Dream analysis is a form of therapy that enables the unconscious material accessible in order to deal with painful repressed memories and explain an individual’s depression. Dream analysis works by a patient visiting a therapist whose job it is to listen to them and provide an explanation or theory for what they are dreaming about. The manifest content is what is remembered as soon as you wake up and is irrelevant, but the latent content is what is important because this is what is used to explain what is going on.
Freud described dreams as ‘the royal road to knowledge of the activities of the unconscious mind’.
There are four dream analysis components symbolisation, condensation, displacement and secondary elaboration that are used as part of the explanation. Symbolisation is associating an object with someone or something else, secondary elaboration is piecing things together and sequencing them, displacement is dreaming of one person even though it really means someone else similar to them, and condensation is combining two things together.
Dream analysis has been shown to work, here are some studies to show the effectiveness as Sandell (2000) conducted research whereby over 750 patients had dream analysis and demonstrated better long term results on measures of symptom relief, social maladjustment and existential attitudes for psychoanalysis compared to short term and other long term psychotherapies.
Another study by Solms (2000) used Positron Emission Tomography (PET) scans to highlight the regions of the brain that are active when dreaming, the results showed that the rational part of the brain is indeed inactive during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, whereas the forebrain centres which are concerned with memory and motivation are very active.
In Freudian terms, the ego or rational and conscious thought becomes suspended while the id, more primitive, unconscious and driven part of the mind is given free reign.
Another source of support comes from earlier research by Hopï¬eld et al (1983) on neural networks, in which computer simulations were used to mimic the action of the brain, these simulations showed how neural networks deal with an overloaded memory by combining or condensing memories.
This supports Freud’s notion of condensation where unacceptable desires are censored and dealt with by recombining fragments until they emerge in a new form or the obvious content of the dream. However there are some negatives associated with dream analysis, it is very expensive as often the therapy is longitudinal as it takes a long time therefore likely to cost more with the amount of sessions involved and any theories about dreams are very subjective as one therapist could have a different suggestion or explanation to another.
In psychoanalysis a therapist would have a patient lie on a couch, relax and talk freely about their past, childhood, dreams, personal experiences and memories that they feel are affecting them while the therapist takes notes and tries to interpret these thoughts, feelings and memories. However due to the nature of defence mechanisms and the inaccessibility of the inevitable forces operating in the unconscious, psychoanalysis in its classic form can be a very lengthy process often involving 2 to 5 sessions per week for several years. The approach assumes that the reduction of symptoms alone is relatively insignificant if the underlying conflict is not resolved, more neurotic symptoms will simply be substituted.
The analyst typically is a blank screen, disclosing very little about themselves in order that the client can use the space in the relationship to work on their unconscious without interference from outside. Freud believed that this showed associations between thoughts that are caused by unconscious forces. The job of the therapist is to work out and interpret these connections and bring unconscious thoughts into the conscious mind.
A simple technique of psychodynamic therapy is free association where a therapist reads a list of words (e.g. mother, childhood etc.) and the patient immediately responds with the first word that comes to mind. It is hoped that fragments of repressed memories will emerge in the course of free association. Free association may not prove useful if the client shows resistance, and is reluctant to say what he or she is thinking.
On the other hand, the presence of resistance by means of an excessively long pause often provides a strong clue that the client is getting close to some important repressed memory in his or her thinking, and that further probing by the therapist is called for. Freud reported that his free associating patients occasionally experienced such an emotionally intense and vivid memory that they almost relived the experience. This is like a flashback from a war or a rape experience. Such a stressful memory, so real it feels like it is happening again, is called an abreaction. If such a disturbing memory occurred in therapy or with a supportive friend and one felt better, relieved later it would be called a catharsis.
Freud believed that pauses and embarrassed laughs gave clues to areas that were causing problems. In a famous study Freud initially collaborated with Josef Breuer another physician and physiologist who had a patient known as Anna O who was suffering from paralysis of the extremities on her right hand side, hallucinations and disturbances of speech and vision. Freud was convinced that she was suffering from hysteria caused by the death of her father. During her treatment Freud and Breuer discovered that recalling traumatic experiences with the help of free association cured her paralysis.
In 1895, Freud and Breuer published Studies in Hysteria, which documented the cathartic method, also known as the talking cure. The case of Anna O is widely considered as the beginning of psychoanalysis. Breuer initially attempted treatment via hypnosis but Anna herself found simply talking to be more effective and Free Association was born. Pole and Jones (1998) recorded more than 200 sessions of psychoanalysis with a single patient, where they compared the complexity of the free associations with the symptoms the patient was experiencing, and found that the symptoms were reduced during periods of particularly rich free associations, suggesting that free association does have a beneficial effect.