Dennis B. Kottler, MD
Westlake Village, CA
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The "Classical" View
Dreams provide a valuable glimpse into the "unconscious." The classical psychoanalytic belief portrays the dream as consisting of two parts: The "manifest" dream and the "latent" dream. The "manifest" dream consists of what the dream appears to be about, the surface meaning. The "latent" dream is the "deeper," more disguised, meaning of the dream. A dream is thought of as an onion, with the "latent" dream consisting of multiple levels of meaning, usually having at the core, relevance to one's primary psychodynamic conflicts, emanating from early childhood.
In psychoanalytic terms, the "dream work" is the process by which the mind disguises the "latent" dream and transforms it into the "manifest" dream. This "dream work" consists of such devices as symbolism, condensation, turning something into its opposite, and other techniques also found in various forms of literature. The "dream work" uses this elaborate disguise to prevent the psychologically painful impact of the dream from reaching consciousness.
The role of psychoanalytic therapy is to investigate the dream for its various levels of latent meaning and skillfully and carefully interpret this to the patient as part of the larger therapeutic process.
The primary technique of dream interpretation consists of "free associating." The person receives encouragement to share all thoughts which are triggered by the dream, without censoring any of these thoughts, no matter how bizarre or irrelevant they may seem.
A "Modified" View
While the classical view presents a helpful framework for making psychological sense of dreams, there is an alternative view. Perhaps the mind is not quite as ingenious as the "classicists" would have us believe. Perhaps the "manifest" dream is a collection of story fragments which may or may not contain within them the seed of a deeper psychological story. This view holds that it is not important if, in fact, there is a coherent "latent" dream buried beneath the symbolic obfuscation.
In fact, when the person free associates he may be creating the "latent" dream de novo. To this possibility, the "modified" view says, "so what." In this case the dream is serving as a projective substrate. The story created based on this substrate is just as informative regarding the individual's psychodynamic issues as the putative "latent" dream in the classical theory. In fact, there is no conflict here between these two views, since the result is the same; the mind will invariably seek out and articulate the important issues when it is pressed to do so by the skillful therapist.
A Final Thought
The fact that the dream is the neurochemical creation of the mind does not invalidate the above viewpoints. Every thought, feeling, and behavior is a neurochemical event. The psychological significance of the "story" is what has the most relevance to our experience as thinking beings.
Please see The "Psychiatrix.com" View of "Mental" Disorders for a further discussion of the mind/body issue.
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