The process of homeopathic treatment begins with a thorough investigation into all aspects of the patient’s life. Subjective phenomena usually provide the majority of clinical matter for the homeopath to work with, and dreams often prove useful for securing a correct diagnosis. Their main value lies in their detail and specificity – since the body’s ability to communicate its suffering is not as refined as the mind’s – and in their ability to reflect the innermost state of the patient. In addition, changes in sleep and dreaming patterns are sensitive indicators of the progress of healing once homeopathic treatment has begun. Yet dreams are amongst the most contentious, mysterious, and thoroughly subjective of phenomena! Why, then, are they considered valuable in homeopathic diagnosis and treatment?
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, and especially of the bewildering array of dream content that we experience. Nor is there yet a convincing theory about why we must, in the first place, sleep and experience dreaming states to function normally and stay alive.
As a result, the actual content of dreams is normally considered irrelevant or not amenable to the scientific mode of investigation. One scientific theory, for instance, holds that dreams are simply the mind’s attempt at making sense of the electrical noise produced by the brain. According to this theory, during the paralysis of sleep these electrical signals – which in wakefulness find an outlet in miniscule muscular contractions throughout the body – are transformed into the thoughts that make up the experience of dreaming.
Meanwhile, people of all cultures routinely practice dream interpretation, finding patterns of meaning even when there are none reasonably to be found. For psychologists and occult practitioners of all kind, the dream world offers endless source material, through which they hope to offer insight and assistance to their clients. 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.
All considered, in the modern context dreams are regarded rather prosaically, though not necessarily accurately, as windows into the individual’s subconscious – a realm beyond the pale of science, where the operative laws are not those of nature but those of spirit.
How do homeopaths make use of dreams?
Insofar as homeopathy is a spiritual science, its relationship with dreams ought to be genial yet cautious, welcoming yet not fanatical. Accordingly, homeopaths tend to approach dreams in a pragmatic and down-to-earth manner: they fully accept the legitimacy of dream material (along with the legitimacy of all subjective phenomena), but tend to eschew dream interpretation. Even if homeopaths may engage in dream interpretation as part of their therapeutic approach, dream interpretation is not a reliable foundation for homeopathic diagnosis. Homeopaths usually employ dreams either as (i) symptoms just like any other homeopathic symptom, or as (ii) pointers to the true mental state of the patient:
(i) Dreams are ordinary homeopathic symptoms
Dreams can be incorporated into the diagnosis simply as ordinary homeopathic symptoms alongside other symptoms. Examples of such rubrics are:
- Dreams – children
- Dreams – dogs
- Dreams – dancing
- Dreams – war
as well as dream qualities such as:
- Dreams – obscene
- Dreams – pleasant
- Dreams – vivid
In a patient with a clear history of dreams, the homeopath can quickly narrow down the field of possibilities and concentrate on a smaller set of potential remedies. This way of regarding dreams as reported phenomena (along with any other mental and subjective symptoms) is universally accepted among classical homeopaths.
(ii) Dreams point to the true state of the patient
Raw dream reports may also provide a starting point for a deeper comprehension of the patient’s mental state, but dream translation has to be done both skillfully and conservatively, lest it devolve into speculation. For this approach to succeed, two assumptions must hold true: that dreams in general are meaningfully related to the person’s state, and that they echo this state at least as well as does the patient’s waking state. Unsurprisingly, homeopaths differ in their opinion about the legitimacy of using dreams in this indirect manner. Those who consider it legitimate to venture into the dream world claim to find in dreams a highly 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. Others argue that this approach promotes error and speculation. In my mind, the key to success lies in treating any inferences made from raw dream reports as speculative, unless and until they are corroborated by the remaining clinical history, or at the very least assimilated within it without incongruity.
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 facilitates 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
Psychological restraint and alteration of maladaptive behaviour is a cardinal ingredient of any civilized society, but it makes diagnosis more challenging. 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 – say if the homeopath were to suspect this from the patient’s appearance or vibe – such a patient might answer in denial. Yet a reported violent dream might reveal what lies hidden beneath the peaceful outward demeanor.
In the final analysis, the key reason for the diagnostic importance of dreams is that the conscious reporting of the patient is reflective in part of 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). Dreams may thus offer a glimpse beyond the veil of compensation and reveal the patient’s underlying state of being.