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Web Exclusives: Alumni Spotlight

October 19, 2005:

The dream doctor
Charles McPhee ’85 interprets nighttime visions

Charles McPhee ’85

Charles McPhee ’85 has amassed the world’s largest database of dreams, some 500,000. (courtesy Charles McPhee ’85)

A woman from Minneapolis called The Dream Doctor Show, a nationally syndicated radio program hosted by Charles McPhee ’85, to ask about a recurring dream. A baby and the flesh-eating Hannibal Lecter, who had been frozen and thawed, are chasing her and trying to eat her. McPhee, aka the Dream Doctor, quickly found out that the woman, 34 and single, desperately wanted to meet a partner and have a child. Recounting the phone call during an interview, McPhee said he told her that her dream symbolized concerns about becoming a mother. And those concerns, he said, “were consuming her.”

McPhee has made a career of helping people make sense of their nighttime visions. Through his Web site ( and The Dream Doctor Show, which airs weeknights across the United States, McPhee interprets people’s dreams and offers advice about how to deal with the real-life issues they reflect. His advice to the woman from Minneapolis: Acknowledge your fears of being childless, talk openly about your feelings with friends, socialize ... and hunt that man down — her future husband, not Hannibal Lecter. McPhee’s Web site includes information about different kinds of dreams, sleep disorders, tips on improving sleep, and a dream symbols dictionary. Crashing planes and oversleeping for an exam, for example, have to do with career concerns; kittens are related to fertility; and fire is a common metaphor for a crisis that needs attention, he says.

Dreamology — at least the way he practices it— is no crackpot science, says McPhee. He has studied sleep disorders and dreams for some 20 years. McPhee, a nephew of writer and professor John McPhee ’53, first got interested in dreams as a freshman at Princeton when he started having lucid dreams, in which the dreamer is aware that he is dreaming and can even act in the dream. McPhee headed to Firestone and read everything he could on the subject — which didn’t take very long, he says. There’s no academic field of dreamology. He wrote his senior thesis in the sociology department on lucid dreaming and later expanded his thesis into his first book, Stop Sleeping Through Your Dreams (1995).

After college he coordinated the sleep research laboratory at the National Institute of Mental Health; later he was certified by the Board of Registered Polysomnographic Technologists to perform sleep-disorder testing, earned a master’s in communication management from the University of Southern California, and directed the sleep apnea patient-treatment program at the Sleep Disorders Center of Santa Barbara. Since 1998, he has focused on dream interpretation and has amassed the world’s largest database of dreams — some 500,000, mostly through his Web site.

A common misconception about dreams, he says, is that “they are about far-out things or mystical.” But common dreams that we all have, he says, are always about practical, down-to-earth concerns, such as careers, frustration with reaching our goals, romantic relationships, and children.

To help remember your dreams, he says, you can tell yourself before you go to sleep to remember them and then try to recall them as soon as you wake up. McPhee keeps a dream diary. Every morning he and his wife talk about their dreams. About their meaning, he says, “we’re rarely stumped.”

By K.F.G.