Dreams and their Interpretation in Psychotherapy: part 2

I suspended the previous introduction ( ) with the desire to explain the meaning of “formation of the image” of the patient’s dream inside the psychotherapist.

The psychotherapist, as a consequence of his/her education, has to find as much as possible an independent shape towards his/her personal history and dynamics. In short he/she had to treat his/herself and still has to do it, intended as a continuous remodeling of his/her personal autonomy to be free from the identification with the patient.

The aim is to find a crystal approach to the affective listening to the dream and to the subsequent interpretation, avoiding the commixture with personal issues.

In this way psychotherapist’s subjectivity is not left out indeed it is present as a free shape at patient’s disposition.

This form is the identity of the psychotherapist inside the setting that corresponds to the identity of the human being first and then of the mental health specialist.

The conceptualization of the identity is very wide and I think that needs more time and space to be deepened, I just wanted to underline the idea of the human being integrated as a whole.

If the psychotherapist doesn’t identify his/herself with the patient, he can recognize the identified images of the dream and later thwart them with the interpretation and at the same time can intuit the valid elements emerged. Therefore, at the opposite side of the frustration of psychopathological dynamics, the psychotherapist can recognize the unconscious skills (again thanks to the interpretation) as acknowledgment of identity of the patient.

The two different poles of interpretation, acknowledgment and frustration, match exactly the development of physiology and psychopathology in to the patient: in the psychotherapeutic process they both must be evaluated and recognized because they both belong to the identity of the human being in that moment.

The dream’s content includes the different steps of the development’s process of the individual.

The unconscious representation of the peak of this process includes a basic transformation of the internal image of the mother that should happen at the time of adolescence.

The outcome of this dynamic is the vanishing of the image of the mother that doesn’t mean her annihilation but transformation due to phantasy’s activity. 

The adolescence that is growing up changes the unconscious image of the good mother in a new, unrecognizable image that synthetize the formation of his/her personal identity as autonomy of the image. There’s no doubt that the identity of the new adult contains the relationship with the mother, the father and many other relevant figures, peers, family, teachers etc., at the same time these affections are not unconsciously represented as they are but condensed in a new different internal image of phantasy, changing every time. The process of transformation allows the adolescence to start his/her adult relationships in a real autonomous way.

When the mother remains as an internal fixed, unmodifiable image, it represents the identification.

For this reason I hardly comprehend when, in literature, identification is considered a physiological process in child’s development: it arises a sort of contradiction due to the fact that if the mother well performed the relationship, the adolescence should follow an unconscious and conscious image/model of adult relationship more similar or equal to the mother’s one.

What would mean to look for different or new kind of relationships if the one with the mother was very good? It would be “right” to search for individuals similar to the mother. Instead our clinical activity shows that when a person maintains the identification with the mother, represented first with a fixed unconscious image and then with the conscious realization of equal/superimposable to the mother relationships, just in this case we have in front the “patient” intended as the emerging of the psychopathology.

Therefore it is necessary for the psychotherapist to resolve his/her identification during the educational training: one of the consequences concerns the possible impact of the psychotherapist’s figure for the patient.

If patient and psychotherapist are in a defined and not identified relationship, the unconscious images of the patient will face an autonomous and transparent image of the psychotherapist. This situation is completely different from the mesmerization that happens when the unconscious answer of the patient is a direct consequence of a not-autonomous form of the therapist that creates new identification inside the session and camouflages of the unconscious material emerged.

Coming back to dreams, another aspect that clarifies the fact that I’m following the adequate interpretation, is that I begin to understand, thanks to intuition and not to rational knowledge, what the patient is telling in the dream. This follows the fact that the expression (verbal and non-verbal) of the interpretation determines a correspondent emotion into the patient that is recognizable by his/her staying inside the same interpretation.

This kind of “staying in” is a common experience regardless to dream’s interpretation. So much have been said about the feelings and the answer of the patient to interpretation, mostly about the influence of the personality of the therapist and generally of “being in psychotherapy”: pleasing, anger, fear, devotion etc. but this time I’m talking about a previous time.

This time “similar and common” between patients, is short and it’s appreciable strongly as a “dreaming drift” of the attention that has a broad emotional impact therefore a high affective sense.

In a while this time is replaced by the wakeful mind followed by defense mechanisms related to the frustration side of dream’s interpretation otherwise to gratification and satisfaction of the acknowledgment side of the same interpretation. Usually the more the patient is used to work with dreams and his/her psychotherapy is advanced the more this time is prolonged as the effect of the overcoming of the pathological dynamics and a major capacity to remain in to the relation.

As I wrote before acknowledgment and frustration are the two different poles of the interpretation: the first (acknowledgement) is connected to the emerging of the Human Potential (Battuello and Errico, 2015 ) the valid and affective elements of identity referred to unconscious traces of the developmental process of the child; the second (frustration) is connected to conflicts, denials and all the dynamics under the psychopathology.

After this “initial time” the effect of interpretation is a reactive secondary moment that can show itself immediately or later and it corresponds specifically to the answer of the patient to the contents of the therapist emerged with the interpretation of which we have a wide literature.

When the patient is in this active modality of listening to dream’s interpretation, I realize that the sense of the image I’m giving him/her back matches the meaning of the dream itself then the relation operated and it’s time to call it a real third unconscious that is born by the activation of both, psychotherapist and patient.

The interpretation and its consequences are unavoidable from how I put myself into the listening to the dream, an irrational/unconscious attitude, that is not vigilant attention, not fast thought or answer to question but it is to come inside the relation to let my self not to reason.

So I realize that is not possible to find some quantifiable characteristics for dreams’ contents and unfortunately this issue brings back to the problem of scientific validation of psychotherapy: at the time it is necessary to notice this limitation and to accept it.

Looking deeper into formal aspects of dreams it is common to find specific characteristics for every single patient, from a broad phantasy to a reality adhesion, from short narrations full of meanings to longer stories with variegated details, always with an accurate correspondence between forms and senses of the dream and patient’s personality intended as his/her constitutional aspects (physiological) and the pathological ones.

In the progression of the psychotherapeutic work the way of patient’s dreaming can change: for example where, at the beginning of therapy, the anxious traits, filled the dreams of redundant, complicated and superposed images, later in therapy the resolution of conflicts could show easier and lighter construction of images. At the same time there could be the patient that could maintain his/her diffusive narration because it responds to his/her personality and identity, not to conflicts.

Still a patient with a very flattened oneiric phantasy due to historical parental denial of his/her affective skills, could find a dynamic window to re-activate his/her physiological phantasy. This is completely different from another situation in which an apparent condensed use of the images matches a personal attitude to develop and show phantasy.

The big emphasis I give to relational aspects of psychotherapy are similar to the intersubjective and relational models of recent psychoanalysis and it’s true: what I really miss and it’s the reason of my brief communication is the power and relevance of dreams that are bordered by the therapist to relational communication instead of source of dynamic historical truth to be interpreted in their different contents. It’s just the relation, I repeat, that allows the comprehension of the dream and then the possibility of interpretation.

I realize that I consider an image, a situation or an experience of the dream more than other for all the dynamics with the patient described earlier but my conscious awareness emerges only after having done it.

Otherwise it seems that the emotions exposed must be stopped constrainedly to “decide” whereas the selection of the images to be interpreted is a fully unconscious phenomena therefore it can’t be determined rationally.

If I have to “decide” what needs interpretation, I would consider it as a defense’s mechanism due to a resonance impact of the oneiric images of the dream with personal issues/emotions/feelings: this occurrence would have the outcome of  a rational awakening in the therapeutic process.


Michele Battuello