Posted on 30th April 2021 at 22:21
Many people are interested and perhaps even fascinated by dreams. In ancient times, it was believed that dreams were messages from the Gods, containing portents of the future. Aristotle recognised dreams as belonging to the dreamer rather than messages sent by the Gods. We all dream during sleep, though we may not always remember what we dreamed about when we awake. Research supports important links between intense emotional life experiences and strong dream experiences. Both are processed in the same regions of the brain and along the same neuronal pathways.  American psychiatrist and neurobiologist, Daniel Siegel, states that dreaming is “one of the important ways we integrate memory and emotion,” with the dream serving as “an amalgam of memories in search of resolution.”  Researchers once believed that people dreamed only during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, the deep sleep stage of the sleep cycle. More recent studies have shown that while dreaming occurs mostly during the REM stage of sleep, people dream in other stages of sleep also. [1,3]
Along with free association and transference, dreams are of central importance in psychoanalysis and psychoanalytic psychotherapy. The founder of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud, believed that consciousness existed as a layered structure and that many psychic processes took place below the surface, in the area of the unconscious. Describing dreams are the “royal road” to the unconscious, Freud believed them to be both evidence of the existence of the unconscious aswell as a means of accessing and gaining a deeper understanding of the information it stored. Parapraxis (Freudian slip or slips of the tongue) and joke synthesis, were regarded as futher proof of the existence of unconscious processes. In his seminal text, The Interpretation of Dreams (1900), Freud developed the concept of dream analysis, or dream interpretation, as a way of tapping into unconscious material. In Freud’s view, all dreams were a disguised fulfilment of a wish. Our everyday speech subscribes to the wish fulfillment fantasy of dreams in phrases like "in your dreams,""dream on" and "never in my wildest dreams." Dreams incorporate external and internal stimuli and recruit recent happenings that are still fresh in the memory. These stimuli are translated into a pictorial imagery in the dream process. The wish fulfilment aspect of a dream can be clearly seen in the straightforward dreams of children or where there is an urgent physiological need such as thirst or hunger. These type of dreams need little or no interpretation. Things get more complex in the dreams of adults where Freud believed that the wish is often unacceptable to the conscious mind during the hours of wakefulness and must still be disguised in sleep so as not to wake the dreamer. The dream thus acts as a censor and guardian.  Freud distinguished two elements to dreams: the manifest content, which is the dream as experienced or remembered and the latent content, which is the underlying meaning, revealed by interpretation 
The interpretation of a dream in Freudian terms, involves working through the client’s associations with each part of the dream in order to reach the hidden meaning. Further meanings can evolve as the analysis proceeds. Freud described various mechanisms that allowed the dream wish to be expressed but in a distorted form. Common distortion processes include condensation where, for example, two or more ideas, images or figures are combined and the meaning is to be found in the link between them. In displacement, the emotion attached to one idea or image is transferred on to another but the associated feelings remain the same. In secondary revision, the dreamer on waking, attempts to interpret the dream content themsleves with a tendency to make the dream into a more coherent account, often disguising the underlying meaning still further. The existence of symbolism in dreams also allows disguise. While Freud believed much of dream symbolism to be sexual in nature, not all of his dream symbols were sexual. Freud also maintained that dreams always recapitulate childhood memories and the instinctual forces and images that predominate that time in life. 
Much later, in his publication Beyond the Pleasure Principle (1920), written after the First World War, Freud added an exception to his wish fulfilment theory, when he described the re enactment of war trauma in dreams (shell shock). Here, the massive overwhelm of the stimulus (brutal scenes and sounds of war) caused a regression to a more primitive mechanism, that of repeating the trauma over and over in an attempt to master it. Regular nightmares are also difficult to consider as always being disguised wish fulfilments.
Psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, Carl Jung, believed in the collective unconscious as well as the individual unconscious and that dreams must also encompass the collective unconscious. He believed the dream to be a symbolic language, informing the dreamer about their psyche and what it is able to manage. Additionally, he saw dreams as attempts to express and create rather than the Freudian view of repression and disguise. Jungian analysis therefore utilises a technique called amplification, which explores the collective understanding of the symbol, to help the individual find meaning in the dream. Jung felt that Freud's ideas of symbols were too simplistic and believed that their associated meanings could be much more complex. A Jungian interpretation of dreams involves not only the client’s associations but also the analyst’s knowledge of Jung’s archetypal symbols and their significance. 
Later psychanalysts and psychologists such as Fairbairn, Schachtel and Piaget all had issue with Freud’s theory of the dream as a repressed hidden wish and believed that dreaming was a process rather than a record of a specific fact, such as a wish.  More recently, neuropsychoanalyst, Mark Solms, concluded that current neuroscientific evidence makes Freudian dream theory plausible. It supports Freud’s hypothesis that dreams are ‘motivated phenomena,’ driven by our wishes. It supports Freud’s conception of where and how the dream process starts (for example, by an arousing stimulus which activates the emotional and motivational systems) and of where and how it ends. 
Anyone that has had dream analysis in therapy and those of us that perform dream analysis as therapists, can attest to its fascination and insight. Even client's that initially say “I never remember my dreams” come along sessions later and report a dream they had. Experts agree that dreams have important emotional and cognitive purposes, even if we don’t remember them on waking. So 'dream on' and if you are thinking about starting psychoanalytical psychotherapy (contact me here), consider recording your dreams on waking - just keywords - before they disappear from memory by lunchtime!
1. Scarpelli S, Bartolacci C, D’Atri A, Gorgoni M and De Gennaro L (2019) The Functional Role of Dreaming in Emotional Processes. Front. Psychol. 10:459. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2019.00459
2. Siegal, D. (2010) Mindsight: The New Science of Personal Transformation. New York: Bantam.
3. Solms, M. (1999) 'The Interpretation of Dreams & The Neurosciences'. https://psychoanalysis.org.uk/articles/the-interpretation-of-dreams-and-the-neurosciences-mark-solms
4. Symington. N. (1986) The Analytic Experience: Lectures from the Tavistock London Free Association Books pp.90-105
5. Freud, S. (1900) The interpretation of Dreams. Standard Edition 4-5
6. Freud, S. (1920) Beyond the Pleasure Principle. Standard Edition 18. pp. 1-64
7. Jung, C. G. (1947). On the Nature of the Psyche. London: Ark Paperbacks
Tagged as: Dream Interpretation, Dreams, Trauma
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