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Dream Analysis

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Dream Analysis

As the name suggests, dream analysis is a type of intervention used to uncover the meaning of dreams to determine unconscious memories, conflicts and desires. According to psychodynamic psychologists, these dreams may manifest due to internal conflict. The theory does not propose that these dreams cause dysfunctional behaviour or mental illnesses, but rather, the dreams result from them.

Freud's Dream Analysis

Freud presented the theory of dream analysis after observing his clients with 'unhealthy' behaviour. If this research were proposed nowadays, the usual method would be to compare findings between 'unhealthy' and 'healthy' (control variable) participants. This would help the research to be seen as more scientific.

Freud's theory proposed that dreams present people's desires, drives and thoughts. Society considers these desires unacceptable, so people repress them, and they manifest in dreams. He also proposed that dreams can subconsciously guide behaviour.

People who have violent dreams are more likely to have aggressive tendencies.

Freud proposed that dreams consist of manifest content and latent content.

The manifest content is what and how the individual remembers their dream. It is the literal content and subjects of the dream.

Latent content is the repressed meaning of dreams. This is the actual meaning that the dream may have, based on the symbols created by the manifest content.

He theorised that studying dreams is easier for therapists to understand clients' behaviour. The therapist's role in dream analysis is to uncover the meaning of clients' dreams. The dream analysis therapist's role is to take the manifest content that has been described by the client and help guide them to understand the latent content of the dreams.

According to Freud's dream analysis approach, therapists should refrain from telling clients what dreams mean. Instead, he asked clients to say whatever came to their minds when discussing their dreams. This is still used in dream analysis interventions today and is known as free association.

Free association is when the therapist identifies a theme such as anger in a dream and says random words (in the context of anger and dreams) to which clients need to respond with the first word that comes to their mind.

Dream analysis psychology definition

Dream analysis is an intervention that is used to treat some mental disorders, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or for people who have chronic (frequent) nightmares. The intervention applies psychoanalytic theories to treat dysfunctional behaviour. Dream analysis tries to uncover repressed memories in dreams and may contribute to mental illnesses. The emphasis on repressed memories causing internal conflict is a key principle in the psychoanalytic approach to explaining behaviour.

Changes in the dream analysis definition

Freud is the founding father of dream analysis. However, since his time, the theory surrounding dream analysis has evolved. Jung, an important figure in the psychodynamic approach, argued that dreams are caused by thoughts and conflicts that were not expressed when the individual was awake. Their waking internal thoughts, desires and conflicts are expressed whilst dreaming, showing the 'true' state of mind during sleep.

Adler, another important figure in psychodynamic, believed dreams are guided by personality, and they can be interpreted in a way that allows you to regain control of your life whilst you're awake. The dream materialises a conflict for you to deal with it.

Freud was criticised because he over-emphasised sexual desires and libido's role in dreams and he over-emphasised the role of the unconscious.

Dreams that people have may not be solely caused by unconscious motives. An individuals' goals can also manifest in dreams. Dreams and their effect on behaviour and mental health cannot be empirically tested. As these elements are not directly observable and difficult to test scientifically, many psychologists criticise the approach.

The dream analysis definition and intervention has changed since Freud's original thoughts.

Dreams are now thought to have multiple factors that can contribute to them. An emphasis on sexual desires and instincts are no longer over-emphasised. It is thought that dreams can be caused by many unconscious and sometimes conscious desires and conflicts.

Imagination is now also considered to play a role in dreams, but not all dreams result from it. They can be curated by thoughts and emotions - your daydreams.

More recent theories, such as the self-organisation theory of dreaming, propose that dreams are caused by information processing. Memories can also cause dreams. These memories are encoded or stored in the memory stores, which is the stage of sleep you enter when dreaming.

REM - this is a stage of sleep called rapid eye movement. This stage of sleep is associated with processing emotional memories.

NREM - this is a stage of sleep called non-rapid eye movement. This stage of sleep is associated with processing declarative memories.

According to this research, dreams in REM are more likely to be personal, whereas, they are more likely to be about random things in NREM. Therefore, REM dreams are more likely to be guided by personal motives and conflicts.

The theory agrees with Freud that factors such as emotion and how individuals react to stimuli such as anger can manifest into dreams.

Components of dream analysis

The components of dream analysis are:

Dream analysis is individualistic. The approach taken in dream analysis will differ among clients, and is guided by the content and severity of dreams.

It focuses on clients' current problems. The psychoanalytic approach typically attempts to understand how childhood affects behaviour.

Dream analysis moves away from a client's childhood but the therapist may ask about it to get a deeper understanding of the latent content of dreams.

Three steps in dream analysis

Overall, there are three steps to dream analysis:

Manifest content - the person speaks with the therapist, and they discuss memories of the dream - subject and content-wise.

Dreamwork - the manifest content is transformed or reimagined as latent content, to discover underlying meanings.

Condensation (information is condensed into one image)

Displacement (latent content is represented subtly in the manifest content, relying on symbolism to understand the true meaning)

Representation (abstract concepts are represented by this image)

Symbolism (these images represent a symbol of something else, for instance, a writing pen may be a symbol for a transition into a new stage of life)

Secondary elaboration (the unconscious collects and combines these images to create a narrative that makes some form of sense, although it still remains somewhat elusive in meaning)

Therapist analysis of dreamwork - the therapist analyses the dreamwork using the stages mentioned above, and may even reverse the process to understand the meaning of the dream. All of this is done whilst remaining aware of and actively acknowledging the client's life outside the session.

Dream analysis example: How does it work?

The client may be asked to keep a detailed record such as a diary to record information about dreams.

A typical method used to uncover repressed dreams and their meaning is free association.

The therapist and client work collaboratively to experience and understand feelings and conflicts felt in dreams, such as using metaphors that compare dreams to clients' real-life experiences.

A soldier with post-traumatic stress disorder has repetitive dreams of being angry at someone who has done no harm to them. This may be repressed anger and due to time and feelings experienced when they were in combat.

Therapists interpret your nightmares using dream analysis, flaticon.com/free-icon

Evaluation of dream analysis

Let's discuss the benefits and drawbacks of dream analysis as an intervention.

Dream Analysis: Strengths

The strengths of dream analysis are:

The components of dream analysis have been applied to other psychological treatments (cognitive behavioural therapy; CBT)

This is intervention is called image rehearsal therapy (IRT). Its purpose is to change the content of nightmares to positive. It has been found to have a positive effect on reducing nightmares.

CBT is readily available and is one of the most common interventions used nowadays.

Importance of dream analysis: Dream analysis attempts to get to the root of an individual's problems that may be causing dysfunctional behaviour or mental illnesses. This intervention attempts to identify what is causing the behaviour and adapt it to solve the 'problem'. Other interventions such as drug therapy do not have this approach. Instead, they try to solely get rid of the problem.

Matt and Navarro (1997) reviewed 63 meta-analyses of psychotherapy and the effect it has when using dream analysis. They found that around 75 percent of the clients who received dream analysis during their therapy showed some form of improvement. This shows how dream analysis can help identify issues in disorders, offering insight into the possible reasons or origins behind their presence.

Dream Analysis: Weaknesses

The weaknesses of dream analysis are:

There is no standardised method to carry out dream analysis. Dream analysis takes an individualistic approach. This means that the intervention will be different for everyone. The clinician needs to be extensively trained and prepare a tailed intervention for every client. This can be time-consuming and expensive.

It is not usually used as an independent intervention to combat mental health issues; it is often applied in conjunction with other methods. This is because the intervention is reductionist. It does not consider other factors such as biological or environmental that can contribute to health. This suggests that the intervention over-simplifies complex behaviour or fails to acknowledge it to a sufficient level.

It has limited application and is not a method commonly used. There are also controversies about whether dreams play such a big role in mental health and how this can be scientifically tested.

Dream analysis cannot be used to treat autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or sensory or memory deficits.

Hobson and McCarley (1977) argue that dreams are a product of specific brain areas. They suggest that there is a preprogrammed neural basis for dreams and the imagery, thoughts, and emotions they create during sleep. Dreams are a product of sporadic activation of brain circuits, which produce different thoughts and images, depending on which area has intense and sporadic activations. These activations are also combined with information stored in memory.

This brings into question Freud's theory of dreams being the wishes of unconscious desires. Instead, it could be that dreams are a byproduct of the brain essentially reorganising information during sleep and occur purely due to activation as a waste product.

Dream Analysis - Key takeaways

Dream analysis is a type of intervention that is used to uncover the meaning of dreams to determine unconscious memories, conflicts and desires.

According to psychodynamic psychologists, dreams manifest due to internal conflict.

Freud proposed that dreams consist of manifest and latent content. Dream analysis involves a client and therapist working collaboratively to identify the latent content within the manifested content.

An important dream analysis component is using free association analysis to uncover repressed feelings that may be hidden in dreams.

Dream analysis is typically used to identify problems rather than as a treatment intervention.

The strengths of dream analysis are that its principles have been used to create interventions in CBT. In addition, it attempts to deal with the root cause of the problem rather than ignore it.

The weaknesses of dream analysis are that it can be time-consuming and expensive; it is not an independent intervention that can be used to treat mental illnesses, and it has limited application. Research has also argued that dreams are merely a product of essentially thinking and sporadic activation of brain regions whilst we sleep.

Frequently Asked Questions about Dream Analysis

Dream analysis is a type of intervention used to determine the meaning of dreams to uncover unconscious memories, conflicts and desires. According to psychodynamic psychologists, these dreams may have manifested due to internal conflict. The theory does not propose that these dreams cause dysfunctional behaviour or mental illnesses but rather that the dreams result from them. 

Dream analysis attempts to get to the root of an individual's problems that may be causing dysfunctional behaviour or mental illnesses.  This intervention attempts to identify what is causing the behaviour and adapts it to solve the 'problem'. Other interventions, such as drug therapy, do not have this approach. Instead, they try to solely get rid of the problem. 

According to Feud, dreams are desires, drives, and thoughts that are unconsciously hidden and expressed whilst we sleep. Society considers these desires unacceptable, so people repress them, and they manifest in dreams.

According to Freud's dream analysis approach, therapists should refrain from telling clients what dreams mean. Instead, he asked clients to say whatever came to their minds when discussing their dreams. He argued that this should be done through free association. 

A dream analysis example is a soldier with post-traumatic stress disorder. They may have repetitive dreams of being angry at someone who has done no harm to them. This may be repressed anger due to time and feelings experienced when they were in combat. 

The main components of dream analysis are:

  • taking an individualistic approach 
  • focusing on the client's current problems 
  • using manifest content discussion, dreamwork (to identify latent content), and a therapists analysis of dreamwork
  • working collaboratively 
  • using the free association method to identify thoughts and feelings 

Final Dream Analysis Quiz

Question

What is dream analysis? 

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Answer

Dream analysis is a type of intervention that is used to uncover the meaning of dreams to uncover unconscious memories, conflicts and desires. 

Show question

Question

Does dream analysis propose that dreams cause mental illnesses or dysfunctional behaviour? 

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Answer

No 

Show question

Question

Who proposed the theory behind dream analysis? 

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Answer

Freud proposed his theory of dream analysis after observing his clients. 

Show question

Question

What is the name of the following description, what and how the individual remembers their own dream?

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Answer

Manifest content

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Question

What is the name of the following description, the repressed meaning of dreams? 


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Answer

Latent content 

Show question

Question

What is the role of therapists in dream analysis, according to Freud?

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Answer

The dream analysis therapist's role is to take the manifest content that has been described by the client and help guide them to understand the latent content of the dreams. 

Show question

Question

What is the name of the test that Freud proposed? 

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Answer

According to Freud's dream analysis approach, therapists should refrain from telling clients what dreams mean. Instead, he asked clients to say whatever came to their minds when talking about their dreams. This is done by using free association tasks.

Show question

Question

What is the shared principle between dream analysis and the psychodynamic approach to psychology? 

Show answer

Answer

Dream analysis tries to uncover repressed memories that are in dreams that may be contributing to mental illnesses. The emphasis on repressed memories causing internal conflict is a key principle in the psychoanalytic approach to explaining behaviour. 

Show question

Question

Which of the following are criticisms of Freud's work? 

Show answer

Answer

Over-emphasising sexual desires 

Show question

Question

Which psychodynamic figure described that personality affects the content of dreams? 

Show answer

Answer

Adler

Show question

Question

Which stage of sleep has been associated with emotional memories? 

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Answer

REM

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Question

Does the self-organization theory disagree with Freud's theory of dream analysis? 

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Answer

Partially 

Show question

Question

What are the components of dream analysis?

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Answer

The components of dream analysis are: 

  • it takes an individualistic approach 
  • that it focuses on the client's current problems 
  • therapists and clients need to work collaboratively 
  • discuss the manifest content (hidden meaning) of dreams
  • dreamwork and the analysis of dreamwork 
  • free association is the main method used to identify thoughts and feelings

Show question

Question

Why is dream analysis important?


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Answer

Dream analysis attempts to get to the root of an individual's problems that may be causing dysfunctional behaviour or mental illnesses.  This intervention attempts to identify what is causing the behaviour and adapt it to solve the 'problem'. Other interventions such as drug therapy do not do this. Instead, they try to solely get rid of the problem. This highlights the importance of dream analysis.

Show question

Question

What are the weaknesses of dream analysis?

Show answer

Answer

The weaknesses of dream analysis are:

  • it can be time consuming and expensive 
  • it is not an independent intervention that can be used to treat mental illnesses 
  • it has limited application in terms of what it can be used to treat

Show question

Question

What are the strengths of dream analysis? 

Show answer

Answer

The strengths of dream analysis are:

  • it has been proven to have utility 
    • its principles have been used to create interventions used in CBT 
  • it attempts to deal with the root cause of the problem rather than ignore it 

Show question

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