Psychological Perspectives: Freud and the Freudians

The significance of the publication of Sigmund Freud’s The Interpretation of Dreams cannot be overestimated. Even if you disagree with Freud, you still need to address Freud, to explain your disagreement.

Hendrika Vande Kemp summarizes Freud’s continuing influence as follows:

Freudian theory contributed not only to the experimental, inductive tradition of American psychology, but also to the philosophical/experimental investigations of dreams and their clinical interpretations, harmonizing in his work two apparently incompatible traditions. Simultaneously, he ignored (or derided) those dreams and dream theories which had obvious transcendental and metaphysical implications (Vande Kemp, 1981, p. 88).

While Freud can be credited with “legitimizing” the study of dreams to a large degree, there are drawbacks to his approach as well. Entire libraries could be filled with critiques of Freud, but for now, two will suffice.

Harold Bloom (1996), for instance, accuses Freud of scientism (p. 105), and equating dreams with hallucination. “Freud is compelled pragmatically to regard the dream as an illness that he must cure (p. 93).”

James Hillman (1979) asserts that although Freud considered dreams “the royal road to the unconscious,” the interpretation of dreams has caused this road to “become a straight one-way street of all morning traffic, moving out of the unconscious towards the ego’s city (p. 1).”

For Freud, all dreams were a form of wish-fulfillment. As such, transcendental and metaphysical approaches to the study of dreams were dismissed.

Freud’s assessment of Visitation Dreams garners only a few paragraphs in The Interpretation of Dreams.

The frequency with which in the dream dead persons appear as living, act, and deal with us, has called forth undue astonishment and given rise to strange explanations, from which our own ignorance of the dream becomes strikingly evident. And yet the explanation for these dreams lies very close at hand. How often do we have occasion to think: “If father were still alive, what would he say to it?” The dream can express this if in no other way than by present time in a definite situation… What we consider a resistance to the dream – the objection made by our better knowledge, that after all the man is already dead – is in reality, a consolation, because the dead person did not have this or that experience, or satisfaction that he had nothing more to say (Freud, 1900/2005, p. 34).

Freud also suggests that the dead person in the dream might also represent “the extreme rejection; as the representation of a repressed thought” (p. 340), an idea which will later find further elaboration in the works of Carl Jung and Edgar Herzog. Freud’s later work, Mourning and Melancholia lays the groundwork for grief and bereavement theories of Visitation Dreams.

Continuing in the Freudian tradition, student and biographer of Freud, Ernest Jones links dreams of the dead to nightmares, and asserts that more often than not, our deceased visitors represent our parents. “[These dreams] are concerned with the deepest conflicts of love and hate, and originate ultimately in incest motives repressed from consciuosness in childhood” (Jones, 1957/1971, p. 68). Per Jones, to attribute any sort of ontology to dream states is to have an “untutored mind” (p. 65).



  • Bloom, H. (1996). Omens of the Millennium: The Gnosis of Angels, Dreams, and Resurrection. New York: Riverhead Books.
  • Freud, S. (1900/2005). The Interpretation of Dreams. New York: Barnes & Noble Publishers.
  • Hillman, J. (1979). The Dream and the Underworld. New York: Harper Perennial.
  • Jones, E. (1971). On the Nightmare. New York: Liveright.
  • Vande Kemp, H. (1982). The Dream in Periodical Literature: 1860-1910. Journal of the History of Behavioral Science 17(1): 88-113.



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