Dreams and Professional Personhood

The Contexts of Dream Telling and Dream Interpretation among American Psychotherapists

By Mary-T. B. Dombeck

Subjects: Dreams
Series: SUNY series in Dream Studies
Paperback : 9780791405895, 271 pages, July 1991
Hardcover : 9780791405888, 271 pages, July 1991

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Table of contents

List of Tables
List of Figures

I. Introduction: Background and Foreground


Research in the Physiology of Dreaming and Dream Psychology
Clinical Observation and Research in Dreams
Anthropological Research in Dreams and Dream Telling
Field Work: Issues of Time
The Settings: Issues of Space
Analytic Concepts and Research Questions


II. The Psychotherapist: "Simply as a Person"


Analytic Concepts of Person and Self
The Psychotherapist: Professional Setting and Home Base
Analysis: The Enduring, Experiencing Person
The Dreaming Self and the Working Person
Summary and Conclusion


III. The Contexts of Dream Telling


Dreams Are "Personal": Emic Perspectives
"My Personal Life": Emic and Etic Perspectives
Typology of Dream Telling Contexts
When Contexts Converge


IV. Dream Interpretation: Freudian Mythology and the American Mystique of Dreams


The Exploration Process and Method
Local Ideas about Dream Interpretation
Freudian Influence on Local Dream Interpretation: Three Dreams
The Contexts of Dream Interpretation
The Popularization of Freud and the American Mystique of Dreams


V. Psychotherapy, Dream Telling, and Hierarchy


Who Is a Real Doctor?
"Reading the Mind" and the Importance of Biology
The Dream Interpretation Hierarchy
Woman's Work and Women's Professions
Tending the Body and Listening to the Person
The Dream-Hearing Range


VI. Showing the Person and Knowing the Person


Not Showing the Person
Showing that One Knows Oneself
The Incongruities between Person and Self
The Disjunction of Mind and Body


Appendix A: How Contexts Are Described
Appendix B: The Maaning of Crazy
Appendix C: Psychological Mindedness
Appendix D: Higher Functioning-Lower Functioning
Appendix E: Who Is a Real Doctor? (What Psychiatrists Said)
Appendix F: Hierarchical Issues
Appendix G: Which of the Psychotherapy Professionals Are More Likely to Ask about and Listen to Dreams?



Two community mental health centers in the Northeastern United States form the setting for this ethnographic study of dreams, dream telling, and dream interpretation. To gather information about American attitudes toward dreams and dream telling, the author observed and interviewed employees of these centers: social workers, psychologists, nurses, psychiatrists, secretaries, and medical technicians. The issues that emerge from the interviews are analyzed and clarified by exploring Western understandings of the concepts of person and self, and of professional personhood—the capacities and responsibilities ascribed to you by yourself and others in your milieu as professionals. The book also contains a comprehensive literature review of the research on dreams and an appendix of narrative statements made by informants on their dreams, their work, and their relationships.

Mary-T. B. Dombeck has been a psychotherapist for ten years and is on the faculty at the University of Rochester School of Nursing.


"There are no books like this; there are no research models for this type of work. The author is at the same time inventing a model of research and applying it. The questions she asks and her perspective on them are important and needed. This is a significant contribution to the public's understanding of the importance of dreaming. "— Jeremy Taylor, Association for the Study of Dreams; author of Dream Work

"The discussion on personhood is fascinating, and, together with the implications for how the role applies to therapeutic relationships, constitutes what I found particularly interesting and exciting. " — Benjamin Kilborne, Department of Anthropology, University of Southern California

"I like the core idea of the work, that of applying an anthropological method of analysis to the study of dream interpretation in the contemporary U. S.. This is a very original notion, and it has important implications both for the study of dreams and for the practice of psychotherapy.

"In my view, people in the U. S. who are involved in dream study and research generally lack self-reflection on the wider contexts of their work. The author of this book has recognized this, and has made what I feel is an outstanding contribution to our understanding of those contexts. There is a growing number of high quality sociological and anthropological studies of dreams, and I think that this work both draws on that body of research and also makes a genuinely new contribution to the field. " — Kelly Bulkley, The University of Chicago