Using Psychotherapy for Personal Growth: Dream-Work & Individuation

Some people come to therapy not because they feel a pressing need to resolve a particular problem, but because they want to explore their psychology in a way that will contribute to their personal growth. Psychologist C. G. Jung referred to such development of the personality as individuation, the process of bringing together the various parts of the psyche and helping them to function more harmoniously.

Jung believed that our natural state is one in which we’re progressing toward wholeness, cultivating a balanced personality that includes contrasting parts such as feeling and thinking, assertiveness and receptivity, practicality and imagination, introversion and extroversion. He referred to this as “holding the tension of the opposites”—living in a way that values parts of the personality that could cause problems if we tried to exclude them.

Consciously engaging in this process gives meaningful direction to a life that might otherwise feel unfulfilled.

Paying attention to our nighttime dreams can help promote individuation. Dreams present perspectives of our situation that can correct limited outlooks held by the conscious ego. Dream images often serve as symbols and guides that compensate for blindspots, pictures we can carry through the week to remind us of the direction we need to take.

For instance, while dream symbols can mean different things for different people, an image of a small candle might represent a quiet still awareness that needs to be cultivated. A circle of fire might represent going through difficult challenges that could burn off old restricting attitudes.

Following dreams is part of a larger goal of developing a sense of connection with the unconscious, the aspect of our psyche which we have not been aware of, but which can provide us with guidance. (You can read more about A Jungian Analysis of Dreams from my blog.)

Therapy provides a safe and consistent space where these themes can be held and explored week to week. It serves to expand our sense of who we are and what’s possible in terms of psychological growth.

You can read more about how therapy supports individuation and Jungian analysis here.