A qualitative investigation into the perception of dreams as influencing learning, personal development, and spiritual growth



BSc Psychology Project

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Coursework title: A qualitative investigation into the perception of dreams as influencing learning, personal development, and spiritual growth

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I would like to acknowledge the following people, without the inspiration and support of whom this study would not have been possible. I will be forever grateful to Dr. Oliver Robinson, my supervisor, who has guided me with kindness and patience, allowing me to stay true to myself, being authentic, yet somehow grounded under his guidance.

To Dr. Florin Ispas, whose spirit visited me in countless dreams, without your generous contributions, there would be no study at all.

To x, for providing valuable resources and books in the field of dreams.

Finally, to my family and my friends for their endless patience to listen to my dreams, particularly to my brother who has faith in me and my dreams despite the appearances of the physical world.


Page number

Abstract                                                                                                     4

Introduction                                                                                               5


             ST-TA (Structured tabular thematic analysis) – Inductive

             Data Collection


             Analytic Strategy


             Themes and Sub-Themes

              Life Change


              Spiritual quality   



Table of Appendices

A qualitative investigation into the perception of dreams as influencing learning, personal development, and spiritual growth


This study explores the possibility of learning through our dreams, the possibility of discovering hidden parts of our subconscious mind by interpreting the symbolism of them that can lead to personal and spiritual development. The participants were analysed using ST-TA, a structured tabular approach conducted in Excel spreadsheet, which allows me to see clearly through the brief texts in-depth, supporting me to distinguish between better and worse interpretations by the relations of those ideas to a reality beyond words and texts (Robinson, 2021).

The nature and meaning of dreaming is widely debated, however the field is dominated by quantitative studies, and very few studies have gained qualitative data on the subjective meaning of dreams. Hence, this study will examine whether and how people subjectively encounter dreams to be influential to their personal development and learning processes. Moreover, the study explores whether they experience dreams to have a spiritual quality and the impact on their spirituality because some cultural groups and individuals relate their dreams with religious views. Scholars from diverse backgrounds have developed theoretical frameworks to help understand how dreaming occur, and how the act influences diverse aspects of their lives and together they show that dreaming impacts significantly on various dimensions of waking life.

This study relies on a number of theories of dreaming, including Jung’s theory, Hartmann’s theories of dreams, and theory of Bem et al. The theory of Carl Jung (1875-1961) continues to give valuable insight into the world of dreams, for example in Giovanardi and Spangler (2021) and Scalabrini et al. (2021). Many other theoretical concepts have been formulated since his time, and some of his arguments now seem placed in accordance with later cultural and scientific developments (Lavie & Kaminer, 1991). For example, reference to Jung’s works in the identified papers and many others suggest that he still influences research in this area. According to Jung and Pauli (1955), dreaming is a meaningful outcome of unconscious forces. He believed in the existence of the unconscious, as his philosophy affirms that the unconscious is conceived as a world of forces, energies, and personalities that are unseen to the waking consciousness yet communicate with it through dreams and the imagination. Jung shared similar views with Freud that dreams play a part in healing people battling various mental complications (Zhang, 2016; Zhang & Guo, 2018). Nonetheless, whereas Freud’s approach to dream tend to emphasize on the developmental source of the dream, Jung was looking at both objective and subjective content trying to comprehend what dreams show about a person’s future and possible developments.

The study explores the various components that form Jung’s view of dreams, which may help to understand whether dreaming has any impact on learning, personal development, and spiritual growth.

 Jung believes that dreams play fundamental roles in helping to maintain a dynamic and healthy balance between being conscious and unconscious (Zhu, 2013).

 Jung contends that when the waking ego aligns to a particular side or if it attempts to pull down some part of the unconscious state, dreams will develop to show the imbalance and lead one back on the way towards becoming more integrated. Jung further argues that each process that happens call for compensation, and in the absence of this a normal psyche or metabolism would be absent.

Studying and analyzing dreams is one of the most effective methods for understanding the various unconscious activities of a person’s mind. Thus, scientists, psychologists, and researchers have frequently received brilliant and enlightening ideas through their dreams.

Also, Jung emphasized that these emotionally significant legendary structures emerge from the recesses of the subconscious, and he opted to explore with different ways aimed at bringing the interaction among awareness and the unconscious to light. Jung recognized that painting, sand playing, and other interoceptive activities incorporating archetypal symbolism might be quite useful in clarifying hazy sensations, pictures, and other expressions of inner substance. Jung’s psychotherapeutic theory was predicated on the idea that the unconsciousness serves as a controller, adjusting for the ego’s wrong orientation through the development of mythological symbols. Active imagination is a process that integrates components of one’s current daily reality with archetypal images from the human psyche, producing a sense of profound personal meaning and psychic completeness that led to understanding and healing. Also, Jung highlighted the fact that an individual’s unconscious comprises a personal and a collective dimension as well. The ramifications and full meaning of collective dreams are often analyzed in retrospect (Myths-Dreams-Symbols, 2021). A relevant example here is Albert Einstein whose relativity theory came to him in his dreams wherein he began to think of space and time relativity while assessing their distinct psychic conditionality or August Kekule, a leading German chemist’s somnolent vision wherein he saw a snake biting its tail (Browne, 1988). He claimed that this dream revealed to him the true structure of the benzene ring.

Hence, the argument by Jung would help to understand why dreams may influence one’s learning processes, personal growth, and spiritual quality.

Understanding Jung’s argument on the prospective function provides more insight into how dreams may influence one’s learning, personal development, and spiritual quality. In addition, Jung proposed that dreams play a prospective role. Whereas Jung differentiates the prospective function of dreams from prophecy, he agrees it overlaps with traditional religious perceptions about dreams providing visions and hints of possibilities for the future (Stickgold et al., 2001; Winget et al., 1972). Jung contends that the prospective role solely focuses on the future development of the individual along the route towards enhanced psychological wholeness and integration. The theorist further asserts that it is possible to gain insight into unconscious intelligence by trying to comprehend the prospective dreams. In other words, the prospective function of a dream serves an expectation in the unconscious of forthcoming conscious gains. Consequently, a person who dreams that they will have a better future may put more effort into their studies and may have the desire to maintain habits that do not expose them to harm to achieve their desires. Similarly, a person may become more spiritual when he encounters dreams that reflect a more troubled future either due to poor health or other tribulations.

The research clarifies between small and big dreams that Jung finds to significantly influence how people follow their dreams. Jung emphasizes on dreams with much clear images. He terms them as expressing deeper unconscious trends of instinctual meanings and wisdom he refers to as archetypes (Sayed, 2011). The dream images help to link people with the energies of the psyche, whose prime developmental goal is their holistic nature as humans, or what he refers to as individuation (Barrett, 1993; Sayed, 2011). Overall, he states that not all dreams are of the same significance. Little dreams refer to as the pieces of fantasy emanating from the personal and subjective aspect, and their meanings are restricted to the everyday happenings. The study would show that it is the reason why people easily forget such dreams, mainly because their validity is limited to the everyday alterations of the psyche balance. Significant or big dreams, on the other hand, are usually recalled for a longer time and have much influence on the psyche experience (Malinowski et al., 2014). Consequently, the study shows that not all dreams would impact on one’s learning processes, personal development, and spiritual quality unless they are significant or big dreams.

Jung’s argument on archetypes in dreams forms a key aspect of his theory. When the scholar discussed the significance of dreams, he stressed the value of archetypes. According to Jung describes archetypes as the most basic component of the psyche and form the foundation of how the human brain works (Zhu, 2013). Archetypes emanate from the most basic units of the unconscious and link people to the instinctual connections shared by all human beings. One can tell that their dream has an archetype if it appears to be strange, show unexplained coincidence (synchronicity), evoke emotional reaction, and is associated with mythic characters (Zhu, 2013). Closely related to Jung’s argument on archetypes is his view on the effects of telepathy on dreams. The theorist argues that what when people communicate using telepathic forms, they are likely to gain visions in their dreams based on what they perceive during the telepathic communication (Zhu, 2013). Based on Jung’s argument on archetypes, it is apparent that dreams could influence one’s learning activities, especially if it impacts on their emotion or involves some form of coincidence. For example, a student who performs well in class but does not receive a reward is likely to put more effort when they have a dream where they perform well and get a reward for their hard work. In addition to Jung’s theory, Hartmann’s theories of dreams play fundamental roles in helping to understand how dreams occur and their potential impact on people. Hartmann argues that dreaming puts the feeling-state of a dreamer directly into the image to formulate picture-metaphors that act to create emotions through images and pictures in a way that could otherwise be attained (Domhoff, 1999). According to Hartmann, dreaming is just a single aspect of mental functioning, happening along a spectrum from focused waking thought to fantasy, daydreaming, and reverie (Zadra et al., 1998). Furthermore, Hartmann argues that dreaming is hyper-linking, bringing together materials more fluidly and making linkages that are not easy to formulate in walking thought (Chapter 8, 2005). A key aspect of Hartmann’s theories is tidal wave dream, which explains the dream that a person experience following immense transformations that are happening in their life and the dreamer is questioning their capacity to put up with them (Hartmann, 1996). The argument is that the fears one experiences in their dream when experiencing a tsunami can correlate with their fears of the impending changes they are encountering when walking.

The theory by Jung has impacted significantly on current research about the general impact of dreams on individuals. For example, Scalabrini et al. (2021) base their research that seek to find the relationship between dreams and brain functions. They refer to the claim by Jung that dreams have always been perceived as a vital origin of data and information for psychoanalysis. The arguments by Jung helps the author to craft an explanation on how today, neuroscientific research outcomes indicate that dreams have relations particularly to right and limbic emotional brain circuit, and that during rapid eye movement phases they incorporate self-affiliated processing. Moreover, the work by Giovanardi and Spangler (2021) further suggest that Jung’s work on dreams impact significantly on current research. In their attempt to describe how dreams have consistently served as a key area of focus in multidisciplinary research, including clinical, neuroscientific, and psychoanalytic psychology, argue based on Jung’s view that dreams play both psychological and biological roles. Therefore, it is apparent that current researchers on the effects of dreams on various aspects of life base their argument on the works of early scholars in this field, one of them being Jung.

Based on the argument by Hartmann, it is possible to argue that dreams could impact on one’s learning processes, personal development, and spiritual quality. For example, a person could become more interested in learning when they feel that their current poor performance in class and they are not so pleasing dreams encourage them to work harder to overcome their tribulations (Hartmann, 1996). Similarly, a person is likely to embrace a particular behaviour such as being kind when they encounter instances in their dream where being unkind results in undesirable effects while at the same time witnessing scenarios in real life where being unkind results in adverse effects. Similar coincidences in real life and dreaming could compel one to adjust their spiritual life to avoid impending danger, threats, or fear that are not affirmed but which the dreamer thinks may occur due to what they see in their dream and what happens in real life (Hartmann, 1996). Therefore, Hartmann’ theory servers as a vital guide for completing this research.

Also, as per the theory of Bem et al. (1991), a dream is either related to the waking life of the dreamer or can be linked to the subconscious mind of the person. Taking about the waking life, a dream can guide a person towards achieving something that can contribute towards his spiritual development and can also transform him into more developed and transformed person. Also, there are chances that because of some subconscious thoughts, a person can get a dream which might lead to some changes. For example, if a person wants to attain mental peace in his subconscious mind, then the dream might be regarding the techniques which can help him in attaining a stable peace of mind. In addition to this, if a person come across some unusual activity in his waking life, then the dream can be regarding that particular incident. These visions were recounted lacking self-consciousness, and they were seldom tied to one another or utilised to construct a legacy, as if the writers and journalists were unconscious of the significance or ubiquity of these visions. They may also be characterized as prophetic, telepathy, or clairvoyance, but they are still examples of paranormal happenings. Although telepathy and clairvoyance are plainly demonstrated in dreams, these subcategories were rarely apparent, as these labels were only formed as hypnotic regression and physiological research progressed (Repciuc, 2019).

Borghi et al. (2021) provides more insight into what Bem et al. (1991) present in their paper. Borghi et al. (2021) focus on how dreams can be researched as a social concept in a way that sheds more light into the role of a person in a specific group and elicits unconscious group activities in an institution. However, Borghi et al. (2021) bring in new concepts in their argument by using Lawrence’s social dreaming matrices, which is increasingly becoming applicable in analyzing dreams. Overall, Borghi et al. (2021) support the argument by Bem et al. (1991) that dreams are connected to the subconscious mind.

Qualitative Research on Dreaming

Other than the identified theories of dreaming, the study presents the findings of various scholars whose works help to understand the vital roles dreams play in determining learning, personal development, and spiritual quality. The research findings help to understand that dreams impact significantly on emotions that could determine how one handles or perceives their learning processes, personal growth, and spiritual quality. One study by Borghi et al. (2021) who examine the effects of dream among participants during the time of COVID-19. The study seeks to explore the emotional encounters relating to the movement restriction during the initial wave of the pandemic. The researchers conduct an online survey where they encourage participants to narrate a dream they have encountered during the lockdown, besides completing the Resilience Scale (RS) and the Depression Anxiety Stress Scale-21. The researchers analysed the qualitative descriptions of dreams using the thematic content analysis, which is a qualitative method of analysing data. The study found that dreams serve as crucial tool for understanding the encounters of the study group during the health crisis and to assess those at great danger of developing stress and depression. The research findings affirm that dreams impact significantly on emotions, which is an overriding aspect of human nature that determine how they approach their daily activities such as learning, or which could influence how they embrace particular behaviours and attitudes, as well as how they develop particular spiritual views and beliefs. The research findings reaffirm that dreams may not be true but could determine how a person leads their life not in one way but many dimensions.

However, further analysis provides a criticism of the findings by Borghi et al. (2021)

The research explores the impact of dreams on the three aspects – learning, personal development, and spiritual quality when people share their dreams in the context of group dynamics. Whereas dream telling is associated with a particular phase of development, Chistyakov (2017) and Dement and Wolpert (1958) reveal how narrating and interpreting dream in the group help members to restore their inner image and integrity. The chief purpose of the paper by Chistyakov (2017) is to give a review of the developments of psychoanalytic perceptions on the roles, functions, and use of dreams in therapy.  On the other hand, Dement and Wolpert (1958) sought to understand the impact of last eye movement before waking up on the dreamer. Based on the finding by Chistyakov (2017) that sharing dreams in a group context can impact significantly on others, it is apparent that it is possible to change how individuals learn, experience personal growth, and engage in spiritual matters largely by sharing their dreams with others or getting the narration of other people’s dreams. Dement and Wolpert (1958) find that revealing dreams to groups offer more insight into its nature. However, the research will give more description on this aspect that would make it easier to understand the notion of groupwork approach to dreaming. Specifically, it will shed more light into how group work approach to dreaming plays fundamental roles in boosting personal growth, especially when individuals share their dreams that encourage others and restore hope that things would be better (Hunt, 1991). The group approach allows those who share ideas to find consciousness related to dreams, something that could make them put more effort in their learning practices to achieve better grades and possibly have a better future.

The aim of this study is to provide valuable insight regarding the impact of dreaming on learning, personal development, and spiritual growth. It will show that what a person does could influence their dream and vice versa. Therefore, a person is more likely to gain the motivation to put more effort in their studies when they have a dream that they have performed well in class. Similarly, the dreams a person have could influence their personal behaviour, especially when they feel that conducting themselves in a particular way would help them achieve the desirable things or outcomes witnessed in the dream. More fundamentally, the study will affirm with the help of the various theoretical concepts that dreaming may influence spiritual quality. What this research will do differently is that it will take a multifaceted approach in looking into the matter, including examining past and current literature, making reference to various theories and concepts, and research methods. Completing the research and the collected findings should create the urge to conduct further research into this area to present more information into the area that still requires much analysis to come up with more appealing and concrete findings.


 Using thematic analysis, this qualitative research project aimed to explore adults’ perceptions of how they make sense of dreams in relation to their personal development or spiritual growth. Structured tabular thematic analysis (ST-TA) utilises a hybridised approach and is conducted in spreadsheet software such as Excel. It is designed to address any challenges and opportunities associated with working with brief texts on a procedural level (Robinson, 2021). Regardless of the various existing techniques, the goal of qualitative research is to work with brief data alongside depth data that can be meaningfully analysed to reach potential insights they contain in order to understand the complexities of human behaviour, inner life and interpersonal interaction that can be conveyed through words and text (Frost et al., 2010)

ST-TA is an adaptable technique for working with brief qualitative data in a relatively structured way. The researcher not only stays closely connected with individual’s texts, but also approaches with critical realism their own perception with others experiences when generating themes, which allows for multiple interpretations of the subject and clearly distinguishes between better and worse interpretations by the relationship of those ideas to a reality beyond words and texts (Robinson & Smith, 2010).

Since the researcher cannot directly experience the participant’s world, ST-TA requires the researcher to fully emphasize with the existence of the participant’s real world, including not only viewing life experiences from the participant’s perspective, but also critical awareness of the researcher’s own biases.

The use of the inductive approach means theme generation cannot be influenced by the theory; furthermore, the technique allows the use of tables.

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