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Interpretation of Dreams:

Phenomenological or
Daseinsanalytic Approach

(Other approaches discussed: Freudian, Jungian,
Culturalist, Object Relations, Gestalt, Synthetic
Psychoanalytic, etc.)
- Reading J. Fosshage & C. Loew,
Dream Interpretation: A Comparative Study

Prepared by Inna Rozentsvit, M.D., PhD
Dreams in Freudian and Post-Freudian Era
Freud: elevated dreams to the unique position of
understanding of ones personality and psychopathology.
Freud: The interpretation of dreams is the royal road to a
knowledge of the unconscious activities of the mind. (The
Interpretation of Dreams, 1900, p. 608.)
Post-Freudian discovery of EEG correlates of dream state
(in 1950s) REM sleep stage, characterized by: rapid eye
movements; desynchronized low-voltage brain activity;
increased variability in pulse rate, respirations, and level of
arousal; increased BP and metabolic rate, decreased
muscle tone (but full or partial penile erection); and
Daseinsanalysis and Phenomenology
Dasein ( [dazan]) is a German word which means "being there" or "presence"
(German: da "there"; sein "being") often translated as "existence". It is a fundamental
concept in the existential philosophy of Martin Heidegger who uses the
expression Dasein to refer to the experience of being that is peculiar to human beings.
Thus it is a form of being that is aware of and must confront such issues
as personhood, mortality and the dilemma or paradox of living in relationship with other
humans while being ultimately alone with oneself.
Daseinsanalysis (German: Daseinsanalyse) is an existentialist approach to psychoanalysis.
It was developed by Ludwig Binswanger who heavily borrowed from Heidegger and
applied his concepts such as Being-in-the-world to psychotherapy. Daseinsanalysis was
furthered by Medard Boss who was inspired by Husserl and thus applied existential and
phenomenological frameworks to finding meaning, especially in dream analysis.
Phenomenology (from Greek: phainmenon "that which appears" and lgos "study") is
the philosophical study of the structures of experience and consciousness. As
a philosophical movement it was founded by Edmund Husserl (early 20

Phenomenology, in Husserl's conception, is primarily concerned with the systematic
reflection on and study of the structures of consciousness and the phenomena that appear
in acts of consciousness. This ontology (study of reality) can be clearly differentiated from
the Cartesian method of analysis which sees the world as objects, sets of objects, and
objects acting and reacting upon one another.
Defining Questions for Phenomenological Approach:
1) To what beings and events is a human being at any given moment, waking or
dreaming, sufficiently open, free and attuned in order to allow them entry to that
worldly realm constituted of his extended receptivity for and responsiveness to
the meaningful address of what is encountered? (= the question of fundamental
existential constitution of waking and dreaming existence)
2) In what way is he perceptively, responsively, emotionally related to what he is
able to encounter? (= the question related to characteristic differences between
two states of existence)
Answering both questions = leads to discovering the basic character or
essence of a thing.

Once Zhuangzi dreamt he was a butterfly, a
butterfly flitting and fluttering around, happy with
himself and doing as he pleased. He didnt know he
was Zhuangzi. Suddenly he woke up and there he
was, solid and unmistakable Zhuangzi. But he didnt
know if he was Zhuangzi who had dreamt he was a
butterfly, or a butterfly dreaming he was Zhuangzi.
Between Zhuangzi and a butterfly there must be
some distinction! This is called the Transformation of
Things. (2, tr. Burton Watson 1968:49)
Dreams through Phenomenological Lens
Dreaming and awake states are two states of being of the same person,
so they need to be looked at as a pair. Concepts to consider:
1) When we dream, we dwell in a more open, broader, more free, less
constricted world than when we are awake. In awake state, all images
are not flexible/ rigid/ inert; while in dream state they are mutable,
flexible, fleeting. But, if we do not have any neurotic or psychotic
disorder in our thoughts we can make things change and flow (like
in visualization or/and meditation states).
2) In dreaming state, we are more connected to our sensual world and
3) In dreaming state, we are connected to our non-material/ meaning-
based immediate sensual visibility.
Using phenomenology lens, we do not talk about frozen symbols.
We come to waking from dreaming, and not the other way around
so our waking state allows all unfolding of being, from unfree
dimensions of a dreaming being-in-the world to the greatest
possible freedom of our most waking mode of existing, to attain of
proper meaning and purpose of our Da-sein.

The Case of Martha - Revisited
History taking: a) 32 y.o. woman; b) assistant editor; c) initial evaluation 5 years
earlier well groomed and old-fashioned ; d) overweight since age of 8/ self-
conscious; e) face with sparkle, but struck w conflict; f) anxious/ tearful; speech
was articulate and bright but cautions (to control emotions and to be exact).
Original complaints: 1) no control of her life; 2) no motivation/ energy to achieve
what I want; 3) desperate to get help/ depressed/ anxious/ unsure/ emotional
outbursts; 4) lost her job 4 mo ago; 5) eating sprees; 6) phobia/ fear of cockroaches
(since childhood experiences in NYC infested apartment).
Family: a) parents Jewish immigrants w Old World values/ strong family ties; b) 2
brothers/ 1 sister/ the youngest; c) father: retired bookkeeper/ uneducated but
intelligent, w/ sense of humor; poor hygiene; exaggerated stories; d) mother:
evasive, over-involved/ intrusive; relationship w/ mother: no trust (mother would
tell any shared personal information to anyone around); e) no demonstration of
affection between parents; f) no discussion of developmental/ sexual issues.
First sexual experience when Martha was abroad for 1 y, w/ a younger man;
enjoyable experience.
In psychoTx: for 5 y; 2/week; and for the last 2 y additional group Tx.
Since psychoTx started regained employment; had sporadic relationships w/ men;
and a few close relationships with women.
Marthas dreams:
Dream #1 (first dream in therapy): Martha is sitting on a rickety and shaky
balcony; looking opposite of her real existence (slim, etc.); below
explosions; people were jumping and running toward the explosions; Martha
did not jump, for twenty years. When she decided to come down (when she
was 50 y.o., with no emotions) everyone is young, but her. She was wearing a
wedding gown; she refused to marry a prime minister. People around were
nice, but their children and husbands were dead (they did have grandchildren
and nieces).
Dream #2 (7 mo later): Martha finds her mother going through her purse; and
she did not look like her mother. The mother found a check written to the
therapist. Martha screamed louder than she felt angry and threw the
mother out, and the mother landed on the floor. Martha felt bad. Then, her
mother came in through the locked door (as she would, metaphorically),
looking more like herself. She did not sound wounded.
Dream #3 (9 mo later; significance: cockroach image): Marthas mother stands
naked in Marthas room and tells her about a cockroach walking over her pubic

Marthas dreams (continued):
Dream #4 (9 mo later; cockroach image again, but
Martha has a different feeling about it): cockroach went
up Marthas leg when she was in the bath tub; she
started to spray it, it turned into chicken, then into
dog, w/ human features. Martha let it out and stopped

Dream #5 (2 y later): Martha is living w/ her parents
somewhere. The fellow from nearby island cut off his
penis and her nipples, and they exchanged them,
temporarily. They were supposed to be re-attached.
Martha felt pressure due to responsibility of having
penis and a razor blade in her possession.

Dream #6: Marthas friend brings her into old tall
building, looking like a rail road station, and they go
down, thousands feet to the basement, the
amusement area. Martha meets a little girl and tells
her that she is not evil, despite what her mother told
her. Martha goes back alone. She considers to go down
again, but feels that it does not pay to make this trip

Marthas dream #1 through phenomenology:
Martha is above the events, uninvolved; but not secure; people around are
from past times (so she is influenced by the past) Marthas world is
Marthas self-image is different from her reality. Bodily image = is material
thing of ones existence. Katherine Hepburns physical image of herself (but
unattractive to Martha) represents Hepburn lively film characters, which
are foreign to Martha.
Martha observes events (explosions and smoke) and experiences them as
dangerous. Martha is passive, although she observes others to find different
ways of being (jumping from the shaky balcony). She looses 20 y of her life this
way. She does not mind to be fifty when she decides to jump from the
She cant make decision without help = helplessness; but when she is 50 she
is protected from having children, possibly sex, etc. But, her ability to accept
help in her dream = her ability to accept help in waking state of being.
She cant commit to relationship = she sits in her wedding gown for 20 years.
The man who asks for her hand is not a familiar person, but a representative of
power/ statute (the Prime Minister).
Marthas 20 years (between 30 and 50) are withered away (as all children and
husbands are dead). To be 50 for Martha is to be privileged and not
Marthas dream #2 through phenomenology lens:
Marthas mother is going through her purse. Purse = represent the most
intimate and significant things in womans life (not only a symbol of
female genital organs).
This intimacy is raped by Marthas mother; Martha is helpless. She can
resort to violence.
Marthas mother comes through the locked door/ all the barriers
Martha is in prison of the mother-daughter world, defenseless,
The mother is nor wounded by Martha = no guilt.
The mother provoked Martha to anger and defensive behavior when she
penetrated Marthas relationship with the therapist, while Martha
tries to protect this relationship and to keep it to herself.
The author criticizes attempts of interpreting this dream as
transference dream (where analyst = father; dream event = Oedipal
constellation). He insists that Martha is protecting her relationship
with the therapist, which is penetrated by her mother.
Another discrepancy - in this dream, Martha screams louder than she
wanted to; recognizing that she has the right to be angrier than she
became. But, Martha is passive again.
Marthas dream #3 through phenomenology lens:
Martha describes her dream through the lens of a daughter, a dependent
Marthas mother appears naked = shows the potential of Marthas mind of
being a separate sexual being.
Marthas mother practices deception, hiding the truth. Martha accepts
her mothers assertion that this was an attempt to protect Martha from
anxieties associated with truth.
Significance of the pubic hair it represents bodily maturity.
Significance of a cockroach image it belongs to beetle family, the most
resistant to change (evolutionary), with unchanged biology (cold-blooded
and covered with the shell) and unchanged modes of behavior since
ancient times. Cockroaches are not perceived by people as anything
positive (they bring disease, etc.).
In Marthas dream sexuality is portrayed via her mothers body with
association of something disgusting and panic-provoking, a cockroach.
This dream shows a dominant role of Marthas mother in her life. There is
no sight of Martha herself...
Martha accepts as a norm that her mother cheats her of the truth.
In Tx, it might be too early to look into truth.
Marthas dream #4 through phenomenology lens:
Image of cockroach is different now = shows progress in Tx.
Martha experiences her body now, instead of observing her mothers
body, but Martha remains passive: she removes herself from the scene, so
cockroach find its way to the wall.
Marthas world is changed from a stagnant (evolutionary) image of a
cockroach to eventually a dog, mans best friend.
Despite the change in Marthas development, we still can interpret that
she had not developed to an adult human state, but presents her self as
different animals, with specific ways of being (chicken).
Dog wanting to leave Martha can be interpreted as the dog does not
want to be constricted by Marthas stagnant world and its ways of being.
Marthas attitude towards the dog, allowing it to leave (as this did not
bother her) = possibly standoffish attitude towards change to a more
developed being.
Marthas dream #5 through phenomenology lens:
Martha lives w/ her parents, so she is still in parent-child mode of being
avoiding responsibility for herself and her actions.
The fellow that appears in Marthas life is from another island = isolated
from main land.
Martha postpones the meeting w/ this fellow, as she is not at will to decide
what to do.
Intercourse w/ this fellow is described not as a loving and sensual event,
but it involves a razor blade and the cutting off and exchanging of sexual
representations. So, no loving act but mutilation and no unity of two bodies,
but exchange of part-objects. Love and joy of the union w/ a man is not in
Marthas realm, her ways of being.
Marthas dreaming relationship is far from appreciating a mature partner in
life/ sex/ love. But, nevertheless, this dream is a progression towards a
more mature being and more independent and sexual being.
One of the questions-interpretations to Martha could be: her dream shows
no loving relationship w/ the fellow but the sense of responsibility to
return his penis.

Marthas dream #6 through phenomenology lens:
Martha is not with her parents, but with a friend, who brings
Martha to an old place, but which Martha cannot recognize (her old
life). Although it is not with her parents, but Martha still requires
guidance, and does not undertake any meaningful voyage by
It looks as a railroad station, at the same time, as a cultural center
or an amusement area incongruent perception.
Friend takes Martha many feet down to the basement, where
people are involved in construction activities these activities are
not familiar to Martha.
Despite that this is a basement, with no sun light going through,
people and their activities are illuminated. Here, in this light place,
she discovers a child.
Marthas comment to a child let us believe that her mother let
Martha believe she is evil.
Martha decides to go back up to the surface (where it is not
pleasant), despite that she has a choice of staying in the light and
sunny place. She decides not to go to the bottom of things but
quickly returns to her constricted world.

Through Da-sein lens of evaluation:
1) In any given moment, waking or dreaming, the human being
exists as a perceptive world openness for the meaningful address of
whats encountered. The degree and the attunement of this
openness determine what beings and events can be perceived at
any given moment, and what is their significance.
2) In what way is the human being, as perceptive world openness,
actively responsively related to what he encounters?
Where does the world openness exists for Martha? In 1
she is above the world, but unsafe. In her 6
dream she comes
close to the fundamentals of her own existence. Her world become
more open, mature, safe.
In her 1
dream Martha is passive and stagnant; in her latest
dream she is a participant of her life. Dreams in-between show
the progression from passive to more active ways of being.
Marthas relationship with men changed from refusal of the Prime
Ministers proposal to a real sexual encounter with a man.
Marthas perceptive world openness had expanded and became
more free in its responsivity to encountered beings.