What is a reverie?
Phenomenology of the reverie in a dreaming analytic field.
A reverie is usually an image, but sometimes it can be an olfactory, tactile or auditory feeling, that arises suddenly, often after a long analytic passage in which one had been struggling with a disturbing sensation of groping around in the dark, immersed in the flow of voiceless, nameless protosensations. The image that appears in one's mind, in itself a phenomenon of hallucinosis, can be recognised as a reverie by an analyst who, upon waking up from hallucinosis (Civitarese 2014), recognises in that sensory perception the first oneiric trace of an emotional experience searching for a dream in the field. Indeed, an analyst oriented by a dream model of the mind can find in that image or in that sensation the first dream-frame of a nucleus of nameless emotions that are flowing through the field seeking alphabetization.
After Bion's definition, the phenomenon of reverie has been interpreted differently by different authors.
Ferro emphasises, above all, the idea of reverie as an image that presents itself with a certain annoying and persistent quality in the here and now. He suggests that the reverie is a spy-pictogram that, after freeing itself from the continuous chain of pictograms produced by the alpha function in the session, comes into direct contact with the analyst and reveals something that the analyst didn't know yet.
Ogden describes at length the oneiric state of the mind as it is crossed by an experience of reverie: ruminations, phantasies, bodily sensations, fleeting perceptions, images that arise when drifting in and out of sleep, moods, phrases passing through the mind.
The reverie, Ogden (2017) says, might be the only opportunity for the analyst to contact the dream that is coming to life in the session, to dream the session. For the analyst the reverie is the manifestation of that unconscious intersubjective construct jointly created by analyst and analysand that is the analytic intersubjective third. Ogden finds in the reverie not merely the emergence of a personal fact, but also the epiphany of an analytic object bringing in its wake an emotional imbalance born of the fear of not being an analyst at that time, born of the sensation of one's analytic functions being in a bind.
Only faith (Bion 1970) in the existence of an unconscious dream process between two minds in analysis allows the analyst to follow the dream call of an image that surfaces surreptitiously from the mind, and that often seems to concern things that are personal or remote and unconnected with the talk that flows in the analytic here and now with the patient.
All agree on the fact that reverie transforms the analyst, that it is also a sensory experience and that it lets the analyst give meaning to and transform in analytic object something that an instant before was not an analytic object. Likewise, every theoretical variant seems to acknowledge that an indispensable key to access reverie is the analyst's willingness to accept being himself in a less clearly defined way in order to enter a state of intuition with the patient and to share with him the psychic turbolence and pain.
Rêverie as analytic tool in a dreaming analysis.
Possible technical uses for a reverie.
By treating reverie as the first image in the dream that needs dreaming in the field, a dreaming analyst will find out that it is an exceptional technical resource for the development of that dream work that, in a field model, is both a tool and the goal of the whole analytic work. A reverie, indeed, can be used as:
- First pictogram of a nucleus of silent protoemotions that are flowing in the field in search of transformation in dream: lingering in a reverie and immersing in it, an analyst will be able to detect the conjuration of a meaningful emotional experience, that he will then be able to identify and use as the first cocoon of emotions and experiences to narrate to the patient.
- A marker of the beginning of a dream work in the field: a reverie is extremely useful to an analyst at work, especially if he is struggling with unrepresentable states of the mind, because it signals that in the field an oneiric contact has been established and that the dream work has taken off.
- Criterion of feasibility of a later dream work, during consultation: reveries that emerge in the initial consultation meetings reveal to the analyst that a dreaming work has become active in the field from the very first analytic contacts; such reveries can thus become clues of a potential transformative dream functioning in a later analytic treatment.
- A reverie, then, thanks to its dream properties can perform many other functions of β-detoxification and α-regeneration in an analytic field, since it can become, for instance:
- An oneiric oasis in which to rest at those times in which the analytic mood becomes hard to tolerate, helping a good oneiric fitness of the analyst’s state of mind.
- Signal of malfunctions in the field, caused by particularly intense phenomena of projective identification by the patient or by weariness or periods of limited efficiency of the analyst.
Bion, W. (1962) Learning from Experience, W.Heinemann, London.
(1970) Attention and interpretation, Tavistock, London.
Civitarese, G. (2014) Truth and the unconscious in Psychoanalysis, Routledge.
Ogden, T. (2017) Dreaming the analytic session: a clinical essay, The Psychoanalytic Quarterly, Vol. LXXXVI, Number 1.