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Patricia Garfield

Patricia Garfield, Ph.D., is a worldwide authority on dreams.  She is one of the six co-founders of The Association for the Study of Dreams and was the 1998-99 President. Her bestseller Creative Dreaming is considered a classic, and is available in fourteen languages.

Questions and Answers on Dreaming


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Patricia Garfield, Ph.D., President of ASD

January 4, 1999

Answers to interview questions from Jennifer:

Q1: What inspired you to study dreams?

A: I was inspired to work with dreams by my mother when I was a teenager younger that you are now. She was reading books by Freud and Jung, and discussing their ideas at the dinner table. I was a vivid dreamer and became curious to know if their ideas were true, so I tried them out with my own dreams.

Q2: How long have you been interested in dreams?

A: I’ve been interested in dreams since I was fourteen; I’m now 64, so that’s 50 years.

Q3: Do you record your dreams? Is it easier to interpret your dreams if they have been recorded?

A: Yes, I record my dreams, and have done so for 50 years. I believe it’s much easier to work with a written dream, since we lose so much important detail when we rely on memory alone.

Q4: Why do people have dreams?

A: No one is really sure why we dream. There are many theories. The current thought is that dreaming somehow helps the process of memory. I think dreams are a kind of problem-solving device that is useful every day.

Q5: What state of sleep do you have to be in to have a dream?

A: Again, there’s no clear-cut answer. At first people believed that one had to be in REM to dream, and this is the most typical dream stage. But now we know that dreaming can take place in non-REM stages, and sometimes people dream as they are drifting off to sleep or waking up. It’s a more complex picture than we first thought.

Q6: Is there a limit as to how many dreams a person can have in one night?

A: Most people who recall dreams easily remember three to five dreams a night, but people who have trained themselves to observe their mental imagery as they fall asleep have counted more dreams. We probably dream all the time we’re asleep, just as we think all the time the brain is functional while awake.

Q7: Do people dream every night?

A: Usually people dream every night. But some drugs inhibit dreaming, and one man with a brain wound has been shown not to dream at all.

Q8: Do you recommend any particular book on interpreting dreams?

A: Of course, I recommend my own books, Creative Dreaming, and the five others that I’ve written (Pathway to Ecstasy: The Way of the Dream Mandala; Your Child’s Dreams, Women’s Bodies, Women’s Dreams; The Healing Power of Dreams; The Dream Messenger: How Dreams of the Departed Bring Healing Gifts) but there are many good ones. Check with your local library.

Q9: Who inspired you the most in your study of dreams?

A: Originally, my mother inspired me most in my study of dreams.

Q10: Has there ever been a dream that you could not offer any explanation to?

A: Yes, there are dreams whose explanation is not apparent immediately. Dreams are very rich in imagery. Some of the most interesting are those that take many years to fully understand.

Q11: What is most difficult in the study of dreams?

A: The very vastness of the material makes dream study difficult. Every night new data emerges. It’s hard to cope with such massive amounts of material, even with computers, although they help.

Q12: Are dreams a widely researched topic?

A: Dream research has been active since 1953 when rapid eye movements (REM) were discovered.

Q13: Do you find your research to be enjoyable?

A: Yes, I greatly enjoy exploring dreams—it’s like an incompletely mapped continent.

Q14: Do sleep positions have anything to do with your dreams?

A: We’re not sure how much sleep positions have to do with dreaming. Many people find, however, that they can recall dreams better if they lie in the position in which they originally had the dream. After you remember any dreams in the position in which you awake, it’s useful to roll gently into another sleep position you use. You’ll often recall additional dreams then.

Q15: Do your surroundings have anything to do with how you dream?

A: Yes, our surroundings influence our dreams, but do not determine them entirely. If the sleeping place is hot or cold, if there are sounds in the environment, or smells, these are often woven into the content of the dream. But one person who is sleeping in a cold room my dream of being trapped in a snowstorm, while another person may dream of winning an ice-skating contest. The cold becomes part of the dream, but the dreamer’s fears and hopes determine the plot of the dream.

Q16: Do people mail you often with dream inquiries?

A: Yes, I get a lot of mail from people all over the world who have read my books and want to share their dream experiences. You probably know about the Association for the Study of Dreams, an international group who share our interests. You may want to join, or attend their annual conference. The next one is in Santa Cruz, California, in July 1999, and in the year 2000, the meeting will be in Washington, D.C. You can get more information by calling [703]242-8888 or at our website: www.asdreams.org

Q17: What about all these weird dreams? [Oct 1, 1999]

Thanks for describing three of your weird dreams for me.

Strange dreams are usually pictures of some feeling we have had in the waking state. For instance, on the days you dream about being the last one in a long lunch line that goes all the way to China, you may have felt that you were not getting the attention and other nourishing things (represented by the image of food in your dream) that you would have like to have had. The dream pictures are a way of expressing your frustration in this case.

When you dream about having so much homework that it would take years to finish, and that when you get to school you find it’s all wrong, or you’d get in trouble and get bad grades and get sent to summer school to catch up, the dream probably comes when you are feeling overwhelmed with all the new work you have to do and it feels impossible to manage it. Your dream is saying

“All I have to do feels like too much!”

In reference to your dreams about millions of spiders, there was probably something that happened in the few days before the dream that made you feel a little bit afraid (kind of like the way that you feel about spiders). When you dream about millions of them, the dream is saying “Things feel too scary at the moment.”

Everyone has weird dreams sometimes. They are dramatic pictures of how we feel about things. I’m glad you have good dreams, too–these often represent our hopes and wishes.

Good luck with your project, and happy dreams to you.

Patricia Garfield, Ph.D.
President, The Association for the Study of Dreams