How Sigmund Freud’s Method of Psychological Analysis Affects the Study of Dream Interpretation





How Sigmund Freud’s Method of Psychological Analysis Affects the Study of Dream Interpretation


Sigmund Freud was a neurologist accredited as the founder of psychoanalysis, which made popular the notion that unconscious motives had an influence and control on the behavior of a person. Freud came up with several theories in his works but those that have mainly received criticism revolve around the interpretation of dreams. To this, he came up with the wish-fulfillment theory seeking to explain where the content of the dream come from. Today, his work is considered to be dated and suspected of not being true, which several researchers have proven. As Schredl (44) indicates, Freud’s work has influenced a lot of research on the modern psychological analysis and personality theories. Although some people highly refute the correctness of his theory, some of it is true. Particularly, the theory or his work on interpretation of dreams has elicited much criticism that has seen many researchers who do not agree to research to prove wrong his claims (Mancia 476).

Influence to Modern Dream Interpretation and Psychological Studies

Freud brought the idea of the dreams to a society that had already given up on dream interpretation. In the early 19th century, people considered dreams to be insignificant and without any meaning. Today however, dream interpretation has received more focus from researchers and psychologists. Since the inception of his work “The Interpretation of Dreams,” published in 1900, it has received relentless attacks from all sides of psychology with both proponents and critics of his work acknowledging that it has had a tremendous influence on the 20th century dream studies. It is after this work that more and more scholars entered the field of dream interpretation in an effort to find out the truth about Freud’s claims. Although many theories have come up to explain the interpretation of dreams, Freud’s theory still remains prominent although many scholars have tried to show it is not correct.

In his book “The Interpretation of Dreams,” published in 1900, he suggests that the motivation of all dreams come from a wishful-fulfillment, where instigation of a dream can be found within events happening the day before the dream, which he referred to as the “day residue.” He further argues that the actual imagery and events in dream serve to show the unconscious wishes of the dreamer. By this, he meant that dreams seek to fulfill our wishes that might not be known to the conscious mind (Bulkeley 120). However, this has been refuted by some of the modern psychologists who prove that the dream is rather more multifunctional. It can be a reflection of mood, consolidation of memory function and among other things. The wish-fulfillment theory is not entirely refuted considering that one could be fulfilling a wish in their dream. However, the dream has several functions to it that just fulfillment of a wish. For instance, some dreams happen out of one’s creativity, which does not represent a wish.

According to Schredl (45), a dream acts as a protector of guardian to sleep, where after one sleeps, a disconnection from reality is achieved by elimination of external stimuli. By this, he means that the mind acts to protect the person from disturbances of external stimuli such as noise, temperature light among other stimulus. This is done by the mind’s ability to manufacture dreams. For a person to remain asleep and undisturbed by the external stimuli or even internal stimuli such as pain, strong emotions and even thought, there is need to disguise or censor the internal stimuli. Otherwise, one would be disturbed by the stimuli and wake up or find it hard to stay asleep. Thus, a dream can lead to the understanding of a person’s state of consciousness (Freud 5). This represents Freud’s idea about dreaming and its interpretation.

Freud in his work uses his own dreams and experiences to come up with his theory on the psychology of dreams. He distinguishes the content of the dream into two levels, the manifest and the latent level of dream (Ahmed 62). The manifest of surface content of dream is the one that one can easily remember after waking from the dream. On the other hand, the latent content is the deeper content or the unconscious thoughts within a dream that one may not remember after waking. He explains that the dreaming process where the brain censors the thoughts causes a distortion of the content from the voluntary of conscious brain. Thus, the images and ideas in a dream that might be considered meaningless can, through dream analysis, be shown as a coherent idea. He goes ahead to define ‘dream work’ as the process through which the brain creates the content of the dream that goes through three stages. The first stage is condensation where thoughts are brought together and combined. Distortion represents a situation where the thoughts are repressed and distanced from reality while translation is the situation where the brain creates images for these thoughts that one can see in the dream. To this regard, the real purpose of analyzing dreams is to understand the unconscious part of the person (Bulkeley 120).

Freud further went ahead to split the psych into three categories, the id, ego and superego. He asserts that everybody is born with the id psych that is the pleasure principle component in a person. The id is developed when one is an infant, which provides the infant with desires such as food and warmth for infants. Its main goal is to realize satisfaction for the person. It does not recognize other realities. It is the basic impact through which one reacts to primary instincts. On the other hand, the ego seeks to balance between the pressure principle and other realities since it comes when one grows and start realizing other people. It also seeks to balance the super-ego, which is concerned with morals in order to allow the person some satisfaction. The ego allows one to understand that other people have needs just like us. This ensures that a person can fulfill the needs of the id without conflicting with other realities. Finally, the super-ego represents the moral brain that distinguishes the right and wrong. However, it does not make any decision. Rather, the ego makes the decisions. He explained that the conscious part of our mind is quite small, and compared to an iceberg, it is the floating part represented by the ego while the rest is the preconscious mind and unconscious one. The preconscious is represented by the super-ego while the unconscious is represented by the id (Freud 240).

The theories and ideas have affected the interpretation of dreams and their relationship to life. From the theory according to Freud, dreams are not independent and so, cannot be out of what we have already experienced. Dreams are based on events that have already been experienced or about things already established in our brains. Therefore, after dreaming, one can relate the dream to an experience or event that happened in reality. Freud used his own dreams and interpreted them to real-life experiences prior to the dream. He came up with symbolism in order to show how some of the However, the theory has been refuted by the fact that it only dwells on the experiences, and does not recognize that dreams can be multifunctional or based on other aspects such as creativity.

In seeking to find out the sources of dreams, several results have come up, based on stimuli. One of the sources is external stimuli. While asleep, due to involuntary movements one could feel pressure on one side such as when you lie on your hand. This produces the sensation of pressure, and one can dream about their hand brushing against something or something happening to their hand. On the other hand, internal stimuli play a part too as a source of dreams. When asleep, some of our organic parts can be at activity, aroused, or even disturbed. At this point, the mind creates imagined images about the activity going on in the mind. For instance, people who wet bed remember dreaming about it where the brain creates images and a sensation that one is in the bathroom. This proves that dreams are not only from what one experienced the day before the dream. However, the images created are associated with experiences or things that one knows. Therefore, Freud’s theory is not fully correct but solves a part of the problem (Valli 15).

In the article by Fiss H. “A 21st Century Look at Freud’s Dream Theory,” areas where Freud went wrong are reviewed as well as its influence in the study of dream interpretation (322). It is worth noting that much of the research carried out is based on finding the truth about his theories, which in some instances out of experimentation has realized different results, some conflicting or agreeing with some of his arguments. In this article, a comparison experiment is carried out to compare the REM and non-REM sleep where results show that sleep is necessary in order to safeguard the need for dreaming. According to Freud, the dream safeguards the sleep while this experiment shows the vice versa where the dream safeguard the sleep. Fiss combines the two ideas to conclude that dreams not only reflect the inner world of the dreamer, but also affect the dreamer. Thus, a dream is an independent variable and not a dependent one (324).

It is clear that this study was affected by Freud’s theory where the author did not refute it all at once. Rather, the research seeks to correct it in part by part. The study, especially the experiment was a kind of a response to Freud’s theory, to prove whether dream safeguards the sleep or not. In trying to find out the truth, the experiment produces a rather different result that can give more insight and refute some part of Freud’s theory. Surprisingly as well, some of the ideas from this article are not quite credible or convincing enough considering that only one experiment is carried out.

Before these theories, the brain was studied as an object. It is after the interpretations of dreams by Freud that scientists started studying the connection between the conscious and unconscious brain. This has produced results such as the complexities between the brain and the mind, which are considered different. Currently, much of neurological research is focused on the connection between brain and behavior. Dreams interpretations have proven to be the foundation of these researches. Scientists are finding dreams to provide quite an insight to how the brain works.

REM is rapid eye movement that occurs during a dream and proves a dream is real. However, NREM, the non rapid eye movement is the stages of sleep before one starts to dream. Thus, it means that while we are asleep, we are not dreaming all the time. Therefore, the Freud’s notion that dreaming is the gateway to unconsciousness may not be fully correct considering that during the NREM sleep one is usually unconscious. Therefore, the dream is not necessary for one to be asleep or in the unconscious state.

The new discoveries on REM sleep tend to differ with what Freud claimed. Current neurobiological findings suggest that REM sleep is brought about by neurological events that are highly correlated to the vivid, hallucinatory, visual reports that come after arousal. According to Dickstein, REM sleep is a state of forebrain activation, exteroceptive input blockade, motor blockade, oculomotor activation and provision of the forebrain with internally generated signals from the brainstem,” (76). This disagreement from Freud’s theory is centered on whether it is necessary for specific neuro mechanisms within the brainstem to be present or sufficient for the maintenance of REM sleep. This seeks to find out whether the brainstem is independently capable of initiating REM sleep and maintaining it as well. Further, it seeks to find out whether the forebrain is necessary for REM sleep to occur where it provides the brainstem with internally generated information that is capable of influencing the brainstem activity. The answers to these questions elicit a far-reaching effect to dream theories in psychology (Dickstein 78).

Apposed to Freud who never looked at the neurological side contributing to dreams, modern scientist seeking to understand dreams and its connection with brain and mind have used neurological studies and experiments aided by high sophisticated techniques to study the brain activity at all stages of sleep. Freud on the other hand never used any scientific study or experiments to come up with his ideas (Dickstein 76). Rather, they were out of his own experience with dreams and observation of his clients. However, some of his ideas are still viable as aforementioned. To the contrary, in order to find out the connection between the brain and mind, modern scientists have used newer techniques as stated. Many discoveries with deeper details have come up.

His work continued to elicit much criticism that sought to differ from his ideas. Therefore, his ideas can be considered the main source of much of the work on modern dream studies. Without such a work, there probably would be very few studies on dreams since there would be no reason or motivation to scientists. Thus, his ideas elicited a lot of motivation to other scientists considering it a misunderstood, and remains not fully understood. Out of this influence on scientists, several more theories about interpretation as well as reasons why we dream have come up.

One of them is the threat stimulation theory (TST) by Revonsuo. It claims that dreaming originally has evolved to an offline simulation of the real world functioning in the ancestral environment of the person where there is repeated production of simulations of threatening events that happened in the waking hours leaving an emotional mark in the memory (Valli and Revonsuo 17). It suggests that consciousness in dream is an organized as well as selective simulation of the real world (Valli 15). Although it sounds different from the Freud theory, one can realize that it recognizes reality as a source for dreams as Freud did. Psychoanalytic Dream theory is yet another of the theories that sprinted out of Freud’s wishful theory. It states that REM sleep is initiated by a periodic firing of pontine reticular neurons, particularly FTG cells. This dwells on the neurologic part of dreaming (Wasserman 832).

The most compelling influence of Freud’s interpretation of dreams is the foundation of the modern psychotherapies. In an effort to understand the meaning of dreams, Freud came with psychoanalysis that has led to many kinds of therapies. Without the interpretation of dreams, neuroscience would probably still exist as a mapping project without focusing on the intrinsic part of the mind that plays a crucial role in psychology (Power 613). Additionally, without interpretation of dreams by Freud, current scientific studies might never have an insight to the mind that affects mental illnesses. It is clear that Freud was the pioneer to a field of study that many may not have thought about since it had no meanings. His studies on interpretation of dreams have been the base upon which new ideas are discovered. He provided a need in researchers to understand dreams, which has seen many studies conducted by those who sought to criticize him or those who were his proponents (Power 613).

Works Cited

Ahmed, Sofe. Sigmund Freud’s Psychoanalytic Theory Oedipus complex: A Critical Study With Reference To D.H. Lawrence’s “Sons and Lovers.” International Journal of English and Literature, 3.3, (2012): 60-70. Print.

Bulkeley, Kelly. “Dreaming Is Play II: Revonsuo’s Threat Simulation Theory in Lucid Context.” Sleep and Hypnosis, 6.3, (2004): 119-129. Print.

Dickstein, George. “The Neurobiology of Dreams: Current Concepts.” Journal of Biology and Medicine, 6 (1988): 75-79. Print.

Fiss Harry. “A 21st Century Look at Freud’s Dream Theory.” Journal of the American Academy of Psychoanalysis 28. 2 (2000): 321-341. Print.

Freud, Sigmund. The Interpretation of Dreams. Vienna, 1931. Print.

Mancia, M. The dream between neuroscience and psychoanalysis. Neurophysiologist, University of Milan, and Training Analyst the Italian Psychoanalytical Society, 2005. Print.

Power Mick. “Freud and the Unconscious.” The Psychologist, 3.12 (2000): 612-614.

Schredl, Michael. “Freud’s Interpretation of His Own Dreams in “The Interpretation of Dreams”: A Continuity Hypothe­sis Perspective.” International Journal of Dream Research, 1. 2, (2008): 44-47. Print.

Valli Katja. Threat Simulation: The Function of Dreaming. Finland: University of Turku, Finland, 2008. Print.

Valli Katja and Revonsuo Antti. “The threat simulation theory in light of recent empirical evidence: A review.” American Journal of Psychology, 122. 1 (2009): 17-38. Print.

Wasserman D. Marvin. “Psychoanalytic Dream Theory And Recent Neurobiological Findings About REM Sleep.” Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 32, (1984): 831-846. Print.

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