FREUD’S IRMA DREAM, THE ORIGIN OF PSYCHOANALYSIS, AND A BLOODY NOSE
– by Jack Schwartz, LCSW, PsyD, NCPsyA

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Abstract

Freud (1900) conceived the entirety of The Interpretation of Dreams “on the model of an imaginary walk” (p.122). Chapter Two begins with the analysis of the “dream specimen” (Erikson, 1954), otherwise known as the “dream of Irma’s injection” or the “Irma dream.” While the Irma dream has sparked a cottage industry in psychotherapeutic approaches to dream analysis, Freud’s original intention of using dreams as a heuristic device has instead become ironically an object of study about Freud himself. If one is to return to Freud’s original premise and method of dream interpretation, after adapting some valuable insights of later psychotherapists, then a different and historically accurate interpretation of the Irma dream emerges, and the intended focus upon the therapeutic value of the process of discussing dreams is restored. I invite the reader to use the same “imaginary walk” as an approach to this paper and to my review of the major life circumstances from which the dream arises. I then move to a review of a number of important papers which re-interpret the Irma dream. Each writer’s approach to the Irma dream offers new insights into Freud’s deeper motivations and professional struggles, and helps us see the many changes in how clinicians listen and work with dreams. Following this, I move on to my contribution of reviewing the Irma dream as a window into Freud’s consulting room, interpreting the key transferences (most importantly identifying Irma’s transference to Freud), in addition to the countertransferences and resistances embedded in the structure if the specimen dream.

Approaching the 120-year mark, the dream of Irma’s injection has also become the medium through which clinicians have supported, expanded, and even attacked Freud’s theories, methods, and personal integrity (Masson, 1984). It has captured the imagination and interest of generations of analysts and psychohistorians, and provided a psychobiographical window into the Father of Psychoanalysis at the moment of his greatest and most enduring discovery. In truth, the controversy surrounding this dream stems not only from its controversial nature or historical interest, but also from Freud’s incomplete handling of it. Hence, when I am referring to the Irma dream here, unless otherwise specified I am referring to both the dream text and its accompanying associations.

Keywords: Freud, Dream Interpretation, Irma’s injection, psychohistory, psychobiography

About The Author

Jack Schwartz, LCSW, PsyD, NCPsyA

Jack Schwartz, LCSW, PsyD, NCPsyA is a psychoanalyst/psychotherapist in private practice, NJ. He graduated from the New Jersey Institute for Training in Psychoanalysis, where he is a faculty member, lecturer and control analyst. He is a NAAP Nationally Certified Psychoanalyst, Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Certified Clinical Mental Health Counselor. He holds degrees from Fairleigh Dickinson University Yeshiva University (where he received the Distinguished Graduate Student Award) and International University. He served as the Senior Forensic Psychologist in Passaic County New Jersey for over 15 years, specializing in criminal investigations, probation, child custody issues, and has regularly served the court as an expert witness. Dr. Schwartz maintains a full private practice in Northern New Jersey, working with children, adolescents, couples and adults. He frequently lectures on dream analysis, PTSD, resilience and other matters related to the practice of psychoanalytic psychotherapy. He is a regular contributor to the New Jersey Institute Viewpoints newsletter, and is the editor for the NJ Clinical Social Worker highly regarded newsletter, the Forum. Dr. Schwartz has written both short fiction, and technical articles on Dream Analysis and Holocaust Survivors, and has published a psychoanalytic novel, Our Time is Up, available on Amazon, soon to be an e-book. Dr. Schwartz’s article “Freud’s Irma Dream, The Origin of Psychoanalysis and a Bloody Nose” was published in multi-disciplinary journal MindConsiliums in 2014 (MindConsiliums). It had received a Gradiva® nomination from the National Association for Advancement of Psycho-analysis in 2015.

Articles:

Schwartz, J. (2014). Freud’s Irma Dream, the Origin of Psychoanalysis, and a Bloody Nose. MindCosiliums, 14(9), 1-49.

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