Therapy for Nightmares

Submitted on March 27, 2012
While we'd all like for our dreams to come true, for some the dream is to simply escape the cycle of nightmares.
Therapy for Nightmares

A nightmare can be described as a disturbing dream that leaves you with a negative feeling of fear, sadness, anxiety or shame. Health experts claim that nightmares are quite common and are experienced by both adults and children. At times, these unpleasant dreams can be upsetting and may further lead to health problems like insomnia, anxiety and depression. Fortunately, you can reduce the occurrences of nightmares by undergoing treatment.

Different forms of therapy can help curb the frequency of nightmares in kids and grownups.

Therapy for Children

Nightmares are very common in children, but they have the tendency to reduce after the age of 10. As a parent, you need to be very calm and reassuring in case your child wakes up from a bad dream. Given below are a few steps that can be therapeutic in dealing with nightmares -

  • Get your child to talk about the dream. Identify what happened in the dream, who was there and why it was scary.
  • Ask your child if anything is bothering him. Check if there is anything that is causing him stress and anxiety.
  • Remind your child that no matter how terrifying the dream is, it isn't real and cannot hurt him. If possible, re-write the ending, to make it funny.
  • Help your child feel a bit more secure by providing company in the form of a stuffed toy or doll.
  • Place a small night light in your child's room and if possible, leave the door ajar. This helps kids feel a bit more secure through the night.

Therapy for Adults

About 8% of adults suffer from the problem of chronic nightmares, where they wake up in terror about once a week.

The most common way to treat the problem of chronic nightmares is psychodynamic psychotherapy. While undergoing this therapy, you will need to meet up with your therapist regularly, to discuss your nightmare. This will help you address the emotional problem causing bad dreams.

Imagery Rehearsal Therapy (IRT) is also a fairly new form of treatment for nightmares that are caused by Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). This therapy requires you to change the ending of the nightmare while you are awake, just so that the dream no longer remains threatening.

According to a study published in the Journal of the American Association, IRT helps curb nightmares in victims of sexual assault. This therapy also reduces the symptoms of PTSD. Dr. Barry Krakow, MD, the director of Maimonides International Nightmare Treatment Center, Albuquerque claims that up to 80% of the patients undergoing IRT gain a significant amount of relief from nightmares.

IRT is not only effective, it is also quite easy. The technique used in this therapy is quite basic and can be mastered within a few hours. Once you start IRT, you need to undergo it just for a couple of minutes each day, or week.

Given below are the 3 easy steps to controlling nightmares through IRT -

  1. Write down your most recent nightmare in brief. In case the most recent one is too upsetting, you can pick an earlier one.
  2. Consider a way in which you can change the nightmare. As a patient, it is best for you to rely on your own intuition to bring about an appropriate change.
  3. Spend a few minutes each day, imagining the revised version of your nightmare. In simple words, you need to keep painting a mental picture of the altered dream.

People who have experienced chronic nightmares for decades find it difficult to believe that the therapy could be that easy. However, most of the patients who have given it a shot have seen a reduction in nightmares. While it is possible to perform IRT on your own, it is best that you try it only with the help of a qualified doctor, especially if you are suffering from PTSD.

Simple relaxation techniques just before bedtime can also help curb nightmares to a great extent.