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Psychological Dream Analysis

Psychological Dream Analysis

There is also the often quoted proposition from Freud that, “The interpretation of dreams is the royal road to a knowledge of the unconscious activities of the mind” (SE, V.608).  Freud distinguished between two different layers of a dream.  The manifest content is the dream as consciously remembered, the “surface” of the dream; latent content is the hidden, underlying meaning of the dream.  Using a writing analogy, latent content represents the original draft, while manifest content refers to the published text, in a form which the editor approves of or cannot understand.  The latent content is, of course, unconscious and comprises a repressed wish – especially infantile and typically lustful, incestuous or aggressive – unacceptable to the ego. The manifest content is conscious and represents a disguised, hallucinatory wish-fulfilment.  It is the outcome of the defensive, distorting work of the ego and serves to reduce instinctual tension. Thus, dreams and neurotic symptoms are the outcome of similar processes.

The conversion of latent into manifest content is termed the dreamwork, which makes use of tactics of censorship, disguise, redrafting and compromise. More specifically, several processes are utilised in the dreamwork. In condensation, two or more images may be combined, the composite being invested with dual energy and meaning.  A person may dream of an otherwise strange house containing his/her own bedroom, for example, or of a parent dressed in police uniform.  Displacement involves a manifest image standing in or acting as a decoy for a latent image.  Hence, a young child angry at mother, but reluctant to admit or express this for fear of punishment, may dream of teddy (rather than herself) biting mother, or of throwing the teddy (rather than mother) out of the window.  Displacement relates closely to the theme of symbolism.  Freud believed dreams to be replete, especially, in phallic symbols, such as pistons, pencils and watering cans; and in symbols of female genitalia, in the guise of tunnels, doorways, boxes and caves.  The sexual act may also be symbolised in the dreamwork by any rhythmical, repetitive movement, such as climbing stairs or ladders.

Two additional processes may also be involved in the dreamwork.  In dramatisation (sometimes referred to as “representation” or “primary elaboration”), latent images, thoughts and feelings are extended into a full-blown scene, story or drama.  Secondary elaboration occurs on awakening and tends to lead to a rapid and progressive forgetting of dream elements plus modification of the dream itself in terms of coherence and intelligibility.

The reverse of the dreamwork is dream analysis.  The intention here is to infer, decode or unmask the latent content or true meaning of the dream.  To this end, the patient relates all remembered aspects of the dream to the analyst and then free associates using individual dream elements as starting points.

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