The Freud Museum


The Handling of Dream-Interpretation in Psychoanalysis (1913)

It is not possible to fully interpret every dream related by the patient in analysis. This intention would come into collision with the most immediate aims of the treatment if it were carried out. Also the patient can produce so many dreams that it soon becomes overwhelming - which is often the intention of the patient. To stay with the dreams means that the treatment will have fallen behind the present and lost touch with actuality.

"In opposition to such a technique stands the rule that it is of the greatest importance for the treatment that the analyst should always be aware of the surface of the patients mind at any given moment, that he should know what complexes and resistances are active in him at the time and what conscious reaction to them will govern his behaviour. It is scarcely ever right to sacrifice this therapeutic aim to an interest in dream- interpretation."

The analyst should just be content with the amount of interpretation that can be achieved in one session, and not to worry about losing material. It will all come back another day. There should be no exception to the first rule, that the first thing that comes into the patient's head is the first thing to be dealt with.

If the dreams become too diffuse and voluminous, you should tacitly give up from the start all hope of completely unravelling them. Don't give the patient the impression that the work of analysis would stop if dreams couldn't be analysed.

Sometimes a 'full' interpretation can only be done after the end of the analysis, just as with some symptoms. You must be content with doing things in a piecemeal fashion, laying hold first of this, then of that fragment of the symptom's meaning. One must be content if the attempt at interpretation brings a single pathogenic wishful impulse to light.
"Thus nothing attainable is renounced if one gives up the idea of a complete dream-interpretation."

In any case, the same material will always come back. It may sometimes be best to abandon the dream you're working on and try another one.

"I know that it is asking a great deal, not only of the patient but also of the doctor, to expect them to give up their conscious purposive aims during treatment, and to abandon themselves to a guidance which, in spite of everything, still seems to us to be 'accidental'. But I can answer for it that one is rewarded every time one resolves to have faith in ones own theoretical principles, and prevails upon oneself not to dispute the guidance of the unconscious in establishing connecting links."

Don't worry about the scrupulous recording of dreams. "For even if in this way the text of the dream is laborously rescued from oblivion, it is easy enough to convince oneself that nothing has been achieved for the patient. Associations will not come to the text, and the result is the same as if the dream had not been preserved. No doubt the doctor has acquired some knowledge which he would not have done otherwise. But it is not the same thing whether the doctor knows something or the patient knows it; the importance of this distinction will be more fully considered elsewhere."

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