Reading this article was a particular pleasure for me because it
pulled together both where I began in studying dreams (studying frequency
of dream recall in both my undergraduate and graduate research) and my
current interests (the impact of trauma on psychological functioning).
Intriguingly, I never thought to juxtapose those two interests but now that
someone else has done it, it seems like such an obvious thing to do.
Mind you I had to first get over my jealousy over 1) the nature of
the sample, 2) the size of the sample, and 3) the incredible participation
rate. Puts to shame anything I have done! However, more seriously, the
author is to be applauded for the first two and the participants for the
last. The paper itself is a remarkably scholarly and lucid article.
And now for a few loosely connected remarks... I like the fact
that the author differentiated between different types of trauma. There is
considerable literature to back up their belief that observed violence is
less traumatic than directly experienced. However, their finding with
gender highlights an even more important "truth": we cannot judge for
another what "should" be more traumatic because individual meaning and
experience inevitably shapes how stressful events are experienced. This
often becomes a problem in empirical studies because our designs to do not
easily accommodate such individual experience (and our statistics treat it
as error). As an aside, I have been ruminating increasingly on the varying
utility of empirical/quantitative versus qualitative methodologies.
Especially with dreams it often feels like we lose a great deal of
information when we drop these experiences into a regression melting pot
(says the woman who continues to primarily use empirical methodology and
regression analyses in her own research).
Recently, in the research on abuse, "betrayal" has emerged as a
variable of interest in classifying trauma that may predict poor
psychological functioning and increased use of dissociation. Specifically,
the hypothesis is that trauma which involves a betrayal of trust (e.g. the
situation where a parent or respected authority is the perpetrator) is more
traumatic, particularly to children, then other stressful events. In its
extreme form, the hypothesis would predict that greater violence
experienced at the hand of a stranger is less traumatic than "milder"
violence at the hand of a parent. Now I may be on slippery ground here,
because I am not aware of the nuances of the violence in that region, but
it would appear that as a group these children are exposed to violence from
"outsiders" which would not have that element of betrayal. I guess this
takes me in several directions... we need more research on what makes
trauma traumatic. We need more research, like this study, on the effects
of different qualities of trauma. We need to think about how our methods
can be adapted to be more sensitive to nuances in meaning associated with
trauma (to idiographic experiences of trauma).
Let me be clear that I am NOT saying that these children's trauma
is trivial. In fact, I would imagine we should think of both groups as
representing to some degree a rather stressed population.
For example, I am a little concerned about the closeness in scores
of the two groups on the psychological functioning measures. My guess is
that this is not a measurement problem but may reflect the experience of
the children. From my meager experience of one trip to Israel, Galilee is
geographically close to hot spots and the reality of war seems never far
from anyone's mind. I remember a playground which contained brightly
painted tanks, "reclaimed" from an earlier round of hostilities. As a
child I lived on military bases in Europe. Although it was peacetime and I
never experienced any war related violence, the possibility of war was ever
present. To this day I hate the sound of our local sirens which call out
the volunteer fire force, because to me such sirens mean war. The bottom
line is that some of the researchers hypotheses may not have worked out
because the children were closer in experience than might appear at first
What the author calls repression, I would think may be better
described as avoidance: there is quite a collection of different strategies
being combined under their label of repression, as they themselves are
quick to point out. The research on traumatic memory is certainly
highlighting that there are many ways to "forget" or avoid thinking about
trauma and these probably carry different "price tags" for the individual
and also have varying effectiveness. It will be interesting in the future,
as we become better able to theoretically sort out and measure these
different strategies, to see how these reflect in dreaming styles.
In an unrelated vein, I would like to know a little more about how
the regression analyses were conducted. Were all variables entered
simultaneously or were they entered in a planned sequence?
I would also be interested in knowing about the role of dreams in
that culture. Dream recall likely has a different significance in a
culture that talks about dreams, values dreams, then it does in a culture
that neglects dreams...
So what do we make of the findings between recall and type of
symptoms? As a fan of dream recall I was a little dismayed (and surprised)
that frequency of dream recall was associated with greater depression in
response to increased trauma. Anxiety is a more "direct" response to
trauma (and therefore adaptive?) whereas depression more reflects despair
and defeat. This is one of the reasons I want to understand more about
what role dream recall plays in the culture.
And I will end these initial comments with a commendation to the
author for not confusing correlation with causation when considering the
significance of the dream recall findings.