How Ireland is in the vanguard of dream analysis

Limerick college’s new master’s degree explores aspects of the psyche through dreams

It’s clear dreams and their meanings have been on all our minds since the Covid-19 pandemic began. Photograph: Getty Images

Did you know Ireland is at the forefront of dream analysis?

"Working with dreams and with one's creativity is soul food, it's nourishing," says Dr Mathew Mather, programme director of the art, psyche and the creative imagination master's degree that has started at the Limerick School of Art and Design (LSAD). "What's different with our new MA is personal learning is at the cornerstone, we combine the experiential with theory; it's a personal journey as well as an educational experience. I'm not aware of anywhere in the world that has our course's unique qualities."

From social media reports to academic studies, it's clear dreams and their meanings have been on all our minds since the Covid-19 pandemic began, and academics in America, France (the Lyon Neuroscience Research Centre) and Italy (the Italian Association of Sleep Medicine) are now studying the effect of pandemic dreams. Dr Deirdre Barrett from Harvard University has even written a book about the phenomenon, Pandemic Dreams.

Working through your dreams is associated with wellbeing and participants in Limerick’s new master’s degree will “engage with the unconscious and experience different aspects of the psyche through dreams, imagery and active imagination”.


The three-year part-time/blended learning course draws considerably on the work of Carl Jung, the Swiss doctor considered to be a father of psychology and a pioneer in dream analysis. Dr Jung brought many terms into modern parlance such as psyche, the unconscious and synchronicity, and he believed the integration of our unconscious and conscious worlds was essential, "for the sake of mental stability and even physiological health".

Pandemic dreams

Since the pandemic began, it’s been theorised that the collective stress and trauma, coupled with an upsurge in creativity, is fuelling dreams on a scale never before seen and this is even possibly contributing to the worldwide mass “great job resignation”. Dr Mather says our collective response isn’t surprising as people in western society particularly have been forced to make “the great pause”, and take time out from busyness and distraction.

“The pandemic has been absolutely devastating for some, but for others it’s the gift that keeps on giving. On a mass scale we’ve been forced into this state of examination and introversion,” says Dr Mather.

“For years we’ve been distracted by the outside world now we’ve been forced to look inwards and re-evaluate, our dreams are a way of working things out and finding solutions without using words. It’s almost like the unconscious is finally getting some airtime. There’s something of huge value to be found in the unconscious; if we connect with that and start working with integrating I feel one can really live a creative life.”

Dr Jung worked out many of his own issues through his mandalas and other amazing and often surreal artwork, published in his famous Red Book in 2009.

Since the pandemic many have found creative outlets, whether it be gardening, baking, home decorating or being in nature – visual experiences which in themselves facilitate dreaming. The new master's programme in Limerick is a natural progression from the certificate in Jungian psychology with art therapy that also runs out of the LSAD. Dr Mather (who originally had an electrical engineering background) says of the Limerick courses, which he spearheaded along with his wife, Lyn Mather an art therapist and Dr Martina Cleary: "You're allowing a space for psyche to express itself by making imagery, it's accessing the playful inner child, as such the soul; most students have quite a meaningful experience.

“We attract a lot of people who are at a crossroads in their lives and the experience helps them orient and find something new. In my case having a career in technology and moving in this direction has been like moving from black in white to colour but it’s not always like that for everybody, sometimes small changes occur.”


So far the course has attracted students of all ages, as well as counsellors, psychotherapists, shamans, artists, educationalists, a poet, alternative healers, an acupuncturist and priests. “It all allows for a rich, co-creative experience,” Dr Mather explains.

Students also learn about archetypes, the figures that Dr Jung says appear in dreams for a specific purpose and which have universal meaning, eg an old man, a mother, a child or hero. “The hero myth, getting into the rocket, conquering nature, stories with a war premise, was a big focus of the 20th century, but I believe today we’re moving from war to wonder,” says Dr Mather.

During the pandemic the different masks we show the world also slipped or merged as we admitted to mental health challenges or tried to juggle work with minding children or doing home-related tasks. “I think because of our recent experiences society is becoming more forgiving, more human, less judgmental,” Dr Mather concurs.

He believes Ireland has a big role to play in the ongoing, "renaissance of the psycho-spiritual". "Disenchantment coloured the 20th century and buying into consumerism, the materialistic view of the world, including Ireland with the Celtic tiger, got us into a sorry state, but Ireland retains a stronger traditional way of life and connection to the earth. Ireland is sometimes described as a country with a pagan background but a Christian veneer, it's got that wildness and ruggedness on the western edge of Europe and that coupled with the spiritual history of place is quite a compelling mix.

“Ireland is well positioned for finding a new meaning to it all, there’s been a lot of disenchantment, a loss of soul, the formal institutions and religions are faltering, but when we start looking at unconscious and psyche we see that’s a very rich resource from a Jungian point of view, the unconscious isn’t just hurt and repressed emotions, it’s an immense resource for renewal.”