Dream Interpretation Essay, Research Paper
Historical Psychoanalysis and Dream Interpretation:
The Freudian Methodology
A bubble floats down from the sky and a cat appears to be encased within the bubble The cat meows and the bubble shatters and breaks. Suddenly there are bowls filled with cat embryos. A booming voice calls to you and you know it is the voice of God. God is telling you to kill your neighbor, who is really a demon in disguise
See the above vision during the day, wide-awake, and you are diagnosed as insane. See the same vision at night, sound asleep in your bed, and you will be judged perfectly normal; it is all but a dream. In the dreaming state the normal person’s brain quite regularly mimics the most blatant manifestations of mental illness. In dreaming the sensory perceptions are akin to hallucinations; the false belief systems similar to the delusions of psychosis; and the aberrant thinking, memory loss, and confabulatory quality is analogous to the delirium and dementia of organic brain disease (168 Hobson).
Dreams have long been subject to controversy, whether they are a source of predicting the future, or as Sigmund Freud portrayed them as the “royal road to the unconscious”. Sigmund Freud was a renowned psychologist who, although did not originate the concept of dream interpretation, was integral in developing some methodologies of utilizing the dream as a means of deciphering the psyche of the dreamer, particularly in uncovering and analyzing the dreamer’s psychological problems. In Freud’s view, the purpose of dreams was to allow the individual to experience the instinctual urges that society deems unacceptable. Being that Freud was a product of the Victorian age, much of his dreamwork focused on the symbolism of dreams as projections of feelings of sexual frustration and guilt (15, 16 Storr).
The leading dream theory since the early twentieth century has been that of psychoanalysis according to Sigmund Freud. Freud’s theory encompassed the idea that dream formation is the psychological disguise of an unconscious wish. During the sleep state the ego or self relaxes its vigilance toward the id or instinct, which allows forbidden wishes or drives to escape from their safe confinement that resides in the unconscious. If these freed desires invaded the consciousness they would disrupt sleep. The part of the psyche called the censor protects sleep by transforming the real import of the unconscious wishes into symbols whose meaning is concealed from the dreamer. Freud believed that all aspects of the manifest or remembered dream content were the result of
censorship and in disguise of its true content. This means that the true meaning of dreams was obscure to the dreamer, but that it could be revealed by psychoanalysis using an interpretive technique that urged the dreamer to free associate in response to the manifest content (145, 146 Hobson). Freud analogized that dreaming was similar to a neurosis in that all mental content of both the waking and sleeping states were symptoms of pathologically repressed wishes (168 Hobson).
Freud’s theory of dreams embodies a distinction that he made between two levels of dreams. One level is the manifest content of the dream; this is the content of the dream, which a person is able to remember. If I was able to tell someone the dream I had experience the previous night, I would be reporting the manifest content. Manifest content, in Freud’s view, possessed no meaning or significance because it was the disguised representation of the true thoughts underlying the dream. These thoughts make-up the latent contents (the second level of dreams) and consists of unconscious wishes and fantasies, which have been, denied gratification. These wishes find an outlet through being expressed in a transformed way and eventually appear in an unrecognizable form in the manifest content. It is as if two languages are represented, with one being a cleaned-up version of something that is much more raw and crude (151-158 Freud).
The unconscious is composed of innate, instinctive material, which has never been conscious, as well as additions in which have been banished to the unconscious because they were consciously unacceptable. Responsible for maintaining the boundary between conscious and the unconscious is the censor that Freud spoke of. The censor acts as a sentinel that prevents the instinctual material from gaining access to the domain of consciousness, while at the same time forcing any threatening thoughts that develop in the consciousness into the region of the unconscious. The censor carries out these monitoring duties using the force of repression. During sleep, however, the censor is not quite as alert and can be fooled into allowing unconscious material to pass through (Freud 151, 155, 156, 311, 312, 356, 357).
Freud began his studies at the University of Vienna medical school in 1873. While there he became interested in mechanistic physiology, which was promoted by his physiology teacher Ernst Brucke. According to this view, all physiology processes, no matter how complex, had to be accounted for mechanistically in terms of ordinary physical and chemical laws (2 Storr). Freud worked in Brucke’s laboratory for six years, publishing several papers on neuroantomy, and he hoped that eventually he could pursue a career as a research physiologist rather than as a practicing physician. However, early in the 1880s, he reluctantly concluded that an academic research career would not be possible because of his Jewish background and the anti-Semitic atmosphere at the time in Vienna.
He decided that he would have to practice medicine after all, and so he went to the General Hospital in Vienna for clinical training (28, 29 Appignanesi and Forrester).
Freud’s prior neurophysiological interests led him to the psychiatry clinic at the General Hospital, which was under the direction of the famous brain anatomist, Theodore Meymert. Under Meymert’s direction, Freud became adept at diagnosing organic brain disorders. He now developed ambitions of specializing in this field and as Meymert’s best student he won a fellowship that enabled him to travel to Paris, France, and study with Jean Charcot. Charcot had made his reputation by studying neurological conditions such as polio and multiple sclerosis, but when Freud met him he was deep into the study of hysteria. The term hysteria is derived from the Greek word hystera, which means uterus. Hysteria is a pyschoneurosis, in which unconscious emotional conflicts appear as severe mental dissociation or as physical symptoms (conversion reactions), and is not dependent upon any known organic or structural pathology. The underlying anxiety is assumed to have been converted into a physical symptom. Hysteria was considered a specifically female disorder and was attributed to a malfunctioning uterus (2, 3 Storr). Freud related that hysterical symptoms often resemble in some ways the effects of localized brain injuries, but occur in the absence of such injuries (11 Storr). Most physicians of his era dismissed hysteria as malingering and did not take it seriously, but Charcot believed that it was a real condition caused by generalized weakness of the nervous system, and allowed for a susceptibility to hypnosis. Because of the
prestigeousness that Charcot possessed he helped to elevate the previously disreputable subject of hysteria and hypnosis into scientific respectability, and he introduced Freud to their serious and systematic study (5, 6, Brill).
Charcot circa 1886
(Freud and Culture Photo Archives)
After returning from Paris to Vienna Freud found that he could not attract enough patients to his private practice by specializing in ordinary neurological and brain diseases. He then began accepting patients with hysterical symptoms. At first, his therapeutic armamentarium for such cases was sparse, consisting mostly of warm or cold baths (hydrotherapy) and mild electrical stimulation’s of the afflicted body parts (electrotherapy). These treatments were of little value in contributing to any sort of actual physical cure. The only benefit that they attributed was that of the power of suggestion to the patient, but the treatments were virtually a placebo. Freud then tried direct hypnosis, where patients were hypnotized and told that their symptoms would disappear. Patients showed some improvement, but the treatment was far from perfect.
Freud then recalled a case that might assist in his treatments of hysterical patients. The case he had in mind had been described to him by his friend, Josef Breuer (11 Storr).
Josef Breuer and wife
(Freud and Culture Photo Archive)
Josef Breuer was a highly respected Viennese physician who had supported Freud both financially and morally when he was a struggling medical student. Breuer had confided in Freud concerning a case in his practice. The patient in his case was Bertha Pappenheim, who was a young woman that was stricken with severe hysterical symptoms. Ordinarily Breuer did not accept hysterical patients, but the Pappenheims were family friends. Under those conditions Breuer had agreed to do what he could to help Bertha. Over a period of several months, he and Bertha together developed the basic carthartic method of treatment. This method consisted of putting Bertha under hypnosis, where upon she would recall previously forgotten, but emotionally charged experiences that related to the onset of her symptoms. After remembering them and expressing the previously pent-up emotions associated with them (a process Breuer and Freud later called abreaction) the symptoms disappeared. The treatment seemed effective, although towards the end of the treatments Bertha begun to express a strong emotional attachment
to Breuer. This carthatic method was all but forgotten by Freud, until in his own private practice he needed a treatment other than the simple hypnotic suggestion (12 Storr).
However, Freud faced a drawback using the hypnosis method of uncovering repressed thoughts. Not all hysterical patients could be hypnotized. A more widely applicable technique was needed for accessing his patient’s unconscious pathogenic ideas. There was also the question as to why these ideas had become unconscious in the first place. This led Freud to invent “free association”, where patients were in the normal waking state, reclined on the couch with eyes closed; were instructed to let their minds wander freely to any thoughts that were aroused by their symptoms, no matter how ridiculous or anxiety arousing the thoughts were. This procedure was difficult in practice because the patients inevitably experienced what Freud called resistance (a blocking, editing, or censoring of their accounts that could be overcome only with great persistence and encouragement from the therapist). Freud was convinced that pathogenic ideas became unconscious because there was something fundamentally anxiety arousing about them, so much that they were actively repressed from consciousness, and the symptoms appeared in their stead. Freud deduced that unconsciously the patients seemed to have made the decision that it was better to suffer the pain of the symptom than that of thinking the thought. The symptom therefore represented a defense against the conscious acknowledgement of the thought (12, 13, 30, 45 Storr).
The first dream that Freud analyzed using this method was one of his own (The Dream of Irma’s Injection). In the dream, Freud was at a gathering at which Irma (one of his own patients in real life) fell ill after being injected by one of his colleagues with propyl. Freud then saw vividly before him the formula for the chemically related substance trimethylamin, printed in heavy type. Like dream contents are this dream was disjointed, somewhat bizarre, and made no obvious sense. When Freud free-associated to this directly experienced but nonsensical content of his dream, however, a series of unsuspected ideas emerged that did make sense. These included the recollection that his best friend Fliess, who was a doctor (although not the doctor in his dream), had been dangerously negligent in an operation that he had asked Fliess to perform on Irma in real life. Freud also recalled a recent conversation with Fliess in which they had speculated about the role of trimethylamin in the chemistry of the body’s sexual processes. These recollections in turn led to a whole jumble of conflict-laden thoughts and wishes regarding both Fliess and Irma. These encompassed feelings of resentment and anger towards his friend Fliess and of a certain sexual attraction between himself and his patient (Irma). Many of these thoughts were anxiety arousing and difficult to accept, but Freud felt forced to acknowledge that they were true, that they made sense, and that they therefore constituted the real motivation and meaning of his dream (139-153 Freud).
Freud was convinced that virtually any dream could be interpreted in much the same manner as he interpreted his own dream of Irma and moreover could be shown to have
some remarkable similarities to hysterical symptoms. When the remembered dream experience, referred to by him as its manifest content, was subjected to free association in the same way that hysterical patients’ symptoms were, a previously unconscious latent content was revealed. This latent content seemed to stand in many of the same relationships to the manifest content that unconscious pathogenic ideas stood to hysterical symptoms. In both instances the conscious products were psychologically safer (less anxiety arousing) than the original unconscious ideas that had to be recovered through free association. Further, individual symptoms and manifest dream images both seemed to represent several different unconscious ideas at once; e.g., a whole group of different pathogenic ideas often underlay a single hysterical symptom, just as a large number of complexly interrelated ideas had been associated with his brief dream sequence of Irma’s injection dream. Freud called this phenomenon overdetermination in the case of symptoms and condensation in the dreams (130-138 Freud).
One of Freud’s most interesting patients where he employed his dream analysis was the case of Ida Bauer a.k.a. “and his Dora”. During October of 1900 an industrialist took his
eighteen year old daughter (Freud used for her the name of “Dora”) to see Doctor Freud. Dora was acting peculiar and saying strange things. Freud welcomed Dora as a patient who would provide him with a suitable test of his theories of hysteria, his analysis technique and of his interpretation of dreams (146-149 Appignanesi and Forrester). Freud described Dora’s family as follows: her father (Phillip Bauer) as a dominating figure, in his late forties, having unusual activities and talents (which Freud did not elaborate on) and living in a standard of comfort. Freud described Dora as being tenderly attached to her father, but took offense at many of his actions and peculiarities. Her mother (Katherina Gerber Bauer) was supposedly an uncultivated woman, who
concentrated all her interests upon domestic affairs and apparently had an obsession with cleaning and fears of dirt and contamination. Her brother (Otto Bauer) served as a role model for her, but their relationship had become distant during the last few years. Dora was on excellent terms with her governess until she found out that the governess was in love with her father (64 Kanzer).
Dora recounts her first dream to Freud as follows: In her dream their house was on fire. Her father was standing beside her bed and woke her up. She dressed quickly. Her mother wanted to stop and save her jewel-case; but her father said that he refused to let himself and his children to be burnt for the sake of her jewel-case. They hurried downstairs, and as soon as she was outside she woke up (64 Kanzer).
Her dream was analyzed by Freud using the house on fire, her father standing beside her bed, and her mother wanting to save her jewel-case from the burning house as the main components. He interpreted the father standing beside her bed as the father being there to protect her from the fire of sexual desire, which threatened to ruin them, by wetting them with disgusting sexuality, the jewel-case representing her genitals. Attempting to understand Dora’s disgust for sexuality, Freud probed her amnesia of early masturbation, linked to her bed-wetting that lasted late into her childhood, and her first hysterical symptoms: “these had been sympathetic identifications with her father’s physical exertions in intercourse, compounded by her self-reproaches for her vaginal discharge, which she linked to the frivolous and untrustworthy sexuality of men, as her governess viewed it”. Her symptoms of hysteria expressed an identification with an excitement in her father’s sexuality, but they were also an attempt to escape contamination (her father had syphilis) by escaping heterosexual contact (153 Appignanesi and Forrester).
The second dream that Dora related to Freud was that she was walking about in a town, which she did not know. She saw streets and squares, which were strange to her. Then she came into a house where she lived, she went to her room, and found a letter from her mother lying there. In the letter her mother wrote her that since she had left town without her parents’ knowledge she had not wished to write her saying that her father was ill. The letter said, “Now he is dead, and if you like you can come”. She then went to the station and asked about a hundred times: “Where is the station?” She always received the same answer, which was “five minutes”. She then saw a thick woods before her, which she went into, and there she asked a man who she met the question of “where is the station?” The man aid to her: “Two and a half-hours more”. The man offered to accompany her, but she refused and went alone. She saw the station in front of her and could not reach it. At the same time she had the usual feeling that one has in dreams when one cannot move forward. Then she was at home. She felt that she must have been traveling in the meantime, but she knew nothing about that. She then walked into the porter’s lodge, and inquired as to where their apartment was. The maidservant opened the door to her and replied that her mother and the others were already at the cemetery (94 Kanzer).