Case of the Week - N° 15: The interpretation of recurrent dreams in therapy

Submitted by Joke on Jan 24, 2018 in Case of the Week

Case of the Week - N° 15:  The interpretation of recurrent dreams in therapy

In our case of the week, Hill's (1996) cognitive experiential dream interpretation model is used to demonstrate the use of recurrent dreams in therapy.

As outlined by the author, a psychoanalytic therapist, recurrent dreams might refer to problematic events who are not yet integrated into existing cognitive schemata. In Hill’s model, recurrent dreams first need to be extensively explored by re-imagining them in the present. Subsequently, the dream has to be interpreted to be able to come to new insights regarding to the actual lifetime experiences of the dreamer. In the third phase, the dreamer has to think about future actions based on these new insights (e.g., by fantasizing about how the dream could be changed).

The three phases within the model of Hill are demonstrated along the therapy with Karen, a 19-year old student. Karen’s parents divorced when she was 3 years old and the relationship with them and her sister has been quite conflictual since then. Karen has also been sexually assaulted by a male friend. Karen tells about a recurrent dream of being on a high cliff looking at the deep sea below her. The author and therapist interpret the dream as an experience of dissociation between the physical and the mental part of her body. Karen also talks about other dissociative experiences in her actual life. The dissociation serves as a protection against feelings of distrust in others and feelings of fear of intimacy (e.g., “the sea is full of dangerous animals”).

The case study demonstrates, both qualitatively and quantitatively, how the degree of interpretation of the dream and the general degree of assimilation of problematic events into the actual life of Karen increases along the therapy. This is especially the case after the sessions in which the dream was interpreted. In addition, pretreatment symptoms decreased along the therapy.

The case is interesting as it might provide some guidelines for therapists on how to deal with clients mentioning recurrent dreams.   


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Warm greetings,  

The SCA team  

recurrent dream, cognitive experiential, dream interpretation, assimilation,