Why do we dream of dead loved ones? Mental health professionals and dream analysts debate possible reasons. | Joel Eisenberg

DreamAmol Tyagi, Unsplash

Author’s Note

This article is free from bias and is based on the findings of currently accredited medical organizations and mental health professionals. Although I myself am a former mental health professional with a background in psychology, I am not a medical doctor and do not offer any medical or therapeutic advice here. Please contact a practicing health or mental health professional for any sleep problem that interferes with your daily life.

Sources for this article include Psychology Today (Patrick McNamara, PhD), The New York Times (Rebecca Cathcart), International Journal of Dream Research, Roger Knudson, Ph.D, Dr. Joshua Black, Ph.D, and LearningMind.com ( Andreea Vaduva, B.Sc.).


I often dream of my father, who died 11 years ago at the age of 70. He was my best friend, proud of my professional endeavors and was always there when I needed him. Richard Eisenberg left behind a legacy of love and wisdom.

Dreaming of deceased loved ones is a common trait, but it is also a confusing trait. Dubbed “visiting dreams” by spiritualists and widely adapted, mental health professionals have studied the common trend for years, and while there is some general agreement on the matter, a definitive answer as to why such dreams occur remains elusive.

The words and viewpoints that follow will explore the debate, as well as a general perspective with which mental health professionals seem to largely agree.

Dreaming of the deceased

In October 2011, Psychology Today published an article by Patrick McNamara, PhD (Associate Professor of Neurology at Boston University School of Medicine), which has since been excerpted and reprinted many times in journals and publications in line related to mental health (validated by a random Google search). To see here for McNamara’s “Visitation Dreams”, which deals with the phenomenon of vivid dreaming of deceased loved ones.

From the article: Even in modernized societies, visitation dreams have a tremendous impact on bereaved people. Many bereaved people report that these kinds of dreams have resulted in a successful resolution of the grieving process. Despite the importance of visitation dreams to theories of religion and to the well-being of bereaved people, very little research has been conducted on them. For example, I could not find any reliable epidemiological data on visitation dreams.

Although McNamara also discussed the unique nature of these dreams as being more vivid than most, his conclusion was telling: there was, until then, no scientific basis for a definite conclusion regarding the definitive reasons for them. this.

In 2018, McNamara revisited the concept of visiting dreams for “Visitation Dreams II: Dreams of Bereaveda sort of full sequel to his well-received original article on the subject, also published by Psychology Today.

Excerpt from McNamara’s second article, which shares then-updated optimistic information about visitation dreams as a legitimate area of ​​study: Research on the dreams of bereaved people is finally picking up a bit. A team of Canadian researchers recently published an analysis of the content of the dreams of some 76 bereaved middle-aged people (see Black, DeCicco, Seeley, Murkar, Black, & Fox International Journal of Dream Research Volume 9, No. 2: 2016 ). The Canadian team reported that 67.1% of the bereaved sample said dreams of the deceased helped them believe more in an afterlife, 68.4% described their dreams of the deceased as ‘visits’ and 70.9% said dreams of the deceased made them feel better. related to the deceased.

A 2007 article by Rebecca Cathcart for the New York Times, Crossing the “big dreams” are the threads of our livesquoted mental health professionals and spiritualists to further elucidate the still widely studied field.

Excerpt from the Cathcart article: “Returning to life” or “visiting” dreams, as they are called among dream scholars and psychologists, are vivid, memorable dreams of the dead. They are a particularly powerful form of what Carl Jung called “big dreams”, those that we will remember emotionally for the rest of our lives. Big dreams are once again on the minds of psychologists as part of a larger trend to study dreams as meaningful representations of our concerns and emotions. “Big dreams are transformative,” Roger Knudson, Ph.D. Director. program in clinical psychology at Miami University of Ohio, said in a telephone interview. The dreamlike imagination doesn’t just harvest images from remembered experiences, he said. He has a “poetic creativity” that connects the dots and “warps the given,” turning scattered memories and emotions into vivid, experiential vignettes that can help us reflect on our lives.

Podcast host Dr. Joshua Black, Ph.D, runs a website that focuses on what he calls “mourning dreams.” To see here for “A Few Common Grief Dream Answered” on the website, which states: No one can ever tell you if a dream is a visitation or not (although many people try). I only step in if someone calls their negative dream a visit, because research indicates it’s more likely a product of your unresolved emotions. By believing that this dream is literally true, you may not only make yourself even more unhappy, but you may miss an opportunity to learn from your dream. If your dream is positive, then believe what your heart wants. Only you know how this particular dream makes you feel.

Outside of more scientific mental health perspectives, countless spiritualists regularly write blogs and articles about the truths behind the visiting dreams. Again, a targeted Google search will reveal page after page of stories and so-called “factual accounts” of the deceased going back to the dreamer of other realms. To see here for Learning Mind by Andreea Vaduva, B.Sc., titled “8 Signs of Visitation Dreams and How to Interpret Them,” which explores some of these perspectives.

Excerpt from the article, which details the main differences in perspective: Mediums claim that if we have a seriously ill person in the family and a deceased relative speaks to us, the message received should be carefully considered because the spirit of a deceased person comes to convey a message. Often, business people in financial difficulty claim to have received a warning or a solution from their deceased relatives or friends. Also, spiritual people believe that those who have gone on to eternity can appear in the dream of people they loved in earthly life to help them escape tribulation.

Debates at all levels are likely to continue.


Visitation dreams have become an increasingly studied faction of the study of dreams proper. Although all the true reasons for dreaming of the deceased remain to be proven, opposing parties largely agree that this common predilection is part of the grieving process.

Thanks for the reading.

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