The Psychoanalytic Study of Dreams

Adult Psychoanalytic Training (APT)
2022-23, 3rd Trimester — Fridays, 1:45-3:15pm


In this course we will explore dreaming from the perspective of different psychoanalytic models of the mind.  To keep our discussions connected to your analytic work, please bring dreams from your clinical work, which you believe illustrate the concepts in our readings and or dreams you find particularly perplexing. Each student will present a dream in class.

Learning Objectives

Each of the skills learned in this course will serve to further and deepen the associate’s analytic work leading to improved treatment outcome. At the end of this course, the candidates will be able to:

  1. develop and demonstrate approaches to working with analysands about their dreams so that analysands become receptive and interested in exploring their dreams as another mode for understanding themselves and their experience in analysis,
  2. utilize their feelings, thoughts and the integrative capacity of their mind in response to the conscious, preconscious, and unconscious communication of the analysand’s dream,
  3. recognize the bodily communication between the analyst and analysand that may be depicted in the emotional, visual imagery of the dream, and
  4. formulate and deliver interpretations of the dream in the clinical setting.

March 24, 2023 — Foundations for Dreams in Psychoanalysis: Freud and Jung

[121 pages]

Freud, S. (1900). The Interpretation of Dreams. The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, Volume V (1900): The Interpretation of Dreams (Second Part), pp509-629

This is a very long read! Every year we ask candidates if it is still worthy of assigning and every year it is a resounding yes. This paper is the foundation of many of Freud’s ideas.

Dreams are initiated in the unconscious.  For subjective awareness to occur, the dream must break through the repression barrier and be modified by:  condensation, reversal, displacement, symbolic transformation, (Dream work) to make it acceptable for the preconscious.  Secondary revision occurs upon awakening, remembering, and telling the dream as coherent images.  Dreams are not logical and are timeless. Freud repeatedly emphasizes that the dream work only processes.  It does not think.  The manifest dream is a collage of sensory impressions, both recent and indifferent, made from the day residues and serving to express an unconscious, infantile wish that had been stirred up by a current conflict or a preconscious worry. The dream work leads to self-deception.  The mind alters ideation to keep itself from being too disturbed.

Later in the course we will explore how psychoanalysis also adopted some of Jung’s perspective on dreams. This occurred decades after the schism between Freud and his protégé, Carl Jung. By this time, there were separate Jungian institutes and the ongoing feuds among schools of psychoanalysis prevented any credit being given to the ideas Jung shared with Freud. Briefly, Jung approaches dreams as communications, messengers from the unconscious, and the manifest content is not as quickly dismissed.

March 31, 2023 — Dreams in the context of Ego Psychology and Object Relations

[24 pages]

Brenner, C. (1982). The Mind in Conflict, International Universities Press, pp180-193.

Brenner applies the concept of conflict theory to dreams with particular emphasis on the defense mechanisms used to attenuate painful affects:  anxiety, guilt, shame, and depression.  The dream is a compromise formation.

Segal, H. (1983). “The function of dreams” in Essential Papers on Dreams, Lansky, M. (Ed.) New York University Press, pp239-248.

Hana Segal organizes her understanding and interpretations of dreams and interpretation around the action between self and object representations.  Affect combined with the use of projection and projective identification results in the splitting of the representation of the object.  The ego may identify with this part-object representation. Symbols may be experienced as a “thing” and not symbolic (concrete thinking).

April 7, 2023 — Dreams as “Transitional Phenomenon”

[44 pages]

Greenson, R. (1970). The exceptional position of the dream in psychoanalytic practice, Psychoanalytic Quarterly: 39:519-549.

Working with dreams facilitates free association through a comfort with the unconscious.  The immediate visual/affective experience of dreams allows the patient to see the unconscious, thus interpretations are more readily accepted as are the disguised, hidden unconscious affects, wishes, and prohibitions.

Molinari, E. (2008). Dreams: A ≪Transitional≫ Area from the Body of Experience to the Body of Thought. Ital. Psychoanal. Annu., 2:157-169.

Dreams occur in a transitional space from the experience of the body to the area of thought.  Dreams are shared between the analyst and analysand and are visual, affective experiences of past scenes either imagined or remembered.   They can be unconscious memories of primitive sensorial experiences during analytic regression similar to a small child and its mother.  The field of the preverbal, relational experience and early proto-affective traces may be in the transference and referenced in dreams.

April 14, 2023 — Dreams’ Function of Affect Integration

[43 pages]

Quinodoz, J. (1999). ‘Dreams that Turn Over a Page’ Integration Dreams with Paradoxical Regressive Content. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 80(2):225-238.

Even though disturbing images and affects are experienced in a dream, the dream may still indicate forward movement in the treatment.

Grenell, G. (2008). Affect Integration in Dreams and Dreaming. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 56(1):223-251.

The dream provides a psychological space wherein overwhelming, contradictory or highly complex affects that, under waking conditions, are subject to dissociative splitting or disavowal may be brought together for observation by the dreaming ego.  The “me/not me” quality of the dream contributes to the creation of the dream space where play, creativity, and self-analysis can develop.  New self and object representations and new relational scenarios may be revealed in dreams, demonstrating the development, integrative, creative aspects of the dreaming process.

April 21, 2023 — Dreams in a Contemporary, Intersubjective, and Interpersonal Context

[21 pages]

Atlas, G. (2013). Eat, Pray, Dream: Contemporary Use of Dreams in Psychoanalysis. Contemp. Psychoanal., 49(2):239-246.

Atlas, a contemporary relational analyst, presents four dreams that demonstrate the movement from concrete to symbolic process. The paper is an illustration of dream work as a transitional play space that leads to growth in the patient.

Gaines, R. (1994). Interpersonal and Jungian Dream Interpretation. Contemp. Psychoanal., 30:855-867

Jung was presumed the heir apparent to Freud’s psychoanalytic legacy. While his ideas originally built upon classical psychoanalysis, his analytic psychology gave more weight to relational ideas and the interpersonal school of psychoanalysis approaches dreams much more like Jung.

Optional Reading

Stolorow, R. & Atwood, G. (1992). Dreams and the subjective world. In Lansky, M. (Ed.), Essential Papers on Dreams, New York University Press, pp272-294.

The concrete perceptual images in the dream can lead to the dreamer’s feeling of conviction about the validity of past traumatic experience and the need for dissociation and disguise—perceiving is believing.  The dream affirms and solidifies the nuclear organizing structures of the dreamer’s subjective life.  Type 1-dream symbols are the customary creation of a neurotic mind with clear configuration of self and other.  Type 2 dream symbols are more about maintaining psychological organization, restoring the vulnerable structures to prevent disintegration.  At these times the analyst must be experienced as real, not as if.  An empathic attunement that serves to maintain the cohesion of the self leads to the experience of the self and analyst as real.  Dreams can consolidate and stabilize new structures and subjectivities of the analysand.

Additional Information

Additional Readings for a longer course on dreams:

Grennell, G. (2002). The termination phase as seen through the lens of the dream. J. Amer. Psychoanal 50: 779-805. (On PEP-Web) (OPTIONAL)

Dreams can reveal an analysand’s readiness for termination.  Dreams of graduation, funerals, people or objects separating, self-examination (capacity for self analysis) may all be preconscious reference to termination.

Lansky, M. (1990). The screening function of post-traumatic nightmares. British Journal of Psychotherapy, Vol 6:  384-400. (Not on PEP-Web) (OPTIONAL)

The compulsion to repeat can be seen as a wish from the ego, originally overwhelmed, as preparing itself in both dreams and repetitive acts to replay and eventually to master overwhelming traumatic experiences.  Soldiers, returning from battle, experienced dreams as though they were flashbacks – exact replays.  But, on careful examination the nightmares were not exact replicas and some contained material from early family experiences.  Viewing the dream as exact replicas of battlefield experience, when they clearly were not, must be seen as an aspect of the disguise function of the dream, a screen to prevent the dream from being too troubling and too connected to ongoing painful and conflicted material, past and present, embedded with guilt and shame.  The rationalization that the nightmare has nothing to do with one’s life experiences is used to prevent the dream experience from integration into the entire continuity of one’s life, childhood, and military experience.

The nightmares clearly have a screening function to conceal from awareness infantile trauma and its residuals.  Most of the patients were raised in families where marital strife, physical violence, and alcoholism were rife.  The handling of intense shame and rage by placing it on the battlefield is rationalized as coming from the battlefield only and not connected to one’s entire life

Mancia, M. (1999). Psychoanalysis and the neurosciences: a topical debate on dreams, IJP, 80: 1205-13. (On PEP-Web) (OPTIONAL)

Dreams allow old experiences to be reconsidered in the present allowing new meaning to be assigned to past experiences.

Watson, R. (1994). The clinical use of the analyst’s dreams of the patient. Contemporary Psychoanalysis (1999), 30:510-521. (On PEP-Web) (OPTIONAL)

The analyst’s dream involving the patient can represent (1) neurotic conflict in the analyst; (2) a transient identification with the patient; (3) the mind of the analyst attempting to symbolize and integrate (understand) the patient; (4) a containing function of the projections from the patient with the analyst identifying with the projected disavowed parts of the analysand’s mind.  Also, the dream may be a representation of the current interpersonal action in the analysis.