Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Saved from Surgery

A woman has a 12 year old son who is 1 day away from exploratory surgery. Weeks before, the boy suddenly had become paralyzed from the neck down and would not speak. After many rounds of testing, doctors could not find anything physiologically wrong with him, so they decided to peform he exploratory surgery for the purpose of testing. The night before surgery the mother dreams that she is asking her son, "Is this mental or physical?". The next morning upon waking, she asks her son if he is "faking" and to her surprise he answers "yes". The correct diagnosis of somatization disorder is made and proper treatment is followed up. The boy had literally shut down his physical body due to having too many stressors in his life.

Dreams will consolidate information, provide new solutions to problems, and guide the dreamer in waking life issues. Often the emotions surrounding a problem mask the solution in waking day. The dreaming mind can untangle the emotions and provide valuable, new insights.


  1. It sounds like the relation between mother and child was sort of an entanglement, and a change was needed. This seems to occur in a mutual ascending progression from somatization (of the child)to dreaming (of his mother) to open communication (of the diad. Very interesting example!

  2. This was certainly the case with this mother and child. In fact, the child had been the center of a bitter custody battle for most of his life. The parents were trying to move him to opposite ends of the country. It appears that the child simply broke down due to the stress of the situation. Interestingly, it was the dream that broke the mystery surrounding his illness. The dream brought forth the deep, unconscious issue that was causing the paralysis. In professional practice and in everyday occurances, dreams brign forth valuable information that is often overlooked.

  3. The story you posted demonstrates once again the centrality of dreaming in the symbolization's processes. Paradoxically, this centrality is evident also when the process in some measure fails.For example:

    "a woman goes into psychotherapy because of her marital problems. She is keen to arrive to a separation. She also suffers for a very bothering irritable bowel syndrome. One night she dreams that she goes to visit her mother-in-law, that she feels very hostile to her under a coat of smiles and good manners. She dreams that the beautiful and tidy living room of her mother-in-law is full of excrement up to the ankle and she, the patient, although very embarassed in telling it, in the dream is happy of it."

    After the dream the irritable bowel syndrome disappears. The situation with the husband instead keeps worsening until they split and she returns to her family, which lives far, in another mentality and culture. She has always been very loyal to her family.

    This dream, so crude in his symbolization, just a step above the level of acting and somatizing, was consistent with the hot-blooded and emotional personality of the patient, not so much inclined to dialogue and mutual comprehension and prone to impulsive decisions (like the marriage she did)

  4. This crude symbolization is indeed common in people with gastrointestinal disorders. It seems that the body is telling the mind of it's situation and thus, looking for a healing mechanism. When working with patients with gastrointestinal disorders the dream imagery of feces can help them access the waking day triggers of their disorder. This is indeed a valuable process-as in the example given by Massimo

  5. Il sogno che riferisce Massimo , e la sua lettura , mi sembrano veramente interessanti .
    Mi chiedo se i sogni con immagini di feci siano più frequentemente fatti da persone "rifiutanti" , non - empatiche
    ( come la paziente di Massimo - o sbaglio !?) oltre che da chi ha problemi contingenti , di rifiuto di certe realtà o
    da chi ha disturbi gastrointestinali.

  6. Ciao Donatella and thanks for finding interesting the dream I told and the way I focused it on. Donatella asks if dreams with feces images are more frequent in scarcely empathic people, with a refusing attitude, besides those who have contingent problems that lead to bounce some aspects of their reality and those who have bowel's disease.
    I'm not able to answer precisely to her question. The feces symbolism is so vast. Usually in my mind I'm guided by the parallelism between the dreaming function (at the level of mind) and the digestive function (at the level of mind). It means that we are in the area of transformation, assimilitation or viceversa reject of reality, both of-fact and cognitive/emotional. The presence of feces in a dream invites me to focus on the functioning of my patient more in terms of reification than of mentalization and symbolization. Thus there is some amount of denial into it, which can vary from person to person or from sitution to situation. And yes, denial and emphaty can hardly go together.

  7. Oops! Errata corrige: at the line n. 10

    "and the digestive function (at the level of mind)"


    "at the level of body"

    Sorry for the glitch!

  8. Quindi potremmo pensare che in una terapia che metta al centro i sogni , le immagini che parlano di negazione e non - empatia , immagini di feci ecc. , diminuiscano , mentre aumentano invece le immagini che "parlano" di empatia?
    In effetti , mi viene a mente un esempio :
    nei sogni di una donna di circa 50 anni con una posizione di prestigio , ma con un rapporto "rifiutante " col proprio corpo e con gli altri , mi ricordo spesso immagini di foruncoli pieni di pus o pentole con muffa e spesso immagini di disordine e la necessità di riordinare.
    Effettivamente , cosa che non avevo prima riflettuto , aumentando le sue capacità dei "mettersi nei panni dell'altro" , queste immagini rivoltanti non sono più apparse nei suoi sogni.

  9. This is an incedible dream example of how the dreaming mind will help with waking day situations. I myself, have worked on dream interpretations (with Donatella, for example) since the psychology literature does state that dream interpretation is useful but not yet solidly based in the science. Donatella's case study is a clear case where dream therapy can be of great value-both to the practitioner and the patient.