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UBC Theses and Dissertations

A comparative study of the dream content of eating-disordered and non-eating-disordered women Brink, Susan Goldswain


Dream theorists propose that dreams can balance conscious reality, and provide clues to unconscious processes complicating psychosomatic conditions. Little research has been done in the area of dreams and eating disorders. Based on data from a pilot study, and reports of eating-disordered women's dreams in the literature, the researcher hypothesised that eating-disordered women's dreams would contain a significant number of themes symbolizing the psychological states underlying their condition. Of particular interest was a sense of ineffectiveness, which has been the subject of many recent studies of eating-disordered women. The exploratory study compared the dream content of 12 eating-disordered and 11 normal women, aged 20 to 35 years. The 275 dreams were rated by 8 "blind" raters according to a 91-item eating disorder specific dream rating scale, which registered dream content such as attitudes of helplessness, images of anger, self-hate, and affect. A high level of inter-rater reliability was obtained. A questionnaire assessing motivational states (General Causality Orientation Scale; GCOS) was also administered. The data were analyzed by the independent t-test. The results showed strong significance in the occurrence of themes of ineffectiveness in the eating-disordered women's dreams (p = .001), which corresponded with the findings on the GCOS (p< .001). Also significantly present in the target group's dreams were themes of self-hate, anger, inability to nourish themselves, an obsession with weight, and the presence of negative emotions. An additional finding was a strongly significant presence of a sense of impending doom at the end of eating-disordered women's dreams (p < .001). These results suggest that dreams may provide an additional resource in understanding eating disorders.

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