Fink! Still at Large: A Canadian Study of Preteens Suggests Recurrent Dreams Might Reflect Underlying Emotional Difficulties in Boys. How Have You Used Patients' Dreams to Advance Their Psychotherapy?

Article excerpt

Dreams have been the enigma of philosophers, physicians, and psychiatrists for centuries, and they continue to present a great many problems for those interested in how the mind works. Freud's crowning achievement occurred in 1900 with the publication of The Interpretation of Dreams, which catapulted him to fame.

For 2 decades there has raged a "scientific" battle over Freud's ideas versus a biochemical explanation and a strong belief that dreams are random and have no meaning. Freud felt that each dream was intimately related to the dreamer and that meaning could be discovered through the patient's associations to elements in the dream.

The study conducted by several Canadian researchers pulls together many important concepts about recurrent (repetitive) dreams of 11-year-old boys. In the study, "Recurrent Dreams and Psychosocial Adjustment in Preteenaged Children," Aline Gauchat and her colleagues discovered that boys, not girls, who have recurrent dreams are more likely to have reactive aggression. They explain this to be aggressive responses to a stimulus that is perceived as threatening (Dreaming 2009;19:75-84).

These boys are not proactively aggressive, which is significant to me because there is an implication that they are struggling with events in their lives for which they do not have an immediate response. I think that these children, now in puberty, are filled with confusion and are not sure what to do about a situation that might be traumatic. Therefore, at night they try to solve the problem through their dreams and continue to have those dreams until they have "solved'' the problem.

Unfortunately, the study gives no information, not even a clue, about the content of the dreams. But my extrapolation is based on my belief that people's minds continue to work even when they are asleep and the same things that the boy is worried about while he is awake will return to haunt him in repetitive dreams.

If this child was proactively aggressive, he would have solved the problem and would not need the dreams to help him solve it. But our boys are restrained from action by their superegos, so the struggle comes out in the dreams. The authors seem to indicate the same dynamic when they discuss the limited or restricted capacity of 11-year-olds to assess introspective experiences. They may also be deficient in emotional self-understanding, which fits with the idea that they use their dreams to work through their emotional struggle.

Because 11 years of age is around the beginning of sexual awakening, these children might not want to reveal the content of their dreams. Repetitive dreams might be the precursors of sexual acting out, which may be an issue at the top of these children's minds. It could scare them to have these dreams repeatedly. The common idea that dreams are premonitions may make it even more frightening for them.

This paper shows that the capacity for cognitive resolution to conflicts remains a larger unresolved area for some children.

The study was based on ideas and information from several papers and authors regarding dreams, recurrent dreams, child development, and responses that children have to problems with which they struggle. I have interviewed several people who clearly use their dreams to try to settle an issue. For me, this is another example of the same process. Let's say an 11-year-old boy is being repeatedly bullied at school. He does not feel able to stand up to the bully in the schoolyard, but every night he has a dream in which he is in a fight and comes out victorious. That's the best-case scenario. However, he might include his ambivalence in the dream and it comes out with no solution or him being narrowly defeated rather than victorious. This might lead to him waking up in the morning filled with anxiety and dread, and not wanting to go to school. In such a case, no one in the school has any idea why he is so irritable or why he is truant. …