Psychodynamic Approach - Therapy

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Assumptions Applied to Dream Analysis

  • The main assumption of the psychodynamic approach is that we behave the way we do largely because of unconscious drives.  Psychoanalysis is a form of therapy that aims to make the ‘unconscious conscious’, so that people gain ‘insight’ and so can be cured.  Psychoanalysis will involve establishing whether repression is causing the person’s psychological illness.  Dream analysis is a technique used in psychoanalysis.  Freud proposed that one way that the unconscious mind expresses itself is through dreams.  The threatening nature of unconscious thoughts is disguised in dreams.  The purpose of dream analysis is to decode what is in the unconscious mind as it expresses itself in the ‘storyline’.
  • A second assumption of the psychodynamic approach relates to the influence of childhood experiences.  Traumatic memories buried in the unconscious mind may be related to current experiences but may also be related to childhood events that are still troubling.  These may surface during dreams as a means of working through traumatic past events.  
  • Another assumption of the psychodynamic approach is that of the tripartite personality.  It is thought that the demands of the id, the desires that are unacceptable during waking hours, are relegated to our dreams.  Therefore the purpose of dreaming is to act out our wishes and desires in an acceptable way, rather than allowing them to build up and threaten our insanity.  For Freud, the ego would usually block out the unacceptable demands of the id and ego defences.  However, during dreaming our ego defences are low allowing the id to ‘come to life’. 
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Main Components

Primary Process Thought- Dreams are the expression of the wishes and fantasies held by the id. Id-like thinking is referred to as primary-process thought.  This form of thought is unacceptable to the adult conscious mind and so is relegated to our dreams (repression) where we can act out our wishes and desires.

Dreams as Wish Fulfilment- Freud believed that all dreams were the unconscious fulfilment of wishes that could not be satisfied in the conscious mind.  Dreams therefore protect the sleeper (primary-process thought), but also allow some expression to these buried urges (wish fulfilment).  

The Symbolic Nature of Dreams- According to Freud, although dreams represent unfulfilled wishes, their contents are expressed symbolically.  The real meaning of a dream (latent content) is transformed into a more innocuous form (manifest content, the content you actually experience) that may be meaningless to anybody but a psychoanalyst trained to interpret these symbols.  For example, a penis may be represented as a snake or a gun, a vagina by a tunnel or a cave. Freud also recognised that not everything in a dream is symbolic; as Freud himself said ‘sometimes a cigar is just a cigar’.

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Dream work

Condensation- Dream thoughts are rich in detail and content but these are condensed to the brief images in a dream where one image stands for several associations and ideas.

Displacement- The emotional significance of a dream object is separated from its real object or content and attached to an entirely different one so that the dream content is not censored.  Freud used the concept of a ‘censor’ who prevents disturbing thoughts reaching the conscious mind except in a disguised form.

Representation- A thought is translated into visual images.

Symbolism- A symbol replaces an action, person or idea.

Secondary Elaboration- The unconscious mind collects all of the different images and ties them together to form a logical story, further disguising the latent content.  The actual dream material may be supplied from recent events in a person’s waking life.

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  • The patient relaxes in a room that is free of distractions, usually seated, while the therapist sits out of direct view to take notes.  The patient is then asked to report a dream recall in the period since the last therapeutic session.  
  • The therapist makes notes and either prompts the recall with neutral statements such as “go on” or waits in silence for the patient to start again.  The therapist may also note the patient’s emotional states during recall any moments when they seem to falter and halt, especially the material just preceding the halt.  
  • Once the dream content is recorded, it is considered as the manifest content.  
  • The role of the therapist is to reverse the dreamwork process – to decode the manifest content back to the latent content.  They should not offer one interpretation of a dream, but suggest various interpretations based on the patient’s feedback and knowledge of their life experiences, allowing the patient to select those that make sense.
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Evaluation: Effectiveness

  • Solms (2000) used PET scans to highlight the regions of the brain that are active during dreaming.  The results showed that the rational part of the brain is indeed inactive during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, whereas the centres concerned with memory and motivation are very active.  
  • Hopfield et al (1983) on neural networks (computer simulations that aim to mimic the action of the brain).  Such computer simulations show that neural networks deal with an overloaded memory by conflating or condensing memories.
  • Fonagy (2000) suggests that psychoanalysis is consistently helpful to patients with milder anxiety disorders but less consistent dealing with severe disorders
  • Much of the research into dreaming is conducted in sleep laboratories.  It can therefore be questioned whether the sleep/dream state is as authentic as when under normal conditions, as the patient is wired up with various electrodes taking measurements.  This set up makes it impossible to conclude that dreaming is the same as in everyday life, and so the ecological validity of dream research is questioned. 
  • Interpreting the manifest content and coming up with its underlying meaning (latent content) relies on the subjective interpretation of the therapist. This means that dream analysis is a highly subjective process, going against the objective scientific aims of psychology.  
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Evaluation: Ethical Issues

  • Therapist Client Relationship
  • False Memory Syndrome
  • Emotional Harm
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