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Dream therapy

by caktus / August 13, 2007 6:47 PM PDT
Now, if this just doesn't beat all.

Dream therapy a coping tool for combat stress

Psychologist suggests it?s best to sleep through nightmares
By Kelly Kennedy - Staff writer
Posted : Thursday Aug 9, 2007 17:39:13 EDT

ASAD, Iraq ? For 1? years, Cmdr. Beverly Dexter?s husband gently shook her awake when she screamed in her sleep.

But one night, even as she begged him to wake her up in an unusual case of sleep-talking, he let her continue her nightmare.

She never screamed in her sleep again.

Now the combat psychologist says she may have a key to help those who never sleep through the night because they wake themselves rather than face dreams about the battlefield deaths of their buddies, the disturbing images of Iraqi ? or Vietnamese ? children handling explosives, or even traumatic scenes from their own childhoods.

?There?s no such thing as a bad dream,? said Dexter, chief of the Combat Stress and Readiness Clinic at Al Asad Air Base. ?You?re working through things when you sleep.?

Though Dexter is careful to say she needs to do more research about her theory and that her book, ?No More Nightmares,? will not be published until she retires and is able to look at it more closely, she?s excited that veterans have told her their dreams have disappeared within a day of her sleep-therapy lessons, which she teaches here in a classroom-type setting.

Military officials say they want to see more case studies and proof that Dexter?s theory works before commenting on it or recommending it. Dexter is the only therapist who uses her program, which she calls Planned Dream Intervention.

Even Dexter, a fellow of the American Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress, said she is not yet sure why the therapy works, though she has ideas. And word has gotten around. Troops recommend it to each other, chaplains have come to her for advice on how to use it and other therapists send their clients to her to try to rid them of never-ending sleepless nights, she said.

?I know this works,? she said. ?I know it sounds ridiculously too good to be true, but it is.?

After her husband let her sleep through her nightmare, Dexter said she woke up refreshed and stunned to hear she had even had a bad dream.

As she thought about it, she realized people don?t wake up out of good dreams ? no one wakes screaming after winning the lottery. So, when she woke up in a foul mood after an odd dream where the Roman Colosseum ? traveling on a pickup truck ? began crushing the truck, she wondered how she could make it a happy dream.

?I know,? she said, snapping her fingers and speaking with her whole body as she does when she gets excited. ?What if the bricks became hundred-dollar bills??

That night, she did not wake up. This was significant, she said, for a woman who had suffered nightmares almost nightly since she was 4.

The more she thought about it, the more she realized her solution was more about empowerment ? about resolving the bad situation in the dream.

?You have to think, ?What do I want to happen next??? she said. ?But I don?t know if it?s getting back into the dream and finishing it or the waking resolution that works.?

Soon after Dexter?s peaceful night, clients ? as usual ? complained of nightmares, and she began asking them to think of scenarios where those dreams could become good. She told them to work only with the point where they woke up ? not to rewrite the dream ? and think about what?s next. She had them write down the positive outcome, then read it before they went to sleep.

It worked, she said. People began sleeping through the night.

In one case, a woman Dexter said she had helped sleep through dreams of childhood abuse woke up in the middle of such a dream when her alarm clock chimed. In the new dream, however, the woman went into the dream as an adult and saved her younger self from her abuser, Dexter said.

At the Naval Medical Center in Portsmouth, Va., where Dexter works when she?s not deployed, most of her patients deal with combat stress, and she has used the new therapy with them, she said, with good results:

* A soldier suffering combat dreams began sleeping through the night ? and stopped spanking his children. Dexter wonders if he resolved his anger issues by finishing the dream.

* A woman had a nightmare that she kicked her boss?s head off. The next day, she thought about him sprouting a new head and apologizing for his bad behavior, and she slept through the night.

* A woman who woke up through 25 years? worth of sexual-abuse dreams began sleeping through the night.

* A Desert Storm veteran suffering for 10 years with a nightmare about watching civilians die ? something he had seen in reality ? came up with a new outcome, slept through the night and made peace with the idea that he had done the best he could in that long-ago situation.

* A Marine who dreamed about hurting his daughter at first refused to try Dexter?s therapy because it seemed ?flaky.? Out of desperation, he tried it and slept through the night ? and stopped being afraid to be near children, she said.

Other troops? flashbacks have stopped after they began sleeping through the night, she said.

In Iraq, Dexter offers a two-hour group therapy class to teach service members not to wake up during their nightmares.

Eight Marines and soldiers sat in one of her classes recently in the basement of a 399th Combat Support Hospital building. They ranged from a private with recent combat experience to a colonel who had been dreaming since Vietnam. Some seemed into the idea, and others looked skeptical as Dexter explained the process.

She told them their ?sleeping brains? say, ?I?m not going to let you go there? when a nightmare hits, and that they need to train themselves to sleep through it. In a combat zone, where people remain hypervigilant, that can be tough, but she compared it to ?potty training.? Parents teach their children to wake up when they feel bladder pressure.

With her process, people train themselves to think differently about nightmares.

?No one dies in dreams,? she said. ?Even if a dream has incredibly shocking pieces to it, I have to trust whatever my sleeping brain is going to do. If you start sleeping peacefully through the night, you wake up more refreshed, and that can make you calmer during the day.?

And, she said, the brain may be using the nightmares to work things out as people sleep.

?Experts say that in dreams, you may forget what we don?t need,? she said. ?If you stay asleep, you probably won?t remember your dreams. But we believe the brain biochemistry is doing balance work, and you have to let it.?

She also said it?s important not to interpret dreams. So, if a soldier dreams of killing a friend or sleeping with a loved one?s wife, it means nothing in real life, and allowing it to happen in a dream could work out anger or guilt issues people don?t realize they have.

She also told the service members not to worry about the violence or inappropriateness of the dream intervention they come up with. Early on, her therapy didn?t work with someone who dreamed about two friends he had seen killed in a gruesome way.

?I was shocked,? she said. ?I thought, ?What? The magic fairy dust doesn?t work???

She asked him about his intervention.

?He said, ?I had the insurgent guys lay down their weapons and walk away,?? she said. ??I?m not doing that violence thing.??

But that, Dexter said, wasn?t gut-level enough. Still, he said he was a Christian and couldn?t gun the insurgents down, even in a dream. Instead, he had them float away as dust ? which worked.

?Abstract is fine,? Dexter said.

But it has to hit at the ?caveman? level because dreams are ancient ways to handle stress. In other words, a group hug in dreamland probably won?t do it, but fire-breathing dragons swooping to blast the enemy might.

Sometimes, the dreams make no sense. One client kept having a surgery dream that wasn?t a nightmare, but he also had pain in his leg that no one could find a cause for. But he liked his surgeon, so he didn?t understand the dream.

?Think caveman,? Dexter said she told the man. ?On a subconscious level, this man cut you open and hurt you.?

In the dream intervention, the patient beat up his surgeon, and the dreams and the pain went away, Dexter said.

?I?ve had some really odd, remarkable pain that could not be explained disappear with the dream,? she said. ?You just have to think, ?What do I want to happen next?? It?s like having magic fairy dust.?

Seven steps to planned dream intervention

* There is no such thing as a bad dream.

* Think only about the part of the dream that woke you up.

* Think, ?What would I like to happen next??

* Come up with a quick idea that feels right: Bashing the bad guy, turning spiders into golf balls and whacking them with a club, watching a dead friend enter an elaborate castle in the sky.

* Write it down.

* Read it before you go to sleep.

* If it doesn?t work, come up with another Planned Dream Intervention. The emotional level has to be the same as that of the dream.
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Reminds me of the monsters from Harry Potter
by dirtyrich / August 14, 2007 7:24 AM PDT
In reply to: Dream therapy

and the Prisoner of Azkaban that would change into whatever you feared the most... Boggarts I think they were called.

Imagine them changing or doing something silly, and you'd beat them.

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RE: monsters
by caktus / August 14, 2007 1:14 PM PDT

Or like Freddy Krueger turning Flower Child.

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REM sleep....
by Angeline Booher / August 15, 2007 12:55 AM PDT
In reply to: Dream therapy

..... is around the period in which we dream. It's important for or general health, which is why there is a treatment for sleep apnea which prevents enough REM time.

About 45 years ago I would yell out in my sleep so often to the point my husband said I needed help. So I saw a therapist, who said to keep a dream book. On first awakening each morning I was to quickly write down what I remembered of my dream, no matter if it was only an impression. We would review it at each session, and talk about what it meant to me, not to the therapist.

After about 6 sessions, my night yelling stopped. To this day I don't know why. Maybe somewhere along the way I hit on something.

However, IMO, the therapy in the article is much too over simplistic. Sure, I want to be wrong, but I believe it takes much more and much longer therapy to treat PTSD in our military in battle. After all, they face much more traumatic experiences than the rest of us.

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by caktus / August 15, 2007 4:21 AM PDT
In reply to: REM sleep....

Years back, I was getting poor sleep as I would awake from nightmares. I was told to do the same. However, I would rarely recall dreams upon waking in the morning. But, I would usually recall the dreams upon waking due to the nightmares. So, the Doc had me right down what the dreams were about immediately upon being awakened by the nightmares. This was a [bit] more successful. But all I wrote would be scribble. Still have an occasional bout with nightmares, sometimes even resulting in temporary sleep paralysis. But no where near as often.

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It's called directed or lucid dreaming
by Diana Forum moderator / August 17, 2007 12:09 PM PDT
In reply to: Dream therapy

It's been around for a very long time. As a child I would have nightmares and would wake up and figure out how I wanted the dream to end. I would go back to sleep and dream the new ending. Taught it to my kids. I found out years later that it had a name and been around for thousands of years.


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