Alfred Adler Institutes of San Francisco and Northwestern Washington

Dreams and Dreaming

Developed by Henry T. Stein, Ph.D.

The following Classical Adlerian quotations are from the Adlerian Translation Project Archives at the Alfred Adler Institute of San Francisco (AAISF/ATP). Selected works of Alfred Adler, Kurt Adler, Lydia Sicher, Alexander Mueller, Sophia de Vries, Anthony Bruck, Erwin Wexberg, Alexander Neuer, Sophie Lazarsfeld, Ida Loewy, Ferdinand Birnbaum, and other Classical Adlerians have been collected, translated, edited, and converted into electronic text. All of this material is protected by copyright and may not be reproduced without the expressed consent of Dr. Stein at

Alfred Adler:

"We need to warn ourselves that we can not explain everything from a dream without knowing its relationship to the other parts of the personality. Neither can we lay down any fixed and rigid rules of dream interpretation. The golden rule of Individual Psychology is: 'Everything can be different.' So it is in dream interpretation. We must modify each dream interpretation to fit the individual concerned. If we are not careful we will only look for a type or for universal symbols and that is not enough. To say only that a dream is one of falling, flying, paralysis, examination; that it is a repeated dream, long, short, or any one of the numerous common types, is often to miss its vital connection with the whole personality. Likewise, to classify a person on the basis of a dream as visual, acoustic, active, timid, courageous, social, pampered, etc., is an over-simplification which is sometimes useful for teaching purposes but may be a gross injustice to the individual analyzed. Each individual is different. The only valid dream interpretation is that which may be integrated with an individual's general behavior, early memories, problems, etc."

"If we are really to discover the purpose of dreams, we must find what purpose is served by forgetting dreams or by not understanding them. This was the most vexing problem before me when I started, some quarter of a century ago, to try to find the meaning of dreams. It occurred to me one day that perhaps the real significance of a dream is that it is not to be understood; perhaps there is a dynamism of the mind working to baffle us. This idea furnished me with the first real clue to an adequate dream interpretation. Searching further, I asked myself, 'For what purpose are we 'fooling' ourselves?' In answer, another clue then came to me from ordinary social intercourse. We all know people, including ourselves, who purposely speak so as not to be understood for the purpose of concealing the truth, or they speak to themselves in a way which common sense would not allow. Here, then, is a very close analogy to dreams-in fact more than an analogy since it can be shown that they are both the product of the same mental dynamism. It is not in the thoughts that we 'fool' ourselves, but in the emotions and feelings aroused by the thoughts and pictures of a dream. The purpose of the dream is achieved by the use of emotion and mood rather than reason and judgment. Reasoning alone could not purposely deceive us. Thoughts may give rise to errors in judgment, but this would be due to inadequate factual data. When our style of life comes into conflict with reality and common sense, we find it necessary, in order to preserve the style, to arouse feelings and emotions by means of the ideas and pictures of a dream which we do not understand."

"Individual Psychology maintains that the so-called conscious and unconscious are not contradictory but that they form a single unity. The methods used in interpreting the 'conscious' life may be used in interpreting the 'unconscious' or 'semi-conscious' life-the life of our dreams. The justification for this method is that our dream life is just as much a part of the whole as our waking life-no more, no less. Only by considering dreams as one of the expressions of the style of life may an adequate interpretation of them be found."

"Dreams attempt to solve problems according to the individual style of life and they are not to be interpreted as common sense. It has been shown that the ancients always considered dreams in connection with a problem of life. That they were right in doing this is shown by the fact that the more satisfied a person becomes, that is, the less his problem disturbs him, the less he will dream. It has also been shown by Individual Psychology that in dreams we attempt to 'fool' ourselves. The two ideas are not contradictory. We fool ourselves into an inadequate solution of a problem, inadequate from the standpoint of common sense but adequate from the standpoint of the style of life. We do this by dismissing important facts and leaving only a small part of the problem which can, if everything is put into figurative form, be solved easily."

(From "On the Interpretation of Dreams", in the International Journal of Individual Psychology, Vol 2, No.1, pages 3-16, 1936.)


"Behavior in a dream, the forms of antithetical thinking, is recognized by an Individual Psychologist as an important source of energy, as a starter motor, that clarifies for him the attitude of a patient. For example, when a person dreams that he is falling, we can recognize that he endeavors to be on 'top,' but that he still is insecure. On the other hand, dreaming of flying expresses: 'I can do something others cannot, I raise myself from the bottom to the top.' If such a dream occurs then the patient usually will strive to accomplish something that he had not dared before. Dreams set in the present are better for illuminating the personality. However, since we can recognize the direction of the goal from dreams in the past, they also serve us." (From a new translation of an unpublished manuscript, "Medical Course at Urban Hospital," a lecture by Alfred Adler (date and location unknown), in the AAISF/ATP Archives.)

Kurt Adler:

"For Adler the subject of the dream, which is after all the choice of the dreamer, is always a problem confronting him. The solution of which, in his waking life he's unprepared for, he's hesitant about, he's afraid to tackle, he's afraid that he will fail in it, if he dares to tackle it. It is always a problem he does not know how to solve with logic and common sense in line with the demands of the community, of which he is a part. He, therefore, cannot solve the problem in his dream either, of course, except that in his dream he is not bound by logic and common sense or the social demands of the community. He can therefore find the event in his dreams illogically, senseless, asocial solutions. A simple example illustrates this: If you want to climb a mountain in your waking life, you have to make all sorts of preparations, do a lot of strenuous climbing, sweat a lot perhaps, and so on. In my dream, I just spread my arms like an eagle, soar, and whoops I am up on top of the mountain. So much for the lack of reality, and logic, and common sense in such a dream. Socially, if I want to be admired, loved by many people, in my waking life, I have to do a lot of good for people, devote perhaps my whole life to that effort. In my dream, I just stand on a pedestal and everybody bows before me."

"Dream images take on a vividness, often with tremendous emotional impact, because there is no outer reality, social or physically, to quarrel with them. The pictures and the actual story of the dream are as a rule patchy, disjointed, full of holes, and express either only a part of the real problem, or replace real problem with symbols taken from other experiences. But the emotions aroused by the dream are often stronger than real life is capable of arousing. It is precisely these emotions by which we encourage ourselves or warn ourselves, to spur us on or hold us back in regard to the real problem that faces us after we are awakened."

"The important part of the dream, if it is remembered, and even more if it is forgotten, is not the story, not the pictures, not the thoughts, but the feelings, the emotions that the dream has aroused. In the dream, these feelings, these emotions train the dreamer to tackle his problems in a specific way. Namely, in line with his style of life, and after awakening he will, so trained, continue along the same line in the pursuit of his goal and dealing with his problem. The reason why symbols and metaphors are generally used in dreams, instead of the real situation and the real problem, is that the real problem is one that is constantly making him feel uneasy, making him feel inadequate, since he believes he will be unable to cope with it. He therefore conceals the real problem from himself in the dream and deceives himself by substituting for the real problem, either a small part of the problem, or a symbol for the problem, both of which can be easily solved. Thus assuaging his feelings of inadequacy and experiencing a feeling of overcoming and of success. Or simply, leaning toward the old and familiar way of handling his problem according to a style that he has always used."

(From an edited transcription of a recorded series of lectures given in 1987, dates and location unknown, in the AAISF/ATP Archives.)

Lydia Sicher:

"Invented dreams can be interpreted just as well as real ones because again they are in the line in which the individuals are moving. They cannot even think in another way."

"At times fears will not be expressed directly but in dreams. Some people dream that they are naked in the streets, visible in all their marvelousness, which they mostly do not consider so marvelous. If we were not so afraid, we would not use alibis for what we are doing. We made a mistake and now we try to find a nice way to make other people believe that this mistake is not ours. Children do it much more nicely, "Someone pushed me." Another patient told me today, "I'm driven to having an affair." Who drives her? Who stands behind her with a whip? It is always someone else who is made responsible."

(From "The Collected Works of Lydia Sicher: An Adlerian Perspective," edited by Adele Davidson, published by QED Press, second printing, 1992.)

Sophia de Vries:

"Why does someone not remember his dreams? We look at the movement of the remembering, and not remembering. If you are sometimes bothered by something, and you don't want to be bothered by it, and it is more comfortable not to look at it, that may reflect your style of life. If something bothers you in reality and you don't look at it, then you also don't look at your dreams when they are bothering dreams."

"Very often, a client who cannot tell a therapist any of his dreams, has something against the therapist. He may feel that the therapist will know more about him than he wants him to know. "

"I had a patient, very discouraged about his work, who had lived most of his life in Indonesia, and had the philosophy of the people there: not talking about himself, and not bringing personal things out in the open; that was not nice. So, he did not talk much about himself, but just showed that he was very depressed. I asked him if he dreamed, and he said, 'Yes, since I am so unhappy, I dream a lot.' So, I asked him to bring in all of his dreams. He came every week, and he always had seven dreams, and was most willing to talk extensively about each dream, but not much about his actual work situation. The entire therapy, and the overcoming of his discouragement, was conducted through a discussion of his dreams. In Adlerian psychology, you can be very creative--the therapeutic approach to each client can be different."

(From an edited transcription of a tape recorded seminar presented by Sophia de Vries in San Francisco on 3-19-76, in the AAISF/ATP Archives.)

Franz Plewa:

"The dream functions as a springboard into life, into the future. We act in our dreams as if we know the future and then proceed automatically. We use this aid if we feel insecure towards the problem. We abuse our style of life in these cases; instead of using it as a ‘platform’ from which we look into life, we make it the ‘cork’ on which we float. Then a problem comes along for which our old style of life cannot serve as a ‘cork’ anymore, and we find ourselves under a tension which we must overcome. This will clearly stand out in our dreams, and in our dreams we do not have to make any corrections. We do in our dreams what we would not do when we were awake, because then we feel our responsibility. In dreams, our conscience does not speak."

A translation of "The Dream as the Key of Character," a lecture called "Der Traum als Schlüssel des Characters," from typewritten notes in Dutch, title in German, February 27th 1939, location unknown (probably Holland), in the AAISF/ATP Archives.)

For permission to copy or reproduce any of this material, please contact:
Henry T. Stein, Ph.D., Director
Alfred Adler Institute of Northwestern Washington
2565 Mayflower Lane
Bellingham, WA 98226
Phone: (360) 647-5670
Web Site:

Back to Adler Institute Home Page: