Irma's Injection, Dream of

views updated


Freud's dream of "Irma's injection" introduced the process of dream interpretation and, in a way, psychoanalytic technique as well. It is described in the second chapter of The Interpretation of Dreams, "The Method of Interpreting Dreams," and was reinterpreted many times by Freud's successors and biographers.

Early in the morning of July 24, 1895, Freud, then on vacation at the Hôtel Bellevue, near Vienna, had a dream about one of his patients, whom he called Irma. The manifest content of the dream can be summarized as follows:

Irma is not doing well; she has pain in her throat, stomach, and nose. Freud examines her in spite of her reluctance and is disturbed, wondering if he has made a medical error. He calls over his two friends M. and Otto, both doctors, for a consultation. This results in an absurd diagnosis that involves trimethylamine.

Later in The Interpretation of Dreams, Freud provided a detailed account of this dream that illustrated his approach to dream analysis. The analytical procedure suggested by Freud begins by examining "day residues," events that occur during the days preceding the dream and which, through association, can clarify the dream episode and restore the identity of the protagonists. The interpretation is guided by the assumption that the dream is the fulfillment of a wish, in this case, the wish to deflect responsibility for the fault onto someone else, namely M. and Otto. Freud's friend Wilhelm Fliess, an otorhinolaryngologist, who played an important part in Freud's self-analysis, appeared in the background of the dream in connection with the anomalous appearance of turbinate nasal bones in Irma's throat. In reality, Fliess had previously made a serious professional error in treating one of Freud's patients, Emma Eckstein, leaving a bandage in one of her nasal cavities after an operation, which had resulted in infection and serious hemorrhaging.

The interpretation of this dream was the beginning of Freud's self-analysis, which he conducted primarily through analysis of his own dreams. He chronicled the results of this process in The Interpretation of Dreams and thus introduced the practice of psychoanalysis itself.

Roger Perron

See also: Eckstein, Emma; Interpretation of Dreams, The ; Mathilde, case of; Real, the (Lacan); Rie, Oskar; Wish-fulfillment


Anzieu, Didier. (1986). Freud's self-analysis (Peter Graham, Trans.). London: Hogarth and the Institute of Psychoanalysis. (Original work published 1975).

Freud, Sigmund. (1900a). The interpretation of dreams. SE, 4-5.

Jones, Ernest. (1957). Sigmund Freud: Life and work, London: Hogarth.

Schur, Max. (1966). Some additional "day residues" of "the specimen dream of psychoanalysis." In R. M. Loewenstein, L. M. Newman, M. Schur, and A. J. Solnit (Eds.), Psychoanalysis: a general psychology. New York: International Universities Press.