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THE OTHER SIDE OF SLEEP: THE DREAM DEBATE

Today, with the increased attention paid to sleep by the medical community, the debate over the function of dreams continues apace. As in any good debate, there are opposing schools of thought, each armed with volumes of data to prove its points. One camp, comprised mainly of psychiatrists and psychologists, stands committed to the belief, inherited from Freud, that dreams serve a largely psychological function by revealing our hidden natures. Another camp, made up largely of investigators from such hard-science disciplines as biology and neurology, believes dreams are merely electrical and chemical phenomena, no more meaningful than the random swirling patterns of light and color you see when you press firmly on your closed eyelids. Somewhere in the middle is another faction, which adopts the view that a certain neurological randomness may indeed trigger the process of dreaming, but that the images and sensations evoked may be tied together in such a way as to hold some psychological meaning for the dreamer.
One reason for the existence of such divergent views stems from the fact that some of Freud’s work has been largely discredited since its initial publication. For example, Freud declared that the dreams of neurotic people do not differ in any significant way from those of normal people. Subsequent research has determined that the dreams of the mentally disturbed do reflect the underlying condition: anxious people dream about their anxieties; phobic people dream about their phobias. The dreams of people suffering from depression focus on themes of violence or the failure to repair damage of some kind, while the dreams of schizophrenics are filled with images of catastrophe and devastation in remote places. The notion that REM sleep deprivation provides therapeutic benefits in the treatment of depression tends to undermine Freud’s theory that dreaming serves as an essential psychological safety valve.
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THE OTHER SIDE OF SLEEP: THE DREAM DEBATEToday, with the increased attention paid to sleep by the medical community, the debate over the function of dreams continues apace. As in any good debate, there are opposing schools of thought, each armed with volumes of data to prove its points. One camp, comprised mainly of psychiatrists and psychologists, stands committed to the belief, inherited from Freud, that dreams serve a largely psychological function by revealing our hidden natures. Another camp, made up largely of investigators from such hard-science disciplines as biology and neurology, believes dreams are merely electrical and chemical phenomena, no more meaningful than the random swirling patterns of light and color you see when you press firmly on your closed eyelids. Somewhere in the middle is another faction, which adopts the view that a certain neurological randomness may indeed trigger the process of dreaming, but that the images and sensations evoked may be tied together in such a way as to hold some psychological meaning for the dreamer.One reason for the existence of such divergent views stems from the fact that some of Freud’s work has been largely discredited since its initial publication. For example, Freud declared that the dreams of neurotic people do not differ in any significant way from those of normal people. Subsequent research has determined that the dreams of the mentally disturbed do reflect the underlying condition: anxious people dream about their anxieties; phobic people dream about their phobias. The dreams of people suffering from depression focus on themes of violence or the failure to repair damage of some kind, while the dreams of schizophrenics are filled with images of catastrophe and devastation in remote places. The notion that REM sleep deprivation provides therapeutic benefits in the treatment of depression tends to undermine Freud’s theory that dreaming serves as an essential psychological safety valve.*286\226\8*

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