Academic journal article Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal

Dream Life and Intrapsychic Boundaries in the Elderly

Academic journal article Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal

Dream Life and Intrapsychic Boundaries in the Elderly

Article excerpt

Sixty-one mentally healthy elderly Swiss subjects (mean age: 71.8 5.5 years) participated in a 1998 investigation into the effects of "dream-telling". Along with a number of questions about their living situation and other tests, the Hartmann Boundary Questionnaire (BQ) was administered twice, at the beginning and again at the end of the twenty-six week study period. Retest reliability of the questionnaire was acceptably high (r = 0.872). The study presented here examines some relationships between factors as measured by two screening questions and by follow-up questions and the BQ scores. In the screening questions, for example, it was found that those who had had psychotherapy or had taken dream courses had significantly thinner boundaries than those who had not. This relationship did not hold, though, for those who said they paid attention to their dreams. Further questions in the follow-up phase showed also that those with thinner boundaries were more concerned with dreams. It was not clear, however, why indecisive persons in this elderly population sample should have thinner boundaries nor why those with thinner boundaries are more discontented with their bodily situations and/or with their family situations.

The past two decades have seen a growing interest in dreamwork, both within the psychotherapeutic practice (Hill, 1996) and among lay persons (Hillman, 1990). It is hoped that this interest will expand into care facilities where bed-ridden patients, especially the elderly and infirm, often have little else left in their lives. This thinking prompted an earlier overview concerning the elderly and their dreams (Funkhouser, Hirsbrunner, Cornu & Bahra, 1999) and was also the impetus for the investigation reported in the following.

In a study (supported by a grant from the Swiss National Science Foundation) among the mentally healthy elderly into the effects of telling their dreams, 61 individuals over 60 years of age were subjected to a battery of tests, including the Hartmann Boundary Questionnaire (BQ; Hartmann, 1991), at the beginning and end of a 26-week trial period. In addition, data were collected weekly by telephone over this period concerning well-being, sleep quality, dream frequency, dream tone (pleasantness/unpleasantness), and dream epoch (period of life experienced in the dream). The relationships of these variables with BQ scores have been published elsewhere (Funkhouser, Cornu, Hirsbrunner & Bahro, 2000; Funkhouser, Wurmle, Cornu & Bahro, 2001, in press) while the results reported here were not published there because of different aspects of the research.

The BQ was developed in an effort to determine which personality factors may be involved in those who suffer from frequent nightmares (Hartmann, 1989), but it was soon seen that Hartmann's concept of boundaries could be extended to dreams in general. In the theory, it was postulated that each person has "boundaries" as part of his or her psychological makeup and the BQ was devised as a way of measuring their "thickness", the hypothesis being that the "thinner" or more "porous" the boundaries are, the more likely the person is to be affected by stimuli coming from both outside and within, including dreams. Persons with "thicker" boundaries - on the other hand - should, according to this theory, be less affected by outer stimuli and inner thoughts, feelings and images and thus retain their dreams less often than those with "thinner" boundaries (cf. Hartmann, 2001, where 16 types of boundaries are listed on p. 221).

The test is constructed in such a way that those with "thicker" boundaries have lower total scores on the scale (termed SumBound by Hartmann, 1991, p.67), while higher scores indicate "thinner" boundaries. Such boundaries and their relationships to dream recall, dream content, day dreams, personality and Jungian typology have subsequently been the subject of a number of papers (Barbuto & Plummer, 1998; Hartmann, Elkin & Garg, 1991; Hartmann, Rosen & Rand, 1998; Kunzendorf, Hartmann, Cohen & Cutler, 1997; McCrae, 1994; Schredl, Kleinfechner & Gsell, 1996; Schredl, Schafer, Hofmann & Jacob, 1999; Strauch & Meier, 1999). …

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