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Langs, R. (1984). Freud's Irma Dream and the Origins of Psychoanalysis. Psychoanal. Rev., 71(4):591-617.

(1984). Psychoanalytic Review, 71(4):591-617

Freud's Irma Dream and the Origins of Psychoanalysis

Robert Langs, M.D.

In many ways, the dream model of psychoanalysis — Freud's Irma Dream — has proven to be a major fountainhead for both psychoanalytic theory and practice (Freud, 1900). It was through a meticulous self-analysis of this particular dream that “on July 24, 1895, the secret of dreams was revealed to Dr. Sigmund Freud” — a tribute which he himself proposed (Freud, 1900, p. 121). The essence of this discovery was that a dream is a fulfillment of a wish. In this basic proposition lies the fundamental understanding of the structure of the dream and through it the nature of neurotic symptoms, unconscious processes, and mental contents.

It is befitting of the monumental position of the Irma dream in the history of psychoanalysis that it has been subjected to extensive subsequent exploration. Elms (1980) prepared a careful summary of eight major interpretations which have been afforded to this single dream. Elms himself has added a ninth.1 It is my purpose to propose a tenth interpretation of the Irma dream, one understanding with several interrelated components.

This presentation is designed to offer considerably more than critical interpretation of the Irma dream; it is submitted as a study of one aspect of the origins of psychoanalysis. The analysis of the Irma dream proposed here reveals insights into the conflicts within Freud himself during the extremely important period during which he developed the specific methods of psychoanalysis and its definitive techniques. The Irma dream was dreamt during this phase and reveals a great deal about Freud's inner and outer struggles at this time.


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