anxiety dreams representing failures in the dream-work where traumatic dreams, in which the dream merely repeats the traumatic experience, are exceptions to the theory’.13 Freud proposed that dreams may be distorted and that in order to make an interpretation, a contrast must be made between the manifest and latent content of the dream, the only necessity being to take notice of his theory which is not based on consideration of the manifest but as reference to thoughts shown by interpretation.14

Freud initially saw the way to the repressed contents that the individual does not want to accept by use of the patient’s free association with his dream images. It may be considered that free association is the method by which a voice must be given to all thoughts without exception.15  When encouraged to continue talking, whilst lying on a consulting couch, with Freud sitting, unobserved behind his patient, the thoughts which emerged would eventually reveal the unconscious basis to his neurosis. In order to illustrate Freud’s way of working, in the case of the dream of a young woman suffering from agoraphobia resulting from a fear of seduction, his patient dreamed that she walked down a street in summer wearing a straw hat of a peculiar shape with the middle-piece bent upwards and side pieces hanging downwards so that one side was lower than the other. Feeling cheerful and confident, she passed a group of young officers thinking that none of them could do her any harm.16

Freud interprets to his patient, the hat as being symbolic of the male genital organ, with the middle-piece sticking up and the side-pieces hanging down. In his comments on his interpretation, Freud writes,”Unter die Haube kommen” [“to find a husband” literally “to come under the cap”)]’.17  Freud intentionally did not comment on the side-pieces hanging down unevenly, saying, ‘though it is precisely details of this kind that point to an interpretation’18. Freud informed his patient that her husband had such fine genitals there was no need to be afraid of the officers as, owing to her fears, she did not go out unaccompanied. Freud’s patient then withdrew her description of the hat and denied having said anything about the side-pieces but Freud was too certain of what he had heard. After a pause, she enquired whether all men had testes where one hung down lower than the other as in the case of her husband, thus confirming and accepting Freud’s interpretation.19

As illustrated above, in discussing the symbolism of dreams, Freud indicates the manifest content hides the latent sexual content that would not be manifest in such a way that the dream would seem acceptable to the ‘controlling’ or ‘censoring’ Superego. Freud suggests that sexual ideas may not be represented and are described as symbols, proposing that as the dreamer is unaware of the symbolic meaning, there is a difficulty in making a connection between the symbol and what it represents, although stresses the fact that the interpretation of symbols is important for the technique of dream interpretation.20 Freud acknowledges a return to a technique used by the ancients, where dream interpretation was identical with interpretation by means of symbols.’21 For Freud symbols inform us that parents may be represented by Emperor and Empress or King and Queen; rooms represent women and openings of the body and that the majority of symbols serve to represent people and erotic activities with male genitals being representative of weapons, sticks, tree trunks and the like whilst female genitalia may be shown as cupboards, boxes, carriages or ovens.22

Freud denied any existence of a transcendent function in dreams maintaining that there are two complementary theses regarding the nature of dream-work in that the dream is absolutely not creative and restricted to the transformation of the material. In addition it is the dream-work… and not the latent content, which constitutes the essence of the dream, warning analysts against excessive respect for a ‘mysterious unconscious’.23 It was on the basis of these hypotheses that eventually after their years of collaboration, Jung would cease his association with Freud to pursue his own theories of analytical psychology.

Jung as Freud’s disciple

In December 1900, at the age of twenty-five, Jung commenced his psychiatric career at the Burghölzli Lunatic Asylum in Zurich and had read Freud’s The Interpretation of Dreams. Jung did not grasp Freud’s theories until he studied it further in 1903 when he discovered how closely it linked in with his own ideas and the concept of repression. In his study of Freud’s work, Jung found that the concepts illuminated mysteries he faced working with psychiatric patients in that repression was a factor in psychosis, as in neurosis. In addition, delusions could be also be analysed in the same way as dreams.24

Jung could not agree, however, on the content of the repression. Whereas Freud considered the cause to be sexual trauma, for Jung, sexuality played a less important part.25  Jung believed that individual development could not merely be studied by any one general principle i.e. sexuality and the concept of wholeness was consistent with individuation (discussed later) which he saw as the goal and end of psychic life.26

After a period of correspondence between Freud and Jung, the two met for the first time in 1907, their first conversation lasting for a period of thirteen hours. Freud immediately saw Jung as his scientific “son and heir”27 and felt he had found his successor. Jung had experienced his superior, Eugen Bleuler, at the asylum, as a father figure but as their relationship had deteriorated, one may postulate that he was seeking a different kind of father figure and being unable to confide in Bleuler, gravitated towards Freud.28  They shared a deep friendship from the outset which lasted a number of years and although Jung’s doubts regarding Freud’s view on sexuality were in place from the outset, they worked closely together between 1907 and 1912, Jung working in a similar way until he later varied the way in which he practiced. Jung, though impressed by Freud’s sexual theory, remained doubtful and questioned whether Freud’s sexual theory actually stemmed from Freud’s own subjective experiences.29

Jung doubted the importance Freud attached to dreams as the starting point for a process of “free association” and that a patient’s complexes, may be discovered in a variety of ways. According to Jung, “complexes” was the term used by psychologists to describe ‘repressed emotional themes that can cause psychological disturbances…..or symptoms of a neurosis.’30  Dreams, therefore, may have a far more important role, considering that more attention could be paid to the form and content, rather than allowing the discovery of complexes which could be traced by other means. The development of Jung’s analytical psychology focused his concentration on associations to the dream’s manifest content, in the belief that the unconscious was attempting to communicate something specific. In addition, that which the unconscious was attempting to say was not necessarily from any conscious split-off problem or repressed experience as Freud had believed. For Jung, mediation between the unconscious and the conscious was a process of fruition from the understanding of both. Although Jung did not deny that in the use of “free association”, complexes may be discovered which caused neuroses, he believed far more may be discovered about the psychic life-process of an individual’s whole personality and that the symbolic images contained in his dreams had, Jung said, ‘a more significant function of their own’.31

Jung defined the dream as ‘a spontaneous self-portrayal, in symbolic form, of the actual situation in the unconscious’,32 seeing the relation of the dream to consciousness as being compensatory. We may consider that in contrast to Freud, whom Jung felt looked at dreams only from a causal standpoint, for Jung dreams are psychic products which may be seen from either a causal or purposeful point of view. In simple terms, we may take it that Freud worked in a reductive way analysing dreams as ‘in the moment’, whereas Jung’s view maintained an interest in where his patient’s life was leading him, rather than a supposed root cause of symptoms.33

Jung as dissenter

In 1909 Jung was invited with Freud to lecture at Clark University in the United States. It was during the voyage that in attempting an interpretation of one of Freud’s dreams about his wife and sister-in-law, when asked what he associated with the dream 34, according to Jung ‘Freud’s response to these words was a curious look — a look of the utmost suspicion. Then he said, “But I cannot risk my authority!” At that moment he lost it altogether.

“That sentence burned itself into my memory; and in it the end of our relationship was already foreshadowed.”35

During the same voyage, Jung and Freud seemed to contrast over the meaning of a significant dream of Jung’s, from which Jung’s concept of the Collective Unconscious developed. If Freud had followed Jung’s method of exploration, Jung said, ‘he would have heard a far-reaching story. But I am afraid he would have dismissed it as a mere effort to escape from a problem that was really his own.’ In Jung’s dream, he was on the first floor of his home in a sitting room furnished in the style of the 18th century. Going downstairs he found the ground floor to be rather dark furnished in the style of the 16th century.

Venturing further down to the cellar, a door opened onto stone steps leading to a large vaulted room consisting of stone slabs and ancient walls of Roman origin. Further steps led to a cave or prehistoric tomb containing two skulls, bones and broken pottery.

Jung relates the dream to a summary of his life and the development of his mind, the 200 year old house in which he grew up and his study of the great philosophers, following his living with the ‘still medieval concepts’ of his parents.36 Jung describes the dream as the house representing an image of the psyche, the deeper he went, the more alien the scene, the primitive man within himself was discovered, an image which cannot be illuminated by consciousness.37 Freud’s interpretation was that secret death-wishes were contained within the dream which prompted Jung’s feeling of  ‘violent resistance to any such interpretation.’38

The dream marked a turning point in the relationship between Freud and Jung, intensifying Jung’s interest in archaeology, mythology and ancient religion which became the starting point for his book, The Psychology of the Unconscious, later published as Symbols of Transformation. Jung knew, in publishing the book in 1912, that it would cause the final break with Freud and his departure from the psychoanalytic movement.

Its content rejected the Freudian view of libido as sexual and argued that it is a non- specific psychic energy, with sexuality being only one form in which it may be channelled.

Jung also argued that Freud’s theory on the Oedipus complex was, in fact, not necessarily sexual, regarding any desires a son or daughter may have for a parent, which are, ‘not as a search for a physical goal but as a means to spiritual development.’39

A conversation took place between Freud and Jung in 1910 in Vienna where Jung recalled how Freud had said to him; ‘Promise me never to abandon the sexual theory’, continuing, ‘…we must make a dogma of it, an unshakable bulwark.’ As Jung questioned him, Freud responded, ‘A bulwark against the black tide of mud…..of occultism.’40  Jung’s divergence from Freud’s views on religion, spirituality and philosophy, at this point, prompted his knowledge that he would never be able to accept Freud’s irreligiosity, believing that Freud had ‘constructed a dogma; or rather, in place of a jealous God whom he had lost, he had substituted another compelling image, that of sexuality.’41 Jung questioned whether Freud’s lack of vision may have been altered if he, like Jung, had experienced some kind of inner experience.42 From the earliest dream Jung remembered at between three and four years old, where ‘I was initiated into the secrets of the earth…..into the realm of darkness’, the unconscious beginning of his intellectual life43 had prompted his life-long search for truth.

Jung — as pioneer of analytical psychology

The investigation of the structure and function of the unconscious began in the 1890’s, pioneered by Freud44 whose original thesis was later redefined by Jung. Freud believed there were three levels of consciousness including the conscious, of which we are aware, the preconscious, retaining thoughts which are retrievable and the unconscious, which is generally out of our awareness. Between 1894 and 1899, Freud’s own self analysis during a period of suffering neurotic symptoms, led to the elaboration of the essential features of psychoanalytic theory. These included the concepts of infantile sexuality, development of the libido, Oedipus and castration complexes and dream theory. Later development in life was influenced by early fantasies, symptoms being understood by realisations of repressed sexual wishes.45 Freud defined the structure of the psyche as a dynamic system containing the Id, the Ego and the Superego, The Id forms our basic, instinctual drives, energies and unconscious; the Ego is the conscious part of personality containing defences, repressed and denied material; the Superego acts as the ‘controlling watchman’, holding internalised parental and cultural prohibitions.

In contrast to Freud, Jung’s model of the psyche ‘is of a dynamic self-regulating system with its own energy called libido’46 containing both a personal unconscious and a collective unconscious, the Ego or the ‘I’ or ‘me’ being the focal point of consciousness.47  As bearer of personality, it mediates between subjective and objective experience, arising out of the Self during early development. Considered as subordinate, the Ego can also express the Self.48  Jung’s model of the Self is the regulating centre of the entire psyche as a whole. The Self, as an archetypal basis of the ego may appear in the form of a mandala in a dream or vision, often a circle with a clear outline and may contain a square with an obvious centre. As the ‘Self’ may be referred to as the ‘central archetype or order’ (discussed below), it may take the form of a symbol of higher value.49  The collective unconscious contains within it a history of the human species, psychological DNA, in other words, the history of humanity from its inception.

For Jung, the personal unconscious is made up of complexes, a group of ideas connected by a shared emotional charge having a dynamic effect on conscious behaviour. Freud’s conception of complexes was that they were involved with illness, whereas Jung’s view was that they were an essential part of a healthy mind. Contained within the collective unconscious are ‘components’ Jung termed ‘archetypes’50 or archetypal images. An archetype may be defined as a primordial image coming from phylogenetic memory with a functioning relationship existing between complexes and archetypes; complexes being understood as ‘personifications’ of archetypes and a means whereby archetypes manifest themselves in the personal psyche.’51  Jung describes the archetype as ‘essentially an unconscious content that is altered by becoming conscious and by being perceived, and it takes its colour from the individual consciousness’52

The anima, a dream figure of the opposite sex in a male, and the animus, in the female, represent archetypal figures symbolic of mother, father, Queen, King, religious figure, leader, wise man, trickster (as an archetype in the Shadow — see below), and so on.

From this we may deduce that Jung’s theory on symbolic representation in dreams was highly in contrast to Freud’s view. Jung believed that Freud did not work with symbols but signs which refer to the known, whereas symbols point the way ahead.53 The image of a father or mother, or King and Queen, in a dream may represent a patient’s real father, but may also have a spiritual significance related to the Divine Father, or Divine Mother, Goddess or Great Mother.

Another aspect or component of the psyche is that which Jung termed ‘The Shadow,” containing the basic instincts which may be compared with Freud’s idea of the Id, and is regarded as part of the psyche containing the darker aspects of the personality. Jung’s perspective becomes evident when one looks at his description of the shadow which for Freud are in reality repressed contents.54  The Shadow often appears in an image of the same sex and plays a leading role in a dream.55  Jung, in describing his own dream recalls, ‘I was with an unknown brown-skinned man, a savage…… I heard Siegfried’s horn and knew we had to kill him…. we shot at him, and he plunged down, dead.’ In Jung’s understanding of the dream, ‘The small, brown-skinned savage who accompanied me and had actually taken the initiative in the killing was an embodiment of the primitive shadow.’56

The image of the person we present to the outside world was termed by Jung as ‘the Persona’; in other words, the masks we wear in the world, a system of adaptation, which is the form the personality takes in its social surroundings. Until challenged, it is easy to ignore just how much it has been identified with a role or an image.57

If one is to make a comparison between Freud’s psychoanalytic interpretation of a dream and the way in which it may be examined by Jung, an example is illustrated by John Sanford, who writes about a client’s relationship with her husband. Sanford’s client has a need to fulfill her own potential, or in Jungian terms, to ‘individuate’ (see below) and is held back by the demands of her spouse. The dreamer, filled with hate, stands in a room facing a door when a man enters whom she knows but not in waking life. She shoots him as he enters and reaches out to her; she fires five more shots and keeps pulling the trigger although he is dead she stands staring, hatred turning to exultation.58

In the dream she confronts something that she hates and destroys. Freud may interpret that the dream expressed hatred of her husband although not identified as such, perhaps because this thought would be objectionable to her Superego. The manifest content indicates an unknown man, but the latent meaning would reveal the man to be her husband.

A Jungian would argue that a dream conceals nothing, it is a product of nature and spirit and we must pay attention to exactly what the dream says. It was a man unknown to her when awake, not her husband, but representing something in herself of which she is consciously unaware. Unconscious feelings of hatred towards her husband would have portrayed him as the man in the dream. The fact that he is unknown to her may pose the question as to whether this man is her own animus expressed negatively.59

In Jungian terms, individuation may be defined as becoming who we truly are ‘warts and all’, total self-acceptance and integration of all the different aspects towards wholeness, the key concept of Jung’s theories. In other words, Jung’s work focused on an individual’s self-realisation, a spiritualistic and holistic approach to psychotherapy and the healing of the patient. In Jung’s own words, ‘It (individuation) is as much one’s self, and all other selves, as the ego. Individuation does not shut one out from the world, but gathers the world to one’s self.’60  Freud stated early in his career, ‘No doubt fate would find it easier than I do to relieve you of your illness. But you will be able to convince yourself that much will be gained if we succeed in transforming your hysterical misery into common unhappiness.’61 Freud’s statement may indicate the absence of a more far-reaching vision towards his patients’ abilities to achieve wholeness. One may say that where Freud worked with those in the first half of life, Jung’s views on individuation led him to work more with those approaching the second half of life after the formation of a strong ego. A ‘mid-life crisis’ may trigger a need to relate to ‘the archetypal forces that lie behind both the collective culture and the personal psyche’.62

Although Jung, as a scientist, was criticized by some for his beliefs, when exploring the dream images of his patients fully, found references which were clearly metaphysical, often having a ‘numinous’ content relating to higher consciousness, or the ‘Divine’. In aiding the healing process by leading his patient to ‘listen’ to the messages the unconscious was attempting to convey, a patient may be led to his own sense of ‘Self’ in relation not only to his own individuality but also his connection to and part of a greater universal consciousness. Jung did not so much ‘interpret’ his patient’s dreams, but rather by allowing the patient to follow his own associations to the dream images, found that an individual possessed his own ability to ‘go back into a dream’ to find out its meaning.

Unlike Freud, who was not seen by his patient, allowing no interference with ‘free association’, Jung sat face to face with his patient, establishing eye contact and building a therapeutic relationship within a two-way dialogue. Jung proposed that ‘…in any thoroughgoing analysis the whole personality of both patient and doctor is called into play’, advising us that as therapists we must always be aware of our own process in the client/therapist relationship.63 Jung discusses his own dream after a feeling of being unable to find the correct meaning of his patient’s dreams and a deterioration in the relationship. Jung’s dream shows his patient at the top of the highest tower of a castle situated on a steep hill and in order to see her, he had to bend his head far back. The dream indicated that in reality he had been ‘looking down on her’. The treatment moved forward following his understanding of what was transpiring unconsciously within the therapeutic relationship.64

Jung states in his last work on dreams and symbols, ‘There is no therapeutic technique or doctrine that is of general application, since every case that one receives for treatment is an individual in a specific condition.’65  Jung continues; ‘…60 years of practical experience has taught me to consider each case as a new one….It all depends on learning the language of the individual patient and following the gropings of his unconscious toward the light.’66

Post Jung — to present day

In his discussion on post-Jungian analysts, Andrew Samuels points out that there is a dilemma between ‘how to move in the underworld and also keep a connection to the personal life of the patient in the day-world.’67 The dream may be regarded as not only the ‘official’ dream, but also whatever it may pull in to what may surround it at the time, including relevance to the history of the patient and any subsequent events related to the dream.68

As a result of Samuel’s research, he suggests that modifications have been proposed in respect of Jung’s original theses. On looking at the importance of the dream ego, i.e. the dreamer’s behaviour, Dieckmann comments that it is actually on a par with the waking ego and rather than fulfilling a wish or acting in a compensatory way, is merely expressing what is happening in waking life. The benefits gained clinically are the patient’s discoveries of previously unrecognised qualities within dreams, often building the initial bridge of the therapeutic relationship as the patient is enabled to talk about his dream experience.69

The importance of analysing the patient and not the dream is stressed by Lambert who comments that in asking for dreams, the natural flow or process is halted thus not allowing the unconscious to ‘speak’. The patient may feel obliged to bring dream material or produce it as a way of preventing the emergence of deeper feelings.70 In other words, in focusing purely on dream analysis, other underlying issues or mental health problems may be missed altogether.

It is further argued by Hillman, that the dream may have its own purpose and needs no translation. Dream images lead to the night-world or underworld i.e. the archetypal layers of the psyche where there is no harmony between conscious and unconscious. For Hillman, each dream is complete and needs no compensation.71


There are many schools of thought relating to dream-work which may lead us to question whether there is any correct way in which to approach it. What is clear is that dreams may be invaluable as a clinically diagnostic aid, are useful in the treatment of neurosis and offer an understanding of any underlying individuation process.72 Thus we may view the dream as ‘reality’, whose nature is personal but obscure. Its’ meaning full of life but uncertain and only the dreamer may truly understand what his dream is telling him. If we disregard the dream, it moves us in any case, working its alchemical transformations in the depths of the psyche, seeking the same goal of individuation with or without our conscious aid.73