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Brenneis, C.B. (1994). Can Early Childhood Trauma Be Reconstructed From Dreams? On The Relation of Dreams to Trauma. Psychoanal. Psychol., 11(4):429-447.

(1994). Psychoanalytic Psychology, 11(4):429-447

Can Early Childhood Trauma Be Reconstructed From Dreams? On The Relation of Dreams to Trauma Related Papers

C. Brooks Brenneis, Ph.D.

Dreams are accorded a special position in the analytic reconstruction of early childhood trauma. Because dream content may be influenced by psychic trauma, analytic clinicians can, by interpreting dreams, reconstruct or revive memories of past trauma. In this article, I offer a critical review of the concept of a traumatic dream, the relation between dream content and trauma, and the use of dreams to reconstruct trauma. Two relations between trauma and dream content—called isomorphic and homomorphic—are explored. Evidence is slim for the existence of isomorphic dreams that exactly replicate traumatic experience. The rare inclusion of some literal elements of traumatic experience in dream content is most likely to occur in the dreams of people who were traumatized as adults and cognitively prepared for it. Homomorphic dreams recast the traumatic experience in metaphoric terms. No predictable relations can be demonstrated between specific experience and specific dream content. In the clinical situation, identifying a dream as based on trauma involves questionable selection criteria. The interpretative processes by which material reality is reconstructed from dreams are often based on the unsubstantiated assumptions that traumatic experience transfers literally into dreams and that literal dream elements can be distinguished from metaphoric or transformed elements. Ad hoc interpretive principles are applied to metaphoric content. Although actual trauma may be validly reconstructed from dream content, such reconstructions depend more on intuitive brilliance than on any systematic application of well-established relations between dream content and prior trauma.

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