Course Case Studies

Dream Work: A Psychoanalytic Perspective

Course #76523 - $24 • 4 Hours/Credits

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    • Review the course material online or in print.
    • Complete the course evaluation.
    • Review your Transcript to view and print your Certificate of Completion. Your date of completion will be the date (Pacific Time) the course was electronically submitted for credit, with no exceptions. Partial credit is not available.
Learning Tools - Case Studies


I am walking along a path in the snow. I can feel cool air on my face and see snowflakes falling. I meet D and exclaim several times, "I'm so happy to see you again!" We embrace; I feel happy and excited.

On the previous evening, old friends, E and F, arrived for a visit. I greeted them happily with the words repeated in the dream. During the work week, my thoughts had been unhappily occupied with criticisms leveled against a friend and colleague by others in our organization. I had also been targeted by these same faultfinders. Recently, one of the women in this group had been in the office as I passed through. I suppressed angry feelings, nodded in what I perceived to be a civil, but hypocritical fashion, and went my way.

  • Snow and cool air: The evening of the dream was warm; I had turned on the air conditioner before going to sleep.

  • D: A colleague from a previous workplace and a skillful politician who often advised me on internal political matters. D sided with me in disputes. We also often spoke about our teenaged sons, both of whom played high school soccer. Days before the dream, as my husband watched a televised soccer game, I had remarked, "Too bad you didn't get to know D; he loved soccer."

  • "I'm so happy to see you again:" As noted, the dream took these words from the previous evening.

At first, this dream seems simple and obvious. Associations emerged readily. Its thoughts and wishes appeared to be innocent and sentimental: during a time of collegial quarreling, I wished for the advice, wisdom, and support of my old friend. If only he could return as had E and F! Still, something incomplete nagged away. I was fond of D, but the dream's joyful reunion exaggerated my feelings. Something seemed phony. My thoughts returned to the criticism I had endured and to the critic, a person I was not "so happy to see again." Then, they again turned to D and that favorite topic of ours—soccer.

Soccer is a homophone of "sock her." A suppressed impulse to strike back angrily and aggressively was the dream's latent wish, disguised in affectionate, picture-pretty content. The dream's feelings, words, and images were hypocritical. The figure of an old trusted male colleague, recent words of a friendly greeting, and feelings of affection combined to conceal their opposites: a distrusted female, a curt nod, and angry aggression. Everything led away from my real sleeping thoughts. (Freud called dreams like this "red herrings.")

Learning Tools - Case Studies


I am in a kitchen, somehow located upstairs and with many big windows. I am preparing a large meal. Other people (unknown to me) are around me. I look out a window and see L (and her sister?) approaching. L is smiling broadly. I greet her enthusiastically; she must walk upstairs to join me, which she does. I invite her to stay, hoping she will accept.

I dreamed this while napping after an early morning medical procedure, a colonoscopy. I had spent the previous afternoon and evening fasting and cleansing. The morning was routine except for a telephone call from my husband's wealthy cousin, A. At A's request, I had found a therapist for someone close to her. I had chosen carefully and recommended a colleague whom I admire. A was calling back to ask that I negotiate a low fee. I was surprised, angry, and embarrassed at the idea. I also felt used. Did she want expertise or a discount? I stifled my irritation, however, and simply explained that payment is arranged between patient and therapist.

  • Kitchen upstairs with big windows: The colleague to whom I had referred A has an upstairs office with big windows. Also, on the previous day, my building manager told me that an upstairs office I had inquired about was rented.

  • Preparing a large meal: I had fallen asleep still hungry from my medical fast.

  • People all around me: While waiting for the colonoscopy, I had felt anxious and wished for company, a feeling I quickly rejected as silly.

  • L: Both the name and the image referenced a friend from high school days. She was a sweet, good-natured girl, first cousin to my high school boyfriend, B, who was competitive with C, L's boyfriend.

Both B and C were candidates for admission to military academies. C won an appointment, while B was only a first alternate. I remembered, too, that my father had once had a friend named L; both of my parents sometimes made playful teasing references to the "sweet L" of his youth (possibly my mother's rival).

  • She must walk upstairs: I had no associations, but my analyst provided an interpretation (discussion to follow).

A large meal is this dream's first promise; it allowed me to sleep on in spite of hunger pangs. "People all around me" fulfilled another lingering wish: to have company and not be alone. L's role is more disguised. What wishes prompted the appearance of my old friend? In our adolescent social circle, L gained boyfriend status over me through C's achievement. The dream reverses that nicely; she must climb stairs to join me. Furthermore, L's smiling, compliant presence is a comforting replacement for A, the cousin whose demanding ways and higher socioeconomic status had so irritated me. A mostly forgotten, decades-old affront to my pride links up with a fresh insult and suppressed wish (i.e., to have a richer husband than A) and appears in the teenage image of an old friend. Another wishful thought appears: if I am with L, I am young again, safely away from any need for colonoscopies. Finally, the upstairs kitchen with large windows grants another wish: to be like my admired colleague and have a better office.

More could be said. The dream's origin has been explained (i.e., preserving sleep in spite of hunger) and its raw material (i.e., suppressed feelings, memories, trivial events from the day), but questions remain. For example, why no associations to "she must walk upstairs?" Given the context of ambitious wishes and aggressive feelings (i.e., to have a better office, to eliminate rivalry with cousin A), is some conflict suggested? A look at history may be warranted. Is it important that memory shows my mother to be playful (not competitive or aggressive) in response to her rival? Dreams open the way to new material and also to a deeper understanding of familiar issues.

Learning Tools - Case Studies


Client W is an anxious man 54 years of age. His dream occurred the night before his therapy session.

I'm in bed, and I know I'm trying to sleep. I feel something on my head tugging or touching or hitting. I can't see it, but I put my hand up and feel it to pull it down. I know it's a small demon. I can feel it, like its little arm or something. I want to grab it, pull it down, and look at it. I get hold of it, but when I look at it—this is the crazy part—it is one of those transparent plastic salad containers! It's empty—just a bit of residue of dressing on the bottom.

  • Salad container: Eating salad is healthy, and an empty container indicates it has been eaten.

  • Touch on the head: Client W's wife, A, touches his head when he snores to wake him up, but he was sleeping in the other room because she was sick. It is very important to Client W to stay healthy.

  • Demon: Client W has often said he con­tinues therapy to stay mentally healthy and to "get the demons out" of his head. He recalls that, in childhood and adolescence, his dreams were filled with frightening fiery demonic images associated with priests' warnings about the evils of masturbation. He dreaded sleep. He continues with current worries (e.g., conflicts he feels about the many demands made by his recently widowed mother).

In this case, the wish filled was to exchange demons for good health. "Head" could be understood as "penis" and a wish to have it touched. (Client W often expresses unhappiness about A's disinterest in sex.) W's wish to pull the little demon seems linked to boyhood masturbatory wishes. Oedipal themes also remain to be explored.

Learning Tools - Case Studies


The client, S, is a woman 50 years of age who feared becoming "just like" her mother. Obese, controlling, and reclusive, her unhappy mother demanded constant attention and offered S little except rules and criticism. S's early and disastrous marriage brought four children and years of self-doubt about her own mothering. S opens the session remarking:

I had this amazing dream about my mother; I haven't dreamed about her in 40 years! I dreamt I saw her, and it was her, but she was so different! She was still heavy, kind of like me—well, heavier than I am but not obese. She looked good! Her hair was done and pretty, and she was wearing make-up. She smiled, and she saw me. She really looked at me!

The dream took place Sunday night after a difficult weekend. S described a problem her troubled adult son struggled with, her efforts to help, and her worries that the matter might ruin him.

  • An improved mother: S's mother had always been a source of anxiety, but in the dream, she is healthy and pleasant.

The wishes fulfilled in this dream were to have a healthy mother and to appreciate and see her own healthy self. For quite some time, S discusses the problems her son is having and his progress. She relates to her desire to be a good mother. After a few moments, she rather abruptly goes on to discuss a project of her own repairing a small garden statue for a neighbor. She describes the difficulty of "restructuring the Madonna" and the surprise discovery of a previously concealed serpent and apple at the statue's feet. When she pauses, the term "restructuring the Madonna" is pointed out and a link is made to the dream image of the improved mother. S recognizes that seeing her mother healthy and a positive figure in the dream means she can be those things as well.

  • Back to Course Home
  • Participation Instructions
    • Review the course material online or in print.
    • Complete the course evaluation.
    • Review your Transcript to view and print your Certificate of Completion. Your date of completion will be the date (Pacific Time) the course was electronically submitted for credit, with no exceptions. Partial credit is not available.