Not possible for this author to make an exhaustive list of good books on dreams. The reader may be pointed in one direction, and rightly choose another better suited for her!

Indispensable Books on Dreams

Wow. Where to start? Freud started by stealing the title used by Artemidorus of Daldis. Oneirocritica [Greek for “Interpretation of Dreams,”] written in the second century A.D. is considered the capstone dream work following centuries of compilations and dictionaries on dreams. Robert White in 1970 translated the work into English for the first time, rendering it more of a useful historical artifact than an actual how-to book. Sigmund Freud used the German title Die Traumdeutung also meaning “The Interpretation of Dreams.” Published in October, 1899, Freud chose the publication 1900 as he figured both he and the Gregorian calendar were about to usher in a new era. He was right, for as much as modern psychology and psychiatry rail against Freud, he is often the starting point of direction and discussion. These two books must be on any list about Dream Interpretation.

As one can see with the list of Worst Books on Dreams, there are so many books out there, it may be helpful to discuss large classes of books that offer wisdom on working with the dream, then cites some examples. So the groups of the best books on dreams would start with this list:

  • Classics in Psychiatry and Psychology of Sleep and Dreams
  • Authoritative Works on Nightmares, Night Terrors, and Sleep Disturbance
  • Compendiums of several Different Authors approaching Dreamwork
  • Emergent Methods of Working with one’s own dreams or the dreams of others
  • Dream Books that challenge the existing order without tearing down the framework of established methods

Classics, starting with Freud and Artemidorus, make people think. Jung was not as clear a writer as Freud. Memories, Dreams, Reflections with Anelia Jaffe categorizes many of his own career-impacting dreams, such as the dream of the Phallus and the dream of the “spectre of the brocken” from which we derive the archetype of the Shadow. In order to render his 20 volume collected works more accessible, Bollingen Press published a book serving as a compilation from articles on dreams across many of his writings. Classics also include some of the works that may be mentioned below by Allan Hobson, Montague Ullman, or Calvin Hall.

Nightmares: Ernest Jones was an early Cabin Boy of Freud, a yes-man of sorts whose journal articles and other writings seem to reflect less of his own work with dreamers and more compilation of the work of others. At the risk of blasphemy on a number of fronts, he was to psychoanalysis what the Apostle Paul was to the early Christian Church – a good organizer but no author of the gospel. He was ever during Freud’s lifetime a dutiful adherent to the Freudian party line. He may be best known for his three volume biography of Freud, but IMHO his best work with the 1930 “On The Nightmare.” He traces most of his work on this to 1911, after which time it lay dormant for a number of years. John Mack made a serious contribution to the Nightmare literature in 1970 with his book Nightmares and Human Conflict. In the 1993 “Counselling in Practice” series, Counselling with Dreams and Nightmares, there is a great chapter for therapists working with nightmares followed by a creditable distinguishing chapter on PTSD, nightmares, and night terrors,  written by Delia Cushway and Robyn Sewell. Three books, three different eras, and this writer recommends that the last should be first and the first, last.

Not possible for this author to make an exhaustive list of good books on dreams. The reader may be pointed in one direction, and rightly choose another better suited for her!
Not possible for this author to make an exhaustive list of good books on dreams. The reader may be pointed in one direction, and rightly choose another better suited for her!

Compendiums or anthologies from different perspectives: The best of these is a series in the State University of New York [SUNY] Press. The General Editor of this SUNY series in Dream Studies is Robert Van de Castle, who passed away January 29th, 2014. But the editors of each book in the series reads like a “Who’s Who” of contemporary dream thought. These include Gayle Dalaney [Editor, New Directions in Dreamtending], Anthony Shafton, [Editor, Dream Reader: Contemporary Approaches to the Understanding of Dreams], and Kelly Bulkeley [Editor, Among All These Dreamers: Essays on Dreaming and Modern Society]. Length does not permit a longer discussion or more examples, yet each of these comprehensive works each present a different point of view, and in the the reader is certain to find herself or himself. The book that flipped my switch (from a counselor who happens to be a personal dreamworker to a therapist who also works with dreams in practice) is Stanley Krippener Dreamtime and Dreamwork, one of a couple dozen worthy works in the Jeremy Tarcher of Tarcher/Putnam Series on Consciousness studies. Krippener and contributors approach dreams from a healthy variety of different, and at times, conflicting approaches. This clarifies one’s beliefs more than a monograph that argues a specific point.

Emergent methods of working with dreams always excite me. Never do I feel that I have outgrown an approach. Clara Hill, a former president of the American Psychological Association, has made a viable academic tradition of training graduate students in an approach called the A-B-C, and I can read her work and marvel of how she has taken a wispy topic and given it simple form. A good working book for the public and professionals alike is Dream Work in Therapy: Facilitating Exploration, Insight, and Action. This book could fit into the category above, as several authors contribute; however, Hill offers a model that is simple with clearly defined moves at different stages of a dream. An even simpler model is proposed by Robert A Johnson in “Inner Work,” a small paperback and a quick read, nonetheless effective in implementing a four step approach. Johnson takes a dream of one of his clients, and simply carries through a discussion that has practical application for any lay reader or the most experienced dream clinician. Montague Ullman became the Johnny Appleseed of Dream Groups, co-authoring with Nan Zimmerman the wonderful book Working with Dreams. Ullman has contributed into dream ethics a democratic belief that the authority over the dream should rest with the dreamer, and not with an “Analyst” or doctor who has a higher level of knowledge about the dream or dreams in general. Many well-operating dream groups today spring from this notion.

Clinical applications of dreamwork find apt expression in Natterson’s The Dream in Clinical Practice and Bonime’s Clinical Uses of the Dream. More speciifically Jungian approaches can be found in Maryann Mattoon’s Applied Dream Analysis: A Jungian Approach. Erich Fromm’s Forgotten Language should not be forgotten. For non-Jungian approaches, another valuable strain began in 1953 with the publication of The Meaning of Dreams by Calvin Hall. 1953 was also the year of pioneering REM research published by Aserinsky and Kleitman which started to usher in the end of the Dogmatic period of psychoanalysis and its monopoly on dream analysis. Medard Boss analyzed some 20,000 dreams by his estimate in practice and offered also in the 1950s a detailed if not systematic departure from psychoanalysis in his 1957 work, The Analysis of Dreams. David Foukles has made tremendous post-Freudian contributions in A Grammar of Dreams.  And Finally, Allan Hobson’s The Dreaming Brain has become since the 1970’s the watershed book about the deterministic functions of Brain Science in dreaming.

Stephen Aizenstat’s Dreamtending is a model that draws on existing traditions, respecting the work of elders in traditions from academic to shamanic. Aizenstat’s approach invites the dreamer and those in dialogue with the dream to allow the dream images their own autonomy, their own voice, their own existence. Whereas Johnson’s Inner Work offers ideas about how to concretize the image, like suggesting the dreamer get some memento or keepsake in sight to remind the dreamer of the image, Aizenstat follows the model of Hillman’s Archetypal Psychology which leaves the images in their own realm and encourages the dreamer to meet the image there on their own ground, the liminal space of dreamtime. This honors the wisdom of the image by not holding it captive or dragging it into the light of day.

It would be a better service if this were more of an annotated bibliography, or, on the other side of brevity, a simple list of books. But my biases are my biases, and the reader of this blog should form her own opinion based on her experiences with the texts over and above what this author says of them. Sweet dreams!