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Rangell, L. (1950). A Treatment of Nightmares in a Seven-Year-Old Boy. Psychoanal. St. Child, 5:358-390.

(1950). Psychoanalytic Study of the Child, 5:358-390

A Treatment of Nightmares in a Seven-Year-Old Boy

Leo Rangell, M.D.

The following clinical experience is presented because it seems of interest for several reasons: (1) It shows in rather clear-cut fashion, a good part of the psychodynamic substratum in a typical case of nightmares in a young boy. (2) It made use of psychoanalytic thinking in a unique way. A son was treated by his father through the guidance of an analyst by letters. (3) It presents almost a verbatim, blow-by-blow description of a psychotherapeutic interchange, with cause and effects nakedly outlined. (4) Implications can be drawn relating to the subject of transference in treatment, and also to the general question of the upbringing and education of children.

Some time ago, at my office here in California, I received word from a couple in New York City, close friends of mine for many years, regarding a problem with their seven-year-old son. First I received the following letter from the boy's mother. (Comments appearing in brackets throughout these letters are my own, and have been added for this publication):

January 26, 1948

Bill and I have decided to write this letter to you because we want to ask your help and advice, and also because we think you'd be interested in the problem we're going to tell you about. It concerns Paul.

At the risk of writing quite a long letter, I'm going to start way back at the beginning, when Paul first started to have nightmares, which was two years ago—just a few months after Anne was born. We spoke to you about it then—you gave us somewhat of an explanation. Somehow, they weren't too bad and as summer came on and he was outdoors a lot they must have disappeared quite a bit because I don't remember his being disturbed by them. However, as last winter approached so did the nightmares come on, and we all had a bad time because of them. Paul would awaken every night from a dream and would call to me in a voice full of fear. Most of the time Bill or I would go to him and lie down in his bed. If we didn't, he would lie awake whimpering with unhappiness and fear.

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