Academic journal article International Journal of Psychoanalysis

On Talking-as-Dreaming

Academic journal article International Journal of Psychoanalysis

On Talking-as-Dreaming

Article excerpt

Many patients are unable to engage in waking-dreaming in the analytic setting in the form of free association or in any other form. The author has found that 'talking-as-dreaming' has served as a form of waking-dreaming in which such patients have been able to begin to dream formerly undreamable experience. Such talking is a loosely structured form of conversation between patient and analyst that is often marked by primary process thinking and apparent non sequiturs. Talking-as-dreaming superficially appears to be 'unanalytic' in that it may seem to consist 'merely' of talking about such topics as books, films, etymology, baseball, the taste of chocolate, the structure of light, and so on. When an analysis is 'a going concern,' talking-as-dreaming moves unobtrusively into and out of talking about dreaming. The author provides two detailed clinical examples of analytic work with patients who had very little capacity to dream in the analytic setting. In the first clinical example, talking-as-dreaming served as a form of thinking and relating in which the patient was able for the first time to dream her own (and, in a sense, her father's) formerly unthinkable, undreamable experience. The second clinical example involves the use of talking-as-dreaming as an emotional experience in which the formerly 'invisible' patient was able to begin to dream himself into existence. The analyst, while engaging with a patient in talking-as-dreaming, must remain keenly aware that it is critical that the difference in roles of patient and analyst be a continuously felt presence; that the therapeutic goals of analysis be firmly held in mind; and that the patient be given the opportunity to dream himself into existence (as opposed to being dreamt up by the analyst).

Keywords: talking, dreaming, reverie, waking-dreaming, undreamable experience, undreamt dreams

'Auntie, speak to me! I'm frightened because it's so dark.' His aunt answered him: 'What good would that do? You can't see me.' 'That doesn't matter,' replied the child, 'if anyone speaks, it gets light.' (Freud, 1905, p. 224, fn. 1)

I take as fundamental to an understanding of psychoanalysis the idea that the analyst must invent psychoanalysis anew with each patient. This is achieved in no small measure by means of an ongoing experiment, within the terms of the psychoanalytic situation, in which patient and analyst create ways of talking to one another that are unique to each analytic pair at a given moment in the analysis.

In this paper, I focus primarily on forms of talking generated by patient and analyst which may at first seem 'unanalytic' because the patient and analyst are talking about such things as books, poems, films, rules of grammar, etymology, the speed of light, the taste of chocolate, and so on. Despite appearances, it has been my experience that such 'unanalytic' talk often allows a patient and analyst who have been unable to dream together to begin to be able to do so. I will refer to talking of this sort as 'talking-as-dreaming.' Like free association (and unlike ordinary conversation), talking-as-dreaming tends to include considerable primary process thinking and what appear to be non sequiturs (from the perspective of secondary process thinking).

When an analysis is a 'going concern' (Winnicott, 1964, p. 27), the patient and analyst are able to engage both individually and with one another in a process of dreaming. The area of 'overlap' of the patient's dreaming and the analyst's dreaming is the place where analysis occurs (Winnicott, 1971, p. 38). The patient's dreaming, under such circumstances, manifests itself in the form of free associations (or, in child analysis, in the form of playing); the analyst's waking-dreaming often takes the form of reverie experience. When a patient is unable to dream, this difficulty becomes the most pressing aspect of the analysis. It is these situations that are the focus of this paper.

I view dreaming as the most important psychoanalytic function of the mind: where there is unconscious 'dream-work,' there is also unconscious 'understandingwork' (Sandler, 1976, p. …

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