Analysis and dream interpretation in psychotherapy
Dream interpretation is a technique that I have used since the start my professional work as a psychotherapist thirty-seven years ago. Throughout this time I have been changing my theoretical references, but I have always kept in mind the richness and creativity of what we call unconscious thought and its important role as a guide in any therapeutic process.
On one occasion, a young patient who was suffering from an anxious and acute depressive symptomatology caused by a very conflictive romantic relationship told me a dream in which she suffered from an illness. I could not help but worry about the possible self-destructiveness that was constellated in the inner space of her psyche. The dream was as follows:
I am with my mother and she tells me that I have cancer, I wake up at that moment very worried.
Among the associations developed by this young woman was the importance of maintaining a good relationship with her mother, she felt protected by her and valued her opinion and advice. Her mother is a doctor. She continued with her associations focusing on cancer; this disease seemed to her to be a terrible illness that gradually devours the person who suffers from it. She then verbalized literally: “as is happening to me, the sentimental relationship I am in is like living with cancer that is inside me and slowly killing me”.
Interpreting the dream
My role as an analyst is not to direct my patients toward presumed correct behaviours in relation to the appropriateness of continuing or ending a relationship, but to help our analysands to understand what underlies the doubts, to endure or breakup and the meanings of the emotions that are triggered during these processes.
In the initial months before the patient told me this dream, important clinical material had emerged related to her childlike emotional dependence and the strong emergence of an inferiority complex that had possessed her whenever she had experienced an emotional breakdown. In acute crisis situations my analysand had thought of death as a possible solution to her anguish.
After a certain time of this young woman’s analysis, in which the therapeutic space had become an important support and container of anxieties and fears for my analysand, she developed the ability to feel more active in her life experience and even face her own complexes. In this emotional context I was able to interpret the dream in the following way.
Don’t you think this dream is very important? That part of the maternal life that you experience as positive warns you about an important illness. Your associations relate to your feelings, stimulated by your romantic relationship, with destructive forces that engulf you. We will have to find a way to neutralize them and even integrate them, making them bearable, don’t you think?
When this young woman saw for the last time the man who had been her lover he said to her “I think I’m like a cancer to you”, she felt the impulse she needed to take the final step that would lead to their breakup. My patient immediately remembered the dream and knew, without a doubt, that she had reached the end of the road. We continued working for a while, the dependencies and complexes, but a new way had opened.
My references in dream work
Dream interpretation has been a fundamental tool in psychoanalysis since the beginning of this science of the unconscious, the so-called “royal path to the unconscious” (Freud, S., 1972). But it is, perhaps, with the emergence of Jungian analytical psychology when dream analysis acquires a much more pragmatic and concrete nature. Unlike the classical Freudian approach, Jung emphasized the prospective and creative role of the unconscious (Jung, 2006), so that dreams can become guides that can orientate us about the conflict that is stimulated and the possible directions to follow in the face of it, without excluding the fact that there are some dreams in which the material refers to the causal theory of Freudian drives.
My experience during these years my clinical work confirms the importance of the analysis and interpretation of dreams as a fundamental tool of the analytical process (Castillo, 2005 and 2014). This work is far from being speculative-philosophical and focuses on the practical, guiding, stimulating, creative and curative.
I must also emphasize that, although my training in dream analysis has been within classical Jungian psychology with reference to figures such as von Franz (1998) or T. Abt (2011), at this moment I find it very interesting the integration of other enriching analytical perspectives such as the works of W. Bion (2003) and some post-kleinians such as T. Ogden (2015).
An integrative perspective to dream interpretation
From my integrative perspective (Castillo, J., 2018) the analysis of dreams intervenes on different registers:
- a) Interpretation of the contents. Analysis of the complexes (Jung, 2004), analysis of the relational styles or dispositions (Bollas, C., 2009 and Aron, L., 1996), analysis of the object relations (Ogden, T. H., 2015) and the analysis of desire (Lacan, 2006).
(b) Direction analysis. The dream as a compensation and creative process. Archetypal dreams (Jung, 2006)
(c) Position analysis. The schizoid-paranoid and the depressive (Klein, Liberman, & Riviere, 1968). We could also introduce aspects linked to typology (Jung, 1994).
- d) The dream as an emotional experience (Bion, 1974)
Dream interpretation, far from being a magical and esoteric practice, has become a therapeutic tool with an important empirical and scientific foundation. Another thing would be to establish a discussion about what we understand as scientific and its relationship with realism or philosophical constructivism, but we will leave that for another time.
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Von Franz, M. L. (1998). Dreams. Boston-London: Shambala.