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About How We Work with Dreams
in Psychoanalysis

By Jean Chiriac

Many times people ask us about dream interpretation method at Freud, thinking of the old, traditional method consisting on the use of the dream-keys. This paper is designed to clarify this subject matter, that is how psychoanalysis deals with the dream interpretation.

Freud first established a dream interpretation method he called scientific, still keeping in mind that tradition claims that dreams have a meaning. His scientific world - and most of our as well - did not believe that dreams have a meaning. Freud made this giant step from denying the meaning of dreams to asserting it as accurate, and treating dreams with the respect due to all natural psychical phenomena.

What are the main features of the Freudian method? Here are the most important:

- dreams are interpreted only with the help of the dreamer's associations;
- the interpretation consists in the transformation of the
manifest content into the latent one;
- dreams express
repressed wishes;
- dreams are interpreted on the
object level, meaning on the base of the relationship of the dreamer with persons or situations from his outer, social, life;
- dreams are restricted to traumatic events from the dreamer's childhood;
- the interpretation of dreams concerns only the practice of analysis in the therapeutical environment (Freud denies the precognitive quality of dreams)

All these aspects are treated mainly in our module 3 of the initiation into psychoanalysis course (click here to learn more about this module). Here we will insist only on the first one, which is related to free associations.

So dreams are interpreted starting from the associations of the dreamer. What are these associations?

Working with his patients, Freud invented the method of free associations in order to explore their unconscious. The same method, with a few minor modifications, also applies to the interpretation of dreams. The modification consists in the fact that the associations are no longer free and spontaneous, but connected to the themes that form the content of the dreams. But even in this case the dreamer has to allow him/herself to be led by his/her associations without deliberately interfering in their course, without selecting or choosing something special.

Let's take an example. Somebody dreamed a trip to the mountains with a lot of sun and blue sky. Suddenly he woke up alone in a hotel room watching a horror movie telling himself: "things cannot go on like this forever".

In order to interpret this dream Freud asks us, first of all, to break it in small pieces, then to make associations for each separate element (theme), one at a time. The first step - break the dream in small pieces:

- the trip to the mountain;
- the sun and the blue sky;
- alone in the hotel room;
- I watch a horror movie;
- I say: "things cannot go on like this forever".

The second step - find free associations for each element (theme) one at a time:

- the trip to the mountain - I like to take trips to the mountain, especially to C. [a mountain holiday resort]. I go there every time I have the chance and I feel wonderful, I live a marvelous experience. Especially at C. I feel relaxed...

- the sun and the blue sky - it is not my favorite weather. Generally speaking the summer sun producing a powerful light makes me feel annoyed and depressed. I also remember a conversation I had yesterday when I suggested somebody that the sun is a symbol for a megalomaniac, psychotic individual, one who thinks himself to be God.

- alone in the hotel room - when I spend my holidays to the mountain or to the seaside, I do not like spending too much time in the hotel room. There was a time when I lived alone in a hotel - it is not such a pleasant memory.

- I watch a horror movie - my wife does not like these movies - but I do. She prefers comedies and in order to please her I agree to watch them. Now I am discovering I do not have the chance to see my favorite movies anymore.

- I say: "things cannot go on like this forever" - I think about the fact that things do not stay the same, friends, life situations, even our passions, everything changes. If you take a distant look at things you see the fluctuation of events.

After finishing the associations, the dreamer also remembers he did not always like going to the mountain, that the mountain became his passion after somebody convinced him. This "somebody" developed a psychosis afterwards. A true case for psychoanalysis.

Of course these associations will augment because other memories that initially are not present will appear, memories that help us extend the covering area of the dream to more complex events, which also include the childhood of the dreamer.

The interpretation of the dream must reveal the latent ideas that produced it. In our case it is an unpleasant dream connected to the fact that the dreamer must repress his powerful wishes.

 

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