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How You Describe a Dream Could Help Determine What Kind of Psychosis You Have

A recent study found dream descriptions could be used ot distinguish between schizophrenia and bipolar disorder

smithsonian.com

On the whole, dream analysis is risky business. Most of the time, your dreams are not going to unlock your future, or tell you much at all about your self. But one particular form of dream analysis might actually tell psychiatrists something about you.

According to a recent study, the way the people describe dreams could be a useful way to help doctors distinguish between schizophrenia and bipolar disorders. The researchers asked 60 people to describe a previous dream. Some of these people had bipolar disorder, some had schizophrenia, and some had neither. The researchers transcribed their answers and turned them into graphs with nodes for every word. So, the sentence “I had a dream about” would have five nodes with lines connecting each one.

The upshot of this method is that the graphs for people with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder look extremely different. It turns out that schizophrenics tend to use very few words to describe their dreams, while those with bipolar disorder tend to go on for far longer and repeat themselves far more. 

According to Alex B. Berezow at Real Clear Science, this helps to solve a big problem in psychiatry:

One of the big problems with psychology and psychiatry is that diagnosing patients relies heavily upon subjective, qualitative observations instead of more rigorous quantitative methods. In fact, publication of the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (known as DSM-5 and colloquially referred to as the "Bible of psychiatry") caused a major controversy precisely because its recommendations made no effort to incorporate biological evidence. A field that refuses to incorporate quantifiable markers of disease is going to have a difficult time gaining credibility.

Bezerow also points out an interesting caveat of the study: it only works when the patient is describing a dream. Describing real-life events showed no such pattern. So as fun as it is to poo-poo Freud, the authors conclude their paper admitting that “the Freudian notion that 'dreams are the royal road to the unconscious' is clinically useful, after all.”

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About Rose Eveleth
Rose Eveleth

Rose Eveleth is a writer for Smart News and a producer/designer/ science writer/ animator based in Brooklyn. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Scientific American, Story Collider, TED-Ed and OnEarth.

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