Ethan, sixty-one, says “I had a dream last night. I was about to put my foot in a row-boat, but I did not trust the boat, so I did not get in. That is all I remember.” “What did you make of it?” I asked. “I have been thinking about my mother, may she rest in peace, lately. I could never trust her. I was also thinking about my son, and about how he could never trust me either.” “That is interesting” I said. The dream, like a fantasy, http://shirahvollmermd.wordpress.com/2010/04/08/death-fantasy/, allows us to open up a discussion in a way that we could never discuss otherwise. The dream creates a visual imagery for Ethan’s thoughts and ideas about his relationship to his world. By being curious about dreams, Ethan is curious about his interior world.
The scientific study of dreams is known as oneirology. During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, both Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung identified dreams as an interaction between the unconscious and the conscious. They also assert together that the unconscious is the dominant force of the dream, and in dreams it conveys its own mental activity to the perceptive faculty. While Freud felt that there was an active censorship against the unconscious even during sleep, Jung argued that the dream’s bizarre quality is an efficient language, comparable to poetry and uniquely capable of revealing the underlying meaning.
For Ethan and me, the dream helps me to understand him. His mother was unreliable. I knew that. Yet, the image of the boat, not being steady, allows me to have a more vivid idea of his experience as a child. Then, he relates the unsteady boat to how he imagines his son felt growing up. Ethan opens the door to a discussion of his guilt as a parent; about how although he felt harmed by his childhood, he repeated the same mistakes. Once again, the image of the boat sums it up. He was not raised in a steady boat, and he did not provide one. It is not that Ethan is digging deep into his unconscious. These are conscious thoughts. In this case, the dream provides another tool to wrestle with these painful feelings.
As the session went on, Ethan said “actually, it was a nightmare.” Together, we began to metabolize his dream. Ethan began to think that maybe he should call his son to talk about how he understands the inadequacies of his parenting. I imagine that this could repair their relationship. The dream, or the nightmare, as Ethan later referred to it, opened the door.