Clinical Psychology Dissertation


Clinical Psychology Dissertation - Dream Content as a Therapeutic Approach: Ego Gratification vs. Repressed FeelingsAn Abstract of a Dissertation

Dream Content as a Therapeutic Approach: Ego Gratification vs. Repressed Feelings

This study sets out to determine how dreams can be used in a therapeutic environment to discuss feelings from a dream, and how the therapist should engage the patient to discuss them to reveal the relevance of those feelings, in their present, waking life. It also discusses the meaning of repetitious dreams, how medication affects the content of a dreamer's dreams, and if therapists actually "guide" their clients in what to say. This "guidance" might be the therapist "suggesting" to their clients that they had suffered some type of early childhood trauma, when in fact, there were no traumas in their early childhoods. The origin of psychiatry is not, as it would have people believe, medicine, therapy or any other even faintly scientific endeavor. Its original purpose was not even to cure mental affliction.

Working hard behind this scene is the psychiatrist, dispensing everything from his pernicious "insanity defense" in the courts — thereby helping dangerous criminals escape justice — to his mind-numbing drugs within the prisons. Of course, with high rates of inmate illiteracy and drug abuse, it is reasonable to assume that educational psychiatry was on the scene years before the inmate committed any crime, busily "helping" children with an earlier promise to improve education — with, of all things, addictive, mind-numbing drugs.

It also examines the effects of sertraline

) on the dream content of a young woman with generalized anxiety disorder and panic attacks. The study uses the major categories of Hall and Van de Castle's (1966) system of content analysis to compare dream reports before and after drug treatment. Prior to diagnosis and treatment, the dreamer had high levels of aggression and low levels of friendliness in her dreams. The post-medication dreams more closely approximate the female norms. This pilot study suggests a new direction for research on the effects of medication on dream content.

Dreams reflect what people think about, and if a client is told that they had horrible trauma in their early childhood, they will think about that, reflect on that, and in return, dream about it. This study also makes recommendations about therapeutic approaches and future dream and feelings studies.




Statement of goal achieved

Relevance to the Field

Barriers and Issues

Elements Investigated


Definition of Terms

Review of the Literature

Historical Overview

Research Literature Specific to Dream Content as a Therapeutic Approach

Summary of the Known and Unknown

Contribution to the Field


Research Methods

Specific Procedures

Presentation of Results

Resources Used

Reliability and Viability



Data Analysis


Summary of Results

Conclusions, Implications, Recommendations, and Summary

Reference List

Chapter 1


Statement of Problem/Goal Achieved

It was a weird dream—he contemplated divorcing her, because she was too sick for him to take care of anymore. They decided to try to work it out at their son's and his family's place. But then, they didn't have anywhere else to stay, because they were from out of town. But a friend of the man's son told them that he had a posh apartment in a very nice apartment tower that they could use, much like the ones in the big cities, such as Chicago. But when the son and his family went to check out the apartment, they found out that it was very trashy and completely run the meantime, the son's wife, the dreamer Tina, found her father in law very attractive, and tried to seduce him. Then the dreamer woke up.

This dream was from a dream journal of Tina from the dream. She had dreamed that she was the main character in the dream, and set forth seducing her father in law. Now obviously, she did not want to seduce her father in law in her waking life, and never wanted him to divorce his wife. The son of the dream, the dreamer's husband Stephen, had worked with that friend with the apartment, who had recently started a business directly in competition with Stephen. Currently in their waking lives,...


Her mother in law is actually sick, and Tina is having intimate issues with her husband. However, she does not want to have any physical relationship with her father in law, and has been showing signs of depression lately. The feelings behind this dream were fear of the husband's "friend" making it hard for her husband to find any work, as he is currently facing unemployment, and frustration that she doesn't feel that intimate with her husband. She realized that she shouldn't worry about her husband not finding work, and that it's okay to be intimate with her husband.
This dream, and the feelings analysis, is an example of how feelings that surround a dream can be therapeutic, when the dreamer, as well as the therapist, is aware of how to do this. Tina was able to recognize how much she was obsessing about issues in her daily life, and immediately stopped worrying about them. Once she stopped worrying about her waking issues, she was able to focus on making her life better and stopped showing signs of depression. Theoretically, when a therapist can take the feelings of the client's dream, turn them around so that the client can see where their real issues are, the client is able to help themselves feel better.

A recent "20/20 " TV broadcast featured dream-worker and radio host Kathleen Sullivan. Kathleen, author of Recurring Dreams, described her dream of an eagle caught in a web. She interpreted her dream eagle as a symbol for herself, caught in the web of alcoholic addiction. She was able to use that insight to change her life, to stop drinking and, as a result, her recurring dreams disappeared.

On the same program, another dream-worker, Gillian Holloway, spoke with four people who were suffering from recurring nightmares. Like Kathleen, she used symbolic interpretation in an attempt to match dream content with current life. Afterwards, two of the people interviewed felt that the use of metaphor and pun unlocked their dreams' meaning and revealed helpful information. But the other two weren't so convinced.

That symbols reflect current life is only one possible meaning for dreams, and to pinpoint the "meaning " of nightmares doesn't necessarily settle upset feelings and emotions. Even those dream-workers who usually take a passive approach to dreams will agree that a nightmare is cause for action. Some examples of behavioral dream-work techniques are: re-entry dream-work, senoi and lucid dreaming. Furthermore, to focus solely on 'symbolic interpretation' can miss the literal cause of the trauma. Just as with any type of dream, each possible stimulus for nightmare must be considered in order to match it with the appropriate action. When dreams are multi-layered, several methods might be used in conjunction.

There are several possible explanations for nightmares and suggested responses: One, it could be a metaphor for current life attitudes and activities. When someone has a change in life, the dream changes. For example: that person is getting married, and a drowning dream starts. Once they realize that marriage isn't that bad, the dreams change. Two, it could be a metaphor for a bio-chemical glitch or surge. For example: one might dream of his or her own body's dismemberment, as the pictorial equivalent of intrusive thoughts.

Because this sort of nightmare is the result of the mind-body system not functioning at optimum, and expressing mental or physical illness instead, it can require physiological intervention such as diet or drug therapy. Conversely, drugs and normal hormonal changes can trigger it. For example: a woman might dream of tidal flooding just prior to her menstrual period. A light touch of behavioral dream-work techniques can shift content to a more positive metaphor to describe the sensation.

The third factor could be that the nightmare/dream is a psychic copycat of a current situation. For example: a parent has repeating nightmares, and the child "dreams his dreams " because the child is in a psychic resonance with the parent. The child's dreams end when the parent's does. Four, it might be a repetition of a past traumatic event in current lifetime. For example: a person might dream of a recent rape, a childhood assault or a wartime battle. This type of nightmare is so deeply etched in the psyche that it can require heavy use of behavioral dream-work techniques…

Sources Used in Documents:

references. This may be related to the large decrease in familiar settings in the post-medication dreams. Although Domhoff (1996) does not list a high percentage of elements from the past as an indicator of psychopathology, he does mention that people suffering post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a type of anxiety disorder, tend to have dreams in which distressing events are relived again and again. It may be that other anxiety disorders invoke a similar response in which the dreamer has a tendency to dwell on past events, which merits further research.

A final observation is that the results of this study provide support for Hartmann's (1984) biological model of the effects of drugs on dreams. An early study which focused mainly on long-term sleep patterns found little change in dream content associated with psychotropic drug administration (Hartmann & Cravens, 1974), but a later study conducted in Hartmann's laboratory indicated that increased levels of dopamine resulted in more vivid, nightmarish dreams (Hartmann, Russ, Oldfield, Falke, & Skoff, 1980). Based on his own research and the literature on drugs and nightmares, Hartmann (1984) proposed that drugs that increase the neurotransmitters dopamine or acetylcholine, or decrease norepinephrine or serotonin, produce nightmares and more vivid and bizarre dreams.

Drugs that have the opposite effects would decrease the incidence of disturbing dreams. The dreamer in this study was taking a serotonin reuptake inhibitor, which served to increase the effects of serotonin. According to the biological model, with the onset of medication the dreamer should have experienced a decrease in nightmares, or, in Hall and Van de Castle's terms, lower aggression, negative emotions, and other unpleasant factors. This was, in fact, the case.

The emphasis on statistically significant differences without regard to effect sizes slowed progress in the study of dream content by creating unnecessary polarities and focusing energy on methodological arguments. The introduction of effect sizes into the study of dream content makes it possible to suggest that the controversy over home and laboratory collected dream reports never should have happened. The emphasis in dream content studies henceforth should be on effect sizes and large samples. Then future dream researchers could focus on testing new ideas using dream reports collected either at home or in the sleep laboratory.


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