A Skeleton Key to Dream Interpretation

  • Calvin Kai-Ching Yu (Author)
    Hong Kong Shue Yan University

Identifiers (Article)


There are typical themes that are repeatedly dreamed by most people. Given their omnipresence in dreams, they may constitute a skeleton key for an interpretation of dreams. This study aims to demonstrate how the classification of dream themes using the Dream Motif Scale (DMS)can facilitate dream interpretation without actively involving dreamers in the analytic process. On the strength of previous research findings concerning the DMS categorization of dream themes, overnight alterations in affective valence, and modus operandi of dream expression, nine steps for dream interpretation were developed. The sample contained 7 subjects whose dream experiences were evaluated by the retrospective self-rating, dream-diary, and rapid-eye-movement (REM) awakening methods. Eight emotionally toned REM dreams were selected and analyzed using the DMS classification system. The results of dream analyses were compared against the subjects’ personality profiles assessed by 17 personality traits indicative of superego functioning, instinctual affect, and ego strength. It seems that utilizing the DMS system to identify and classify themes in dreams, supplemented with the analysis of affect valence, can provide clinicians with some directions for working toward a dream interpretation that is consonant with an individual’s personality characteristics. Since the proposed procedures for dream interpretation do not require dreamers’ active participation, they are potentially instrumental in a clinical setting, especially at the beginning of the therapeutic process when certain individuals are reluctant to reflect on their dream experiences. This interpreter-oriented approach, however, only provides an alternative for working with difficult dreams; whether a dream interpretation is useful still hinges on the dreamer’s capability to connect it with waking experiences.


affect valence, dream analysis, dream themes, dense array electroencephalography, rapid eye movement
How to Cite
Yu, C. K.-C. (2019). A Skeleton Key to Dream Interpretation. International Journal of Dream Research, 12(1), 1–33. https://doi.org/10.11588/ijodr.2019.1.41197