Comments on Student Presentations for
“The Stuff that Dreams are Made Of” October 27, 2002
We spend a third of our lives asleep, so how can we possibly think that what goes on during this time is unimportant? We’ve spent this weekend learning about REM and non-REM sleep and how dreams are formed. The four essays chosen for Sunday’s presentation illustrate a number of ideas about dreams that were raised during the weekend, starting with the assigned readings, then by the speakers, as well as you participants who made observations and offered your thoughts during the formal presentations. Here are some of the major points from the weekend that I will discuss in light of these four papers:
Dreams that occur in the clinical setting have transference/counter-transference meaning.
Affect plays a central role in dreams.
Dream analysis is a technique.
Associations to manifest content leads to powerful latent meaning.
One function of dreams is problem solving.
Brent and Bronce write about dreams that occurred during psychotherapy; Penelope’s and Cindy’s essays are about dreams that occurred during a period of “self-analysis” when the authors were struggling consciously with a life problem. (A/.B. as it turns out, both Cindy and Penelope were in psychotherapy or psychoanalysis when they had these dreams, although they did not mention this in the original submission of their papers. This is both important and unimportant, meaning, if the dream was reported during a clinical hour, of course, transference elements have to be factored in. But, it is also important to consider that learning to analyze one’s own dreams after psychotherapy or psychoanalysis has terminated, is both a goal and pleasurable outcome of treatment.)
Let’s begin with Brent’s and Bronce’s essays on dreams that occur in the clinical setting. Both mention the transference: one writes that the therapist is disguised as “roommate” and the other says that the therapist is the”auctioneer.” As our speaker, Dr.Robert Gillman said, the analyst is the audience. How can we understand the audience effect in Brent’s paper? Here is a situation in which the patient tells a dream in the final session. Why? He could have elected, unconsciously, so many other options based on his history. He could have filled the hour expressing gratitude or disappointment or showed up stoned or not shown up at all, which was his pattern. But, instead, the patient chose to come to the final session and to tell Brent his dream. It’s hard to believe that this was not Jonah’s way to convey some feeling about or thought toward the therapist. Brent intuits that Jonah was killing off both him and the treatment and it was his understanding of the transference in the dream after Jonah left treatment that may have helped Bronce respond effectively to Jonah in his post treatment phone calls, thus paving the way for Jonah to return to treatment. Jonah’s dream reminds me of an old New Yorker cartoon. Here’s the picture: Scene: An analyst’s office. A patient stands, shaking hands with a bearded, Freudian-looking analyst, the couch empty, and the other hand holds a revolver that points toward the analyst’s head. The caption reads, “Sorry doctor, but you know too much.”
In Bronce’s paper, the lesbian patient dreams of an auctioneer selling a small baby and after listening to the patient’s associations, Bronce picked up on the woman’s budding intimate bond with him, a male, and her conflict about this, suggested in her use of the word by/buy/bi and its multiple spelling and meanings.
In Penelope’s and Cindy’s dreams, both occurred during a time in which each was feeling churned emotionally about consciously known life problems. Recall what Dr. Cartwright said about dreams, that the more elaborate tine dream during a time of emotional upheaval, the better the waking adaptation. The richness of their dreams and associations to each element is clearly in evidence in Penelope’s and Cindy’s essays.
All the authors address the sine qua non of dreams: affect. Brent’s patient defends against aggression that is at a level of murderous rage; Bronce’s patient staves off her awareness of extreme hostility by placing herself in another continent, in enemy territory; Cindy goes to sleep feeling very angry, then she dreams and wakes up feeling another intense emotion — sadness; Penelope experienced a deep sense of loss and was moved to tears after she awakened and started to analyze her desert dream.
Each presenter used a solid technique of dream analysis — begin at the beginning of the dream, then associate, which will lead to the manifest content. In one of the plenary sessions, Dr. Morton Reiser approached Jim’s dream of “throwing the pot at Dr. Riker” the same way. Start at the beginning. Let’s look at the lovely way that Brent, Bronce, Penelope and Cindy began their dream analysis:
Brent, thinking about his patient’s dream which begins: “I took my parents to Fire Island…” Although not stated explicitly by Brent, Fire Island is popularly known as a gay gathering place… Brent thinks: “my patient wants to tell his parents he is gay.”
Bronce’s patient said, “I was in a foreign country. Afghanistan.”…and after she negates (“I have no idea”) the patient rallies and says, “Weird, that I was in Afghanistan.” Bronce thinks that she is saying that she was in hostile territory. So she does have an idea. Unconsciously she was telling Bronce that she tries to keep her own hostility foreign, far away from her.
Penelope says about here dream, “I was riding a horse aimlessly through the desert singing ‘I’ve been through the desert with a horse with no name…’ I felt I had no identity…”
Cindy dreams that she “. . .was floating in a lagoon…” which stirred images of a mother’s womb.
There is a richness in all the authors’ use of their dreams, starting with the manifest content and followed by associations, which led to a drilling down into ever deepening levels of unconscious meaning. Our speakers this weekend emphasized different ways to look at dreams: Dr. Gillman was particularly interested in dreams in which the patient defends against his or her aggression against the therapist; Dr. Cartwright’s studies showed how dreams and dreaming can be helpful in waking adaptation; Dr. Reiser showed how dreams connect unconsciously with nodal networks in the brain that link with the patient’s history of traumatic past events that are being triggered in the present; Bo Winer showed us how dreams inform her writing and in the Ellman/lpp papers, Dr. Ellman showed, although he did not speak specifically to this point during his presentation, how dream interpretation in the end is idiosyncratic and as personal as our fingerprints, just as four different takes on the same dream were illustrated in the discussion of Ipp’s dream, if all of us present at this conference were given the opportunity, Dr. Ipp might have sixty-five new ideas about her patient’s dream!
Our Friday night speaker, Justin Frank, suggested as much in his lecture, “The Reel Road to the Unconscious: Dreams on Screens.” Although there was a single dream shown per film, and all the audience was looking at this dream on film, Justin said that the dream was manifest content and that each person in the audience might understand the dream differently. Dr. Frank’s saying this reminded me of what Jacob Arlow wrote about psychic reality: it is like two films being projected simultaneously upon the same screen; one from the back and one from the front. The front projector is the world around us that we experience, but we bring to this external “reality” our own internal movie that is also playing and is being projected upon the same screen. Where inner and outer reality meet is “psychic reality” for each of us.