Dream Vision in the Medical Humanities -or- Cancer as Metaphor?

Psychosomatic Medicine -or- Vital Signs found in Dreams 

Illness and disease, both psychological and physical, is a pre-occupation of many, not only in their waking hours, instead also while they sleep and dream. Said differently, the psychological effects of some dreams and nightmares may linger for days. Many have visited their family physician today, others will make the visit tomorrow, and so the on-going medical process and the "as the world turns" cycle on the planet will continue unabated. Having worked as a psychotherapist out of Canadian medical facilities over the last 23 years, I know in speaking to many family physicians, that 25-35% of all visits today, are stress related health problems. 

Imagine the yearly financial and personal costs of stress! Said differently, these patients are suffering from an "organic illness" that has a "psychological" cause. Psychosomatic medicine attempts to understand and treat these mind-body problems. The psychological cause of these medical problems, is more often than not, found lurking in their dreams and nightmares. 

Many try to "nurse" themselves back to health, while others psychologically ignore and repress their signs and symptoms of illness. Some will wait until it is too late. Health care professionals around the globe, are still for the most part ignoring one of the most important "vital signs" and sources of health information, namely the information found in our nightly dreams. A great deal of medical prevention, instead of intervention could be accomplished, if national health agencies, health care systems and the health care industry, would re-institute and make the dream a clinical source for the measurement of the psychosomatic vital signs and symptoms of disease. Of course, there are vested industrial economic interests involved in solving health care problems, these interests do not always work in the favor of the publics health interests or vital signs. Those vested interests ask; do we really want cost savings? 

Educating an ill-informed population and public that for all intents and purposes has no real "medical understanding of the meaning of their dreams" is imperative. As long as superstitions and fallacious ideation is running rampant and circulates about "what does my dream mean?", irrational cognitive-behavioural effects can be the only result. The reasons for all these superstitious misconceptions, is caused primarily by the lack of education in the family, in the public educational system, in the medical educational system and the social system as a whole. "It was just a dream", is the perennial rationalization. 

Dreams received by the International Institute for Dream Research (IIDR) speak of a variety of psychological, psychosomatic and physical illnesses. So for example, "Digging for Answers" (read interpretation) is a dream of a father whose son is dying, of "Schilder's disease". The dream below speaks of a disease that will affect many families in North America and around the globe. The Canadian Cancer Society estimates that 75,000 Canadians will die in 2012 from cancer. Then there are the roughly 89,000 women and 97,000 men who will be diagnosed with cancer this year (2012). The "bedside manner" of doctors can have an enormous influence on the patient's psychological status. 

A woman that I have known for many years who was diagnosed with cancer last year, switched doctors recently because of her doctors reported "poor bedside manner". In the dream interpretation "Socialized Medicine" we can see how and why an American patient felt stigmatized. The patient feels that she has somehow become the "victim" of a cruel and uncaring "system". This is not an isolated dream or case. 

Here then, is one more such dream sent to the IIDR of the walking psychologically wounded and traumatized, which illustrates the adverse stressful effects of the ignorance of some doctors, who have little or no doctor-patient "bedside manner"

Hermina, 48 North American 

I had a dream, where doctor tells me that I have lung cancer and that I will need several rounds of chemotherapy. I ask him already suspecting the answer if I will be able to continue working. Doctor says NO! with great force, as if I'm asking a stupid question. 

I wake up with the feeling of doom. 

Mr Hagen's Reply: Medicine Man and Healing Words-or-The Medical Rhetoric of Illness 

In "Illness and Metaphor" Susan Sonntag discusses the rhetorical problem of the "lurid metaphors" with which illness has been "land-scaped" with. Sonntag believes that by wrapping disease in metaphor, patients become frightened, shamed and ultimately silenced. The linguistic problem is not metaphor in-itself, it is the rhetorical uses of metaphor that is the real psychosocial problem. Sonntag only vaguely understands the in-depth medical cause of the rhetorical problem, and is only addressing the symptoms. The depth-psychological cause of the psychosomatic symptoms, are often found circulating in the language of our dreams. 

Sonntag illustrates the conscious language problem by poetically traveling through the literary world of illness and disease found in the characters and persons of the likes of Stendal, Franz Kafka, Thomas Mann, Charles Dickens, David Thoreau, Keats, Gide, Turgenev, Tolstoy, Robert Lewis Stephenson, and Adolf Hitler to name a few. What Sonntag does not see, is that these literary personae were also psychologically driven by the language of their dreams. The dreams of Kafka, Stevenson, and those found in the works of Dickens, Mann, and the dream of Albert Speer about Adolf Hitler all find expression in the dream interpretation section at the IIDR website, with more to come. 

We can now cognitively focus our attention on the linguistic "doctor-patient" problem found in your dream. You are informed that you have "lung cancer", and that you will need several "rounds of chemotherapy". In of itself, there is nothing un-toward in these medical "determinations". We can see and hear however, your need for medical answers to be able to re-structure your lifestyle, you are resorting to the "Socratic method" of asking a question, expecting a "professional answer". Instead of your doctor's answer being couched as an affirmation of your life and being, it finds only a negation, NO! with "great force". 

The physician Rene Spitz, "No and Yes: On the Genesis of Human Communication" had given doctors a psychological model of "anaclytic depression" in children long ago. The medical paradigm of anaclitic depression applies not only to children, but also to adults. It seems as though many doctor's are still are not listening, or never were properly taught about the medical problem in the first place.

We can find the detrimental psychological and poetic force of this simple two letter word "NO", in Sonntag's "Illness as Metaphor". Sonntag informs the reader about Georg Groddeck's rhetorical equation "cancer = death". Does anyone not understand your feeling of having received a medical "death sentence", and therefore are left with a feeling of "doom"? The connotations of the word doom, conveys the meaning of "death, destruction or some other such terrible and horrible fate". It begs the medical question of what happened to the "Hippocratic Oath"?

From a medical documentary perspective, "Healing Words: Poetry and Medicine" provides a start. The  title needs to read "Healing Words: Dreams, Poetry and the Medical Humanities".There is a medical movement developing called "narrative medicine" which critiques the medical training programs that contribute to behaviourally learnt poor bedside manner of physicians, like in your dream. From my perspective, this is only part of the medical problem. Until the medical profession and doctors begin to take a patient's dreams seriously (such as yours), especially those clinical cases with stress induced illness, the vicious medical cycle of stress and illness will remain self perpetuating. The medical and the public's problem, is that there are vested interests involved. 

From a popular cinema perspective the film "Medicine Man" starring Sean Connery (as doctor Robert Cambell) is a man who has discovered the cure for the scourge of cancer in the Amazonian rainforest, and then finds that he has lost mother nature's recipe that came out of her "pharmacological superstore". He must find answers before road buiders coming through the Amazon arrive at the village where he has been conducting his research. "The Fugitive"  is a film that shows its audience a story of a pharmaceutical company and a doctor who will go to no lengths to hide and cover-up the truth about a harmful drug, in the name of greed. Many pharmaceutical presriptions that were picked up today around the planet will have "side effects", many of those side effects can be found while dreaming. Here is one such dream about side effects; "The Pharmaceutical Industry" (read interpretation).

Postscript: Politics and the English Language -or- Language of the Third Reich 

From a poetic perspective, George Orwell "Politics and the English Language", had long before Sonntag discussed the "contagion" of the rhetorical misuses of the English language. Orwell advocated for "plain English". As well, Victor Klemperer's "Language of the Third Reich" makes audible the Orwellian dystopian misuses of the Nazi's rhetorical propaganda and language/mind control.



All material Copyright 2006 International Institute for Dream Research. All rights reserved.