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Freudian Slip: Do Dreams Still Have a Role in Psychiatry

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The computer analogy is imperfect, but handy: As WebMD reported last July, Pierre Macquet, PhD, and colleagues from the Université de Liège and the Université Libre de Bruxelles, in Belgium, and Trent University in Peterborough, Ontario, say that REM sleep, hence dreams, may be a way for the brain to recall and chew over newly formed memories before filing them away in the darker recesses of the brain -- somewhat akin to programming the computer to do a file reorganization and hard-drive backup overnight.

But Carl M. Anderson, PhD, a developmental psychobiologist at McLean Hospital in Belmont, Mass., and an instructor in psychiatry at Harvard, has a more unifying vision of the role of dreams in psychiatry today. He says dreams are probably not, as some hard-core biologists contend, just random noise generated as a byproduct of brain activity, but neither are they likely to be the keys that can unlock all of the deepest mysteries of the psyche.

"Freud's work is great, but it has to be understood that it was based on 19th-century thinking, and we have a whole other perspective now. I think both [talk therapy and neurobiology] can benefit from the changes that are going on now," Anderson says in an interview with WebMD.

"The trick with using dreams in psychiatry, from my perspective, is that you have to not get lost in theory and not get lost in over-interpretation," Stickgold says. "As even Freudians would say, you just have to say, 'Tell me what the dream was, and tell me what it means to you.'"

 

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