A while back I blogged a brief note about sleep and dreams, essentially discussing my own interest in sleep and noting that at the current historical moment, for the first time “sophisticated” people don’t take dreams in any way seriously. As I wrote then:
The contemporary medical/scientific conception of dreams is that they are either meaningless or at most reflect the emotional state of the dreamer. This is one of the most dramatic breaks with most of human history, during which dreams were seen as messages from the Divine, or or prophetic. Freudian dream interpretation – with its idea that dreams are the Royal Road to the Unconscious – was perhaps, despite Freud’s atheism, the apotheosis of the significance of dreams in culture.
A vivid, detailed, and somewhat disconcerting dream last night (no, I won’t bore you with the details – unless supremely well executed, the i-had-this-dream story sits with I-was-so-drunk or I-was-so-high or I-was-backpacking-being-such-a-traveler-not-a-tourist storiy in a pantheon of the ultimate stories inflicted by bores) made me think of this again.
It is not strictly true that contemporary psychiatrist don’t ask about dreams – quite often it is a manifestation of PTSD. In that context, however, in my experience it is very much a “checklisty” phenomenon. There are some interesting papers on dreams in PTSD, especially the paradox that dreaming is often posulated to help process traumatic and other events, yet nightmares are a feature of PTSD. Papers on drug dreaming also appear in the recent literature, as does this this paper on dreams in people with a diagnosis of personality disorder.
I want to avoid being too dogmatic about my sense that this contemporary literature is very much functional in its approach to dreaming – not ascribing any particular meaning to it. The literature is no doubt richer than the above links alone would suggest. This is an area in which a thorough literature search would have to be especially well designed – think of how many synonyms and variations of “dreams”, “dreaming”, “nightmare” in so many languages one would have to do to do it properly, and is therefore beyond the scope of a blog written in fugitive time of the early morning. However, I do feel confident enough to comment that the content of dreams are rarely explored in contemporary psychological or psychiatric practice. The increasing influence of CBT both within mental health practice and in the wider culture leaves little room for issues of the meaning of dreams.