Self-State Dream

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Heinz Kohut believed that there were two types of dreams: the first expresses verbalizable latent contents, such as conflicts; the second expresses efforts to bind the nonverbal tensions of traumatic states. In the first type, the analyst can follow the free associations of the patient to uncover unconscious meaning. In the second, free associations do not lead to unconscious layers of the mind; rather, the imagery remains on the same level as that of the manifest content. Examination of the manifest content reveals that the healthy sectors of the psyche of the patient are reacting to a changed condition of the self, either overstimulation or depletion or a threatened dissolution. This second type of dream is called a "self-state dream" and is similar to dreams occurring in traumatic states. The correct interpretation of such dreams is to recognize the patient's specific and general vulnerabilities.

Other writers after Kohut have expanded on his idea, stating that nearly all dreams can be seen as representing the state of the self in that they all express some vulnerability and/or psychoeconomic imbalance. On this view, a dream may be interpreted both as to its latent content and as to its portrayal of the self. These authors see no inherent contradiction in Kohut's dualistic view of dreams, though some have suggested that patients have limited capacity for association.

Arnold Goldberg

See also: Dream; Self psychology.


Kohut, Heinz. (1977). The restoration of the self. New York: International Universities Press.