Many, many years ago at the beginning of my psychotherapy career I started to do some therapy work, before leaving general practice to train as an analyst. A businessman came to see me one day with an addiction to sedatives as a direct consequence of the stresses of his work.
Now the normal manner to deal with this would be medical or a structured psychological approach, but this man had tried both with little success. So, we agreed to meet every week for an hour just to explore what was happening. On the first meeting I recall him telling me about his past and came to the conclusion that “this man has a mother complex like it is going out of fashion!” By this I meant that he was still emotionally very attached to his mother and that he had a psychological immaturity to face the stresses of life. Then I reasoned that he was taking the pills because it was making him relaxed, and that the pills were a kind of breast substitute.
With this nice and neat theory I then asked him about his dreams, thinking that these would be a more objective way of outlining the problem to him. But I was to be disappointed; the dreams had nothing to do with his mother, but were trying to resolve an abusive and often violent relationship with his father. I was mortified and, with this surprising slap in the face to my psychological theorising, I proceeded to explore his dream life with that direction.
We met on four occasions, I think, and then he pronounced himself cured, as he had completely stopped taking the sedatives. I was surprised, even shocked, but we shook hands and parted company.
Some two years later I have left general practice, am doing psychiatry and living in a new district when I receive a call from him. I am surprised, but agreed to meet him when he told me that he had not resorted to taking further sedatives, but in the first time for two years had the strong desire to.
Again we met. The dreams on this occasion did point to his mother fixation! We worked on these, his desire for sedative use abated and we again parted company. Although some years later our paths crossed and he had remained well and medication free in that time.
I learnt a lot from this man. That the psychological intellect may not be wrong, but the timing of how and when to use it can be significant, even crucial in any treatment process. The capacity for dreams to indicate what to deal with and when, rather than relying on my clinical judgement, was a smack in the mouth for my ego, but also opened up a deeper wisdom that I could now adhere to.
Of course, it is not only dreams that can do this. Chance happenings and life events I would also put in this predictive category. But the overall learning was to listen to and trust my own intuition, which over the years has gradually become the bedrock on which I work.