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Atwood, G.E. (2017). The Bloody Amputation: A Discussion of a First Dream in an Analysis. Am. J. Psychoanal., 77(1):78-82.

(2017). American Journal of Psychoanalysis, 77(1):78-82

Brief Communication

The Bloody Amputation: A Discussion of a First Dream in an Analysis

George E. Atwood, Ph.D.

In a seminar taught by a psychoanalyst early in my clinical training, it was said that every psychotherapist should pay special attention to the first dream the patient presents. This dream, our instructor explained, will symbolically forecast the content and course of the analysis as a whole. I was skeptical that this could be the case, but I have to say that his idea has been largely borne out in my clinical experience over the last half-century.

What was my own first dream, in my very first attempt at psychoanalytic therapy as a patient? And did it forecast central aspects of the psychotherapeutic experience that then unfolded?

Here is the dream, which occurred in the night following my first meeting with a woman whom I saw twice each week for the next four and one-half years. I was 28 years old at the time. It was a devastating nightmare, and I call it the bloody amputation. I dreamt I was traveling along a road in the direction of a whorehouse, planning to have a good sexual experience. I need to say I have not made a practice of visiting prostitutes; but in my dream, in its manifest content anyway, that is exactly what I was doing.

The road led to a gate, which opened out into a property with a huge multi-story house: it seemed like it might be the famous House of the Rising Sun. A very attractive woman with blond hair came from the house and approached me. She knelt down before me, smiling, and opened her mouth. But then, instead of anything of a sexual nature happening, she took my right hand and gently drew it into her mouth and into her throat. Suddenly biting down with great force, she severed my hand from my wrist and I pulled back with blood spurting and gushing from the site of the amputation. The feeling was one of unbearable shock and horror.

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