Academic journal article International Journal of Psychoanalysis

The Sense of the Body in the Dream: Diagnostic Capacity in the Meanings of Dreams

Academic journal article International Journal of Psychoanalysis

The Sense of the Body in the Dream: Diagnostic Capacity in the Meanings of Dreams

Article excerpt


In some of my clinical experiences, the interpretations of certain dreams, however articulate and coherent, with the transferential and intrapsychic events of the analysands concerned, and fully approved by them, were accompanied by a profound inescapable feeling of dissatisfaction and lacking with regard to the incompleteness and insufficiency of their interpretations. A feeling that prevented me from diverting my attention from the dreams.

This countertransferential unrest was solved in all the cases I shall describe once the reading of the dreams, which lacked any verbal inserts, underwent a reversal in perspective, followed by a somatic "perfectly admissible over-interpretation of the same dream" (Freud, 1915-16, p. 228).

This new preference led to discriminating body alterations in the patients, of which neither they nor the analyst were aware of before the dream and which were confirmed by radiological investigations.

In cases like these - which I came across several times in the first ten of over thirty years of psychoanalytic activity - I have often found myself, while trying to interpret the relevant dreams, in the position of the observer of the ambiguous figures studied in perception psychology.

The dream interpretation comprehended two representations, both sharp and reliable, of two different configurations, a psychic and a somatic, united in a single oneiric representation.

These occasional but recurring cases led to a diagnostic capacity of dreams (Freud, 1914-16, p. 223). The conjunction between the somatic and psychic interpretations became useful for an accomplished interpretation of the dream and of the particular moment in the evolution of the analytic relation.

The analytic experiences that have recently led me to looking more closely at the theoretical and clinical dimension of this oneiric function cannot give exhaustive answers, but they can provide attempts at reformulating particular questions that remain open.

These experiences have indeed led to questions about how, when and why during analysis, a dream contains a diagnostic capacity and on how and when the analyst could have (or should have) recognized this bodily reality in the dream and via the dream. To facilitate the reading of this paper, I shall anticipate my hypotheses on the issues these cases opened.

I asked myself if this aspect of dreams was an incidental, marginal or clinically neglectable phenomenon. Apres-coup I discovered that these dreams were a vehicle for an unconscious proposal by the patient, who was calling my attention on a recognition of the psychosomatic harmony of her subjective reality. The discrimination had a clear effect on the transferential evolution.

In confirmation of this hypothesis, I discovered that in cases in which I had scotomized or perceived, but not clearly discriminated, the somatic sense of the dream (which revealed itself later), the interpretation in the psychic sphere alone had turned out to be not only insufficient but also incoherent. In these situations too, the interpretation of the dream and of the moment had influenced the analytic event.

This appeal to corporeal attention did not infringe the psychoanalytic paradigm of the analytic pair at work (Ferro, 2014), but actually led to an expansion of the alpha function capable of comprehending (Bion, 1962) in intersubjective dialogue (Ogden, 2001) an aspect of knowable reality via the forms reoffered by the dream in the transferential dimension.

The oneiric representation of somatic and environmental stimuli

The possibility of dreams containing aspects of environmental reality and somatic reality was already evident to the scholars of the 19th century and was one of Freud's concerns, dealt with in the oneiric representation of external and internal somatic stimuli in chapter 1 of Die Traumdeutung.

The demonstrability of this connection presumed evidence of the simultaneousness of somatic stimuli and oneiric images. …

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