Panel IAAP/IPA: Symbols and Symbolisation in Clinical Practice and in Elisabeth Márton’s Film

About a Dream: Comments on Gert Sauer’s Contribution

Monique Gibeault
Paris, France
Société Psychanalytique de Paris / IPA

I was very interested in the dream you presented. I am speaking here as a Freudian. Like you, I love different kinds of language, especially ones replete with images, such as poetry, tales, fables and myths, and I use them a lot in the course of my clinical work – even music, which is closer at hand than images and not far from sensation.

Although your interpretation of the snake dream is very pertinent, it raises a few questions in my mind:

You begin your account of the dream as follows: “… if one dreamer is moving forward in a queue lying naked on the ground. And then a snake bites him in his right foot.” Now I wonder: Who is this dreamer? Is it a man or a woman? What is the dreamer’s personal history? What is the context in which the dreamer has this dream? At what point in the dreamer’s analysis does it come and, in particular, who is the dreamer addressing and for whom does the dreamer have this dream?

We know, and you have said, that you have written a book about snakes and the myths associated with them. But your patient does not know this; you tell us only two things about the patient: that the patient is facing a life change and that the patient is a conservative who dislikes change. You receive your patient’s dream in silence and choose to say nothing about it. How could it be elaborated? What is the aim of the dream? It is apparently enough for the patient to remember it and to tell it; that is supposed to give rise to change.

Using my Freudian vocabulary, I would think of a wish, and of change too – but I would also wonder, considering the obstacles to this change and the anxieties it arouses, what part is played by the infantile conflict and by repetition, and this raises the issue of repression. You chose not to interpret, and that may be justified in a context in which interpretation might strengthen the patient’s resistance to allowing the wished-for change to take place. In other contexts, what technique would you apply to enable a patient to arrive at the ethical decision to make use of the promptings of the unconscious and to integrate new attitudes into his daily life?

I personally would be concerned not to fall into the trap of facile interpretations of content (for instance, snake = penis), which was the main bone of contention between Freud and Jung on dream symbol ism. My own interpretative approach inclines more towards allusion and seeks to develop polysemic meanings rather than to lock the patient into closed, univocal ones. If I imagine myself in my armchair listening to the snake dream, it seems to me quite likely that, at a time when a major change lies ahead, this patient is experiencing castration anxieties, which are expressed in the symbol of the snake bite. Another possibility that occurs to me is that these are anxieties about devouring and that castration anxieties are being represented in oral terms (infantile sexuality). I would also wonder whether the patient was attempting to take refuge in passive homosexuality (a queue has a front and a back) so as to defend against death wishes directed towards the father imago – an essential condition for growth.

In conclusion, the place of symbols in the treatment is inseparable from the analytic process itself, so that any attempt to compare the Freudian and Jungian approaches to therapeutic strategy and interpretative technique in the short time available is bound to incline towards abstraction.