Fritz Perls (1893–1970), the founder of Gestalt therapy, believed that dreams were "the royal road to integration." In his view the various parts of a dream should be thoroughly examined and even role-played to gain self-awareness and to integrate fragmented aspects of the personality into wholeness. According to Perls, the different parts of a dream are fragments of the human personality. To become a unified person without conflicts, one must put the different fragments of the dream together.
The Gestalt approach to learning about oneself through dreams lies in a concerted attempt to integrate one's dreams, rather than seeking to analyze them. This can be accomplished by consciously reliving the dreams, by taking responsibility for being the people and the objects in the dream, and by becoming aware of the messages contained in the dream.
Perls found that in order to learn from dreams, it is not essential to work out the entire dream structure. To work even with small bits of the dream is to learn more about the dreamer. In order to "relive" a dream one must first refresh one's memory of it by writing it down or by telling it to another person as a story that is happening now, in the present tense.
Perls used the present tense in all of Gestalt dream work. In his view, dreams are the most spontaneous expression of the existence of the human being. One might perceive dreams being much like a stage production, but the action and the direction are not under the same control as in waking life. Therefore, Perls advised, it is helpful to visualize a dream as a script from one's own internal stage production.
Each part of the dream is likely to be disguised or to bear a hidden message about the dreamer. When the message comes through, the individual will feel that shock of recognition that Gestalt called the "Ah-ha!"
Perls concluded that every dream has a message to reveal to the dreamer. Like most dream researchers, he recommends that one keep a paper and pencil at bedside in order to record the important points of one's dreams as they are remembered.
Dr. Stanley Krippner (1932– ), formerly of the Maimonides Dream Laboratory in New York City, said if one were to lie quietly in bed for a few moments each morning the final dream of the night would often be remembered. In Krippner's opinion, no dream symbols carry the same meaning for every person. Despite certain mass-produced "dream interpretation guides," the research in the dream laboratories indicates that only a skilled therapist, working closely with an individual over a long period of time, can hope to interpret dream symbolism with any degree of correctness. Even then the therapist's interpretations would hold true for only that one subject.
Krippner points out, however, that certain dreams do occur with great frequency among peoples all over the world. Dr. Carl G. Jung (1875–1961) spoke of "archetypal images" in humankind's "collective unconscious." In this part of the mind, Jung believed, were images common to all people everywhere. People living in different times and different places have dreamed of "wise old men," "earth mothers," "mandalas" (circles within a square), and other "archetypes."
Jung's theories are rejected by many psychologists and psychiatrists as being too mystical, but Krippner believes Jung's hypotheses really are not in conflict with what the dream researchers call "scientific common sense." There must be something structural in the brain comparable to the structural form of other body parts. If so, this structure would develop along certain general lines even though an individual were isolated from other human beings.
According to a general consensus among dream researchers, the number one rule in understanding one's dreams is to understand oneself. It is only by knowing oneself as completely as possible that any individual will be able to identify and fully comprehend the dream symbols that are uniquely his or her own. Here are a number of symbols commonly seen in dreams and general meanings that have been applied to them by certain researchers: