Dream Analysis

   Coming now to the much disputed question of dream-analysis, we proceed in a manner not unlike that employed in the deciphering of hieroglyphs.  First we assemble all the available material which the dreamer himself can give as regards the dream images.  We next exclude any statements that depend upon particular theoretical assumptions, for those are generally quite arbitrary attempts at interpretation.  We then inquire into the happenings of the previous day, as well as into the mood and the general plans and purposes of the dreamer in the days and weeks preceding the dream.  A more or less intimate knowledge of his circumstnaces and character is of course a necessary prerequisite.  Great care and attention must be given to this preparatory work if we want to get at the meaning of the dream.  I have no faith in dream interpretations made on the spur of the moment and concocted out of some preconceived theory.  One must be careful not to impose any theoretical assumptions on the dream; in fact, it is always best to proceed as if the dream had no meaning at all, so as to be on one’s guard against any possible bias.  TDoP 154

   In what way, then, can unconscious contents be brought to consciousness?  As you will realize, it is hardly possible within the compass of a lecture to describe all the ways in which this may be done.  The best practical method, though also the most difficult, is the analysis and interpretation of dreams.  Dreams are unquestionably products of unconscious psychic activity.  Born in sleep without design or assistance on our part, they pass before our inward vision and may suddenly float back into our waking life on a dim remnant of consciousness.   TDoP 154

   For the practical work of dream-analysis one needs a special knack and intuitive understanding on the one hand, and a considerable knowledge of the history of symbols on the other.  As in all practical work with psychology, mere intellect is not enough; one also needs feeling, because otherwise the exceedingly important feeling-values of the dream are neglected.  Without these, dream-analysis is impossible.  As the dream is dreamed by the whole man, it follows that anyone who tried to interpret the dream must be engaged as a whole man too.  “Ars totum requirit hominem,” says an old alchemist.  Understanding and knowledge there must be, but they should not set themselves up above the heart, which in its turn must not give way to sentiment.  All in all, dream-interpretation is an art, like diagnosis, surgery, and therapeutics in general – difficult, but capable of being learned by those whose gift and destiny it is.  TDoP 107

If someone dreams of a lion, the correct interpretation can only lie in the direction of the lion; in other words, it will be essentially an amplification of this image.  Anything else would be an inadequate and incorrect interpretation, since the image “lion” is a quite unmistakable and sufficiently positive presentation.  When Freud asserts that the dream means something other than what it says, this interpretation is a “polemic” against the dream’s natural and spontaneous presentation of itself, and is therefore invalid.   TDoP 88

Dream-analysis may yield entirely unforeseen results, and facts of an exceedingly disagreeable nature may sometimes come to light whose discussion would certainly have been avoided at all costs had we been able to anticipate them.  We may also get results that are obscure and unintelligible a first, because our conscious standpoint has still not plumbed the secrets of the psyche.  In such cases it is better to adopt a waiting attitude than to attempt a forced explanation.  In this kind of work one has to put up with a great many question marks.  TDoP 155

(The dream) shows the inner truth and reality of the patient as it really is: not as I conjecture it to be, and not as he would like it to be, but as it is.  I have therefore made it a rule to regard dreams as I regard physiological facts: if sugar appears in the urine, then the urine contains sugar, and not albumen or urobilin or something else that might fit in better with my expectations.  That is to say, I take dreams as diagnostically valuable facts.  TPoP 143

   The point is this: there are neuroses whose real aetiology becomes clear only right at the end of an analysis, and other neuroses whose aetiology is relatively unimportant.  This brings me back to the hypothesis from which we started, that for the purposes of therapy it is absolutely necessary to make the patient conscious of the aetiological factor. 

The doctor must give his whole attention to the patient’s past; he must always ask “Why?” and ignore the equally pertinent question “What for?”  Often this has a most deleterious effect on the patient, who is thereby compelled to go searching about in his memory – perhaps for years – for some hypothetical event in his childhood, while things of immediate importance are grossly neglected.  The purely causalistic approach is too narrow and fails to do justice to the true significance either of the dream or of the neurosis.  Hence an approach that uses dreams for the sole purpose of discovering the aetiological factor is biased and overlooks the main point of the dream.  TPoP 144

… dreams are often anticipatory and would lose their specific meaning completely on a purely causalistic view.  They afford unmistakable information about the analytical situation, the correct understanding of which is of the greatest therapeutic importance.  TPoP 145

   Initial dreams are often amazingly lucid and clear-cut.  But as the work of analysis progresses, the dreams tend to lose their clarity.  If, by way of exception, they keep it we can be sure that the analysis has not yet touched on some important layer of the personality.  As a rule, dreams get more and more opaque and blurred soon after the beginning of the treatment and this makes the interpretation increasingly difficult. 

A further difficulty is that a point may soon be reached where, if the truth be told, the doctor no longer understands the situation as a whole.  That he does not understand is proved by the fact that the dreams become increasingly obscure; it is only when we do not understand that things appear unintelligible and muddled.  In themselves dreams are naturally clear; that is, they are just what they must be under the given circumstances.  If, from a later stage of treatment or from a distance of some years, we look back at these unintelligible dreams, we are often astounded at our own blindness.  

Thus when, as the analysis proceeds, we come upon dreams that are strikingly obscure in comparison with the illuminating initial dreams, the doctor should not be too ready to accuse the dreams of confusion or the patient of deliberate resistance; he would do better to take these findings as a sign of his own growing inability to understand – just as the psychiatrist who calls his patient “confused” should recognize that this is a projection and should rather call himself confused, because in reality it is he whose wits are confused by the patient’s peculiar behavior.  Moreover, it is therapeutically very important for the doctor to admit his lack of understanding in time, for nothing is more unbearable to the patient than to be always understood.  He relies far too much anyway on the mysterious powers of the doctor and, by appealing to his professional vanity, lays a dangerous trap for him.  By taking refuge in the doctor’s self-confidence and “profound” understanding, the patient loses all sense of reality, falls into a stubborn transference, and retards the cure.   TPoP 146

   Understanding is clearly a very subjective process.  It can be extremely one-sided, in that the doctor understands but not the patient.  In such a case the doctor conceives it to be his duty to convince the patient, and if the latter will not allow himself to be convinced, the doctor accuses him of resistance.  When the understanding is all on my side, I say quite calmly that I do not understand, for in the end it makes very little difference whether the doctor understands or not, but it makes all the difference whether the patient understands.  Understanding should therefore be understanding in the sense of an agreement which is the fruit of joint reflection.  TPoP 146

The analyst who wishes to rule out conscious suggestion must therefore consider every dream interpretation invalid until such time as a formula is found which wins the assent of the patient.  TPoP 147

The observance of this rule seems to me imperative when dealing with those dreams whose obscurity is evidence of the lack of understanding of both doctor and patient.  The doctor should regard every such dream as something new, as a source of information about conditions whose nature is unknown to him, concerning which he has as much to learn as the patient.  It goes without saying that he should give up all his theoretical assumptions and should in every single case be ready to construct a totally new theory of dreams.  There are still boundless opportunities for pioneer work in this field.  The view that dreams are merely the imaginary fulfilments of repressed wishes is hopelessly out of date.  There are, it is true, dreams which manifestly represent wishes or fears, but what about all the other things?  Dreams may contain ineluctable truths, philosophical pronouncements, illusions, wild fantasies, memories, plans, anticipations, irrational experiences, even telepathic visions, and heaven knows what besides.  One thing we ought never to forget: almost half our life is passed in a more or less unconscious state.  The dream is specifically the utterance of the unconscious.  Just as the psyche has a diurnal side which we call consciousness, so also it has a nocturnal side: the unconscious psychic activity which we apprehend as dreamlike fantasy.   TPoP 147

There is no language that cannot be misused.  As may easily be imagined, the misuse often turns the tables on us; it even seems as if the unconscious had a way of strangling the doctor in the coils of his own theory.  Therefore, I leave theory aside as much as possible when analyzing dreams – not entirely, of course, for we always need some theory to make things intelligible.  It is on the basis of theory, for instance, that I expect dreams to have a meaning.   TPoP 147

In dream-analysis we must never forget, even for a moment, that we move on treacherous ground where nothing is certain but uncertainty.  TPoP 147

   When we take up an obscure dream, our first task is not to understand and interpret, but to establish the context with minute care.  By this I do not mean unlimited “free association” starting from any and every image in the dream, but a careful and conscious illumination of the interconnected associations objectively grouped round particular images.  TPoP 147

Not only do I give the patient an opportunity to find associations to his dreams, I give myself the same opportunity.  Further, I present him with my ideas and opinions.  If, in so doing, I open the door to “suggestion,” I see no occasion for regret; for it is well known that we are susceptible only to those suggestions with which we are already secretly in accord.  No harm is done if now and then one goes astray in this riddle-reading: sooner or later the psyche will reject the mistake, much as the organism rejects a foreign body.  I do not need to prove my interpretation of the dream is right (a pretty hopeless undertaking anyway), but must simply try to discover, with the patient, what acts for him – I am almost tempted to say, what is actual.  

For this reason it is particularly important for me to know as much as possible about primitive psychology, mythology, archaeology, and comparative religion, because these fields offer me invaluable analogies with which I can enrich the associations of my patients.  Together, we can then find meaning in apparent irrelevancies and thus vastly increase the effectiveness of the dream.  For the layman who has done his utmost in the personal and rational sphere of life and yet has found no meaning and no satisfaction there, it is enormously important to be able to enter a sphere of irrational experience.  TPoP 45

   My aim is to bring about a psychic state in which my patient begins to experiment with his own nature – a state of fluidity, change, and growth where nothing is eternally fixed and hopelessly petrified.  I can here of course adumbrate only the principles of my technique.  Those of you who happen to be acquainted with my works can easily imagine the necessary parallels.  I would only like to emphasize that you should not think of my procedure as entirely without aim or limit.  In handling a dream or fantasy I make it a rule never to go beyond the meaning which is effective for the patient; I merely try to make him as fully conscious of this meaning as possible, so that he shall also become aware of its supra-personal connections.  For, when something happens to a man and he supposes it to be personal only to himself, whereas in reality it is a quite universal experience, then his attitude is obviously wrong, that is, too personal, and it tends to exclude him from human society.  By the same token we need to have not only a personal, contemporary consciousness, but also a supra-personal consciousness with a sense of historical continuity.  However abstract this may sound, practical experience shows that many neuroses are caused primarily by the fact that people blind themselves to their own religious promptings because of a childish passion for rational enlightenment.  It is high time the psychologist of today recognized that we are no longer dealing with dogmas and creeds but with the religious attitude per se, whose importance as a psychic function can hardly be overrated.  And it is precisely for the religious function that the sense of historical continuity is indispensable.   TPoP 46

   So long as I help the patient to discover the effective elements in his dreams, and so long as I try to get him to see the general meaning of his symbols, he is still, psychologically speaking, in a state of childhood.  For the time being he is dependent on his dreams and is always asking himself whether the next dream will give him new light or not.  Moreover, he is dependent on my having ideas about his dreams and on my ability to increase insight through my knowledge.  Thus he is still in an undesirably passive condition where everything is rather uncertain and questionable; neither he nor I know the journey’s end.  Often it is not much more than a groping about in Egyptian darkness.  In this condition we must not expect any very startling results – the uncertainty is too great for that.  Besides which there is always the risk that what we have woven by day the night will unravel.  TPoP 47

Dream Analysis – The Unconscious

   Through the analysis and interpretation of dreams we try to understand the tendencies of the unconscious.  When I say “tendencies of the unconscious” it sounds very like a personification, as though the unconscious were a conscious being with a will of its own.  But from the scientific standpoint it is simply a quality of certain psychic phenomena.  One cannot even say that there is a definite class of psychic phenomena which regularly and under all circumstances have the quality of being unconscious.  Anything you forget, or anything from which you divert your attention until it is forgotten, falls into the unconscious.  In brief, anything whose energy-tension drops below a certain level becomes subliminal.  If, to your lost meomries, you add the many subliminal perceptions, thoughts, and feeling, you will get some idea of what constitutes as it were the upper layers of the unconscious. 

   Such is the material you have to deal with in the first part of a practical analysis.  Some of these unconscious contents have the special quality of being actively repressed by the conscious mind.  Through the more or less deliberate withdrawal of attention from certain conscious contents, and through active resistance to them, they are eventually expelled from consciousness.  A continual mood of resistance keeps these contents artificially below the threshold of potential consciousness.  This is a regular occurrence in hysteria.  It is the beginning of the personality split which is one of the most conspicuous features of this illness.  TDoP 108