Dreams of anorexic and bulimic women. A research study

J Anal Psychol. 1992 Jul;37(3):275-97. doi: 10.1111/j.1465-5922.1992.00275.x.


The research paradigms used in this study fit with the content analysis paradigms of Hall and Van de Castle (1966) and Dippel et al. (1987), but differ in the use of descriptive scenarios specific to eating disorders. Anorexic and bulimic patients are often able to share their dreams with their therapists, and this process is sometimes the start of building an analytical relationship. This study compared the dreams of twelve eating-disordered women with eleven 'normal' women. A total of 275 dreams was collected over a four-week period and rated on a 91-item scale (Brink 1991) by eight raters. Significant differences were found between the two groups, with eating-disordered women having more dream scenarios depicting themes of: impending doom at the end of the dream, attitudes of 'whatever I do I won't succeed', and images of the dreamer being attacked, and being watched. Significant differences were also found in dream content portraying the psychological traits of: ineffectiveness, self-hate, negative emotions, an inability to self-nourish, obsession with weight, and anger. The discussion centres around the role of 'inordinate oral rage', the nature of ego defences, how these defences manifest themselves in dream images and in daily living, and how they severely impair positive transformative processes. The implications for clinical practice are that dreams are an amenable way of working with eating-disordered women, and that the therapist is more likely to promote positive transformation through focusing on their dreams than trying to change their behaviour.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Anorexia Nervosa / psychology*
  • Attitude
  • Bulimia / psychology*
  • Dreams*
  • Female
  • Hospitalization*
  • Humans
  • Personality Assessment
  • Psychoanalytic Interpretation*
  • Psychoanalytic Theory
  • Psychoanalytic Therapy