Dreams the Unconscious Mind and Defense Mechanisms Essay

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Psychodynamic and Psychoanalytic theory suggest that early stages of human development have a significant impact on our relationships and our ego throughout the life span. According to Freudian theories, manifested behavior is based on latent problems of the past. The therapeutic process of psychoanalysis is designed to help the client become aware of past problems or latent desires that have been suppressed during the process of psychological development. Key themes that emerge in the literature on psychoanalytic theory include the role of the unconscious mind in shaping self-concept and behavior, dreams as the language of the unconscious mind, and the development of ego defense mechanisms as psychological coping mechanisms.

Dream analysis is one of the hallmarks of Freudian theory and central to psychoanalysis. In this article, Hebbrecht (2013) presents several case studies from clinical practice to illustrate some of the ways dream recollection can be stimulated during therapy, and how dreams can be used to unlock the unconscious mind. Each case study is analyzed and presented differently, one to demonstrate the manifestation of countertransference in therapy, another to reveal the mechanisms used in systematic dream analysis, and a third to show therapists how to reflect and process changes in the client’s dream content. The visual language of dreams may have metaphysical meanings, but psychoanalytic theory is less interested in the meta-narrative of dreams as with their implications for individual psychological development. However, Jungian psychoanalytic frameworks blend Freudian theory with metaphysics. Speaking both from the perspective of a traditional Freudian analyst and a Jungian one, Perera (2013) discusses the uniqueness of dreams among an older age cohort. The Jungian perspective offers fresh insight into dream analysis and symbolism, allowing the researcher and therapist to blend elements from mythology, symbolism, metaphysics, and transpersonal psychology. As the symbols of the subconscious mind during the waking state blend with the unconscious mind’s dream lexicon, the therapist can easily aid the older client to find meaning and resolve existential crises.

The process of psychotherapy can be used to trigger improved dream recall, which then allows the client to reflect on the surfacing material. Manifest material in dreams can offer clues to its latent content: which in turn reveals clues to ego defense mechanisms and neuroses. This is particularly true among clients who have experienced trauma (Hebbrecht, 2013). Hebbrecht (2013) also found that dream recall may improve as the therapeutic relationship strengthens. Likewise, dream lucidity may also increase during therapy. Dream lucidity may be uncomfortable for some clients, which is why this article provides useful techniques to be incorporated into clinical practice. Furthermore, Perera (2013) draws an important connection between dreams and the death wish—a core Freudian concept. The death wish is a suppressed function that usually leads to self-destructive behavior when not properly integrated into the ego. Working with an older population that naturally contemplates mortality and death more readily and consciously, Perera (2013) shows how clients can come to terms with the death wish in their own psyche to resolve conflicts and eliminate self-destructive behavior.

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A historical or historiographical approach presents opportunities for the therapist to better understand the processes of dream analysis for revealing ego defense mechanisms and other functions of the unconscious mind. Johannson (2007) focuses on the history of psychoanalysis from a cultural and historical context. Starting with the author’s experience as a scholar of psychoanalysis in Sweden, Johansson (2007) discusses the importance of the clinician’s self-reflection and introspection. Self-awareness can prevent problems like transference and counter-transference, which can impede the therapeutic relationship. Historians of psychoanalysis promote methodological integrity by enhancing the therapist’s ability to self-reflect. As Perera (2013) also points out, self-awareness during the dream recollection process can enhance the value of heroic agency: the ego’s self-assertion in the dream state. Dreams can be harnessed and used for ego integration and to resolve past trauma. Free association is another method used in psychoanalysis to uncover unconscious desires.

Freudian theory and psychodynamics are typically referred to in the context of individual therapy. Yet as Kluners (2014) shows, psychoanalysis has broader historical, sociological, and philosophical applications. Like Newirth (2015) and Johannsson (2007), Kluners (2014) demonstrates the way Freudian theory was a paradigm shift that helps understand global patterns in human behavior. Collective human trauma, such as the repressed memories of genocide or war, can lead to similar ego defense mechanisms among an entire culture. Applying Freudian concepts of the unconscious, dreams, and ego defense mechanisms to societies can help illuminate pathways to healing, just as with individual psychotherapy. The collective dreams of a culture are manifest in legends, myths, and folklore. Newirth (2015) discusses cultural symbols and icons, particularly with regard to heroic agency. Thus, Perera’s (2013) Jungian approach to dream analysis is therefore equally as applicable to sociological issues. Sir Lancelot, the Wizard of Oz, and Sherlock Holmes are the three examples from English literature that Newirth (2015) discusses from the perspective of Freudian theory.

The collective unconscious and the collective dreams are made manifest in a society’s literature, art, media, and popular culture. Ego defense mechanisms in cultures could be anything from xenophobia to aggression. A historical-philosophical approach to psychoanalytic theory can therefore be successful integrated into international relations, political theory, and foreign policy. On the individual level, psychoanalysis also serves a symbolic role in the society. “Complex activities such as psychoanalysis...are hard to describe in linear discursive language and may best be understood through metaphors, which function as evocative, multidimensional, presentational symbols,” (Newirth, 2015, p. 308). Psychoanalysis is both a collective and an individual process with multiple layers of meaning. As it unveils the unconscious mind of the individual and the society, psychoanalysis helps resolve internal and collective problems. Summers (2006) describes Freud’s methods of dream analysis and Freud’s theory of psychological development as both hermeneutic and “metapsychology,” describing the implications of Freudian theory (p. 327). Freud also outlined the architecture of the unconscious mind, including the id, the ego, and the superego to illustrate the processes….....

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Hebbrecht, M. (2013). The dream as a picture of the psychoanalytic process. Romanian Journal of Psychoanalysis, 6(2), 123–142. Retrieved from http://www.revista.srdp.ro/

Johansson, M. (2007). Historiography and Psychoanalysis. International Forum of Psychoanalysis, 16(2), 103-112

Klüners, M. (2014, July). Freud as a philosopher of history. The Journal of Psychohistory, 42(1), 55-71

Newirth, J. (2015, April). Psychoanalysis' past, present, and future: Sherlock Holmes, Sir Lancelot, and the Wizard of Oz. Psychoanalytic Psychology, 32(2), 307-320

Perera, S. B. (2013). Circling, dreaming, aging. Psychological Perspectives, 56(2), 137–148.

Schut, A. J., & Castonguay, L. G. (2001). Reviving Freud's vision of a psychoanalytic science: Implications for clinical training and education. Psychotherapy: Theory, Research, Practice, Training, 38(1), 40-49

Summers, F. (2006). Freud's relevance for contemporary psychoanalytic technique. Psychoanalytic Psychology, 23(2), 327–338. 


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