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The Function of Dreams

“[T]he dreams help us to get in touch with the unconscious fantasies and object relationships as well as reveal to us… the preconscious defence mechanisms of the ego which are not otherwise accessible to observation or through… introspective account.”1 “[I]n the inner psychic reality of any given patient we should distinguish between the process of dreaming [which articulates unconscious impulses and conflicts] and the dream-space in which the dream actualizes….this capacity to dream is dependent upon the inner psychic climate at any given time in a person as well as the availability of certain-ego functions to be able to use that symbolic discourse which is the essence of dream-formation.”2

The Concept of the Dream Space:

  • Inspired by Winnicott’s use of the Squiggle Game with children.
  • Dream space can be used by people “in exactly the same way as the child uses the transitional space of the paper to doodle on.”3
  • “[T]he dream-space is the internal psychic equivalent of what Winnicott has conceptualized as the transitional space.”4
  • “[W]hen patients cannot establish a dream-space in their inner reality they tend to exploit their social space and object relations to act out their dreams. I am here proposing that a dream that actualizes in the dream-space curtails acting out of dreams in the social-space. The dream that actualizes in the dream-space of a given patient leads to personalization of the dream experience and all that is entailed in it by way of instinct and object relating.”5

In Clinical Settings

“I have also gradually begun to realize that in many patients for a long time the process of dreaming can be available to them but not the dream-space, hence they derive very little satisfaction from their dreams and have a very poor sense of the experiential reality of the dreamt dream. In this context it is advisable to reduce clinical interpretations of the dream content to the minimum, because over-elaboration of the dream process can screen the incapacity in the patient to establish the dream-space.”6


Information taken from Khan, M. (1949). The use and abuse of dream in psychic experience. In Elizabeth Bott Spillius and Sara Flanders (Ed.), The Dream Discourse Today (pp. 91-99). Routledge. 192; 296; 3, 4, 5, 698.