Archive for the ‘International Association for the Study of Dreams’ Category

Excerpted from Dreamcatching: Every Parent’s Guide to Exploring and Understanding Children’s Dreams and Nightmares

by Alan Siegel and Kelly Bulkeley

Random House: Three Rivers Press (c) 1998

Our children do not have to suffer their nightmares in silence, brooding about the lingering feeling of suffocation left by the formless ghost or shuddering at the memory of the razor-sharp teeth of a pack of wolves ripping into their flesh. There are remedies for even the most dreadful nightmares.

Unfortunately, the raw terror that lingers after a nightmare may accentuate a child’s insecurity and bring on anxiety for hours or even days afterward. It may even disturb their ability to sleep by inducing insomnia, or fears and phobias about sleeping and dreaming. To help your child restore their capacity to sleep and to harness the healing and creative potential of scary dreams, we must help them break the spell of their nightmares.

The silver lining of painful nightmares is that through the often transparent symbolism, they shine a spotlight on the issues that are most the upsetting, yet unexpressible for your child. Every nightmare, no matter how distressing, contains vital information about crucial emotional challenges in your child’s life. To a parent whose ears and heart are open, listening to the most distressing nightmares is like hearing your child’s unconscious, speaking directly to you delivering a special call for help.

Most nightmares are a normal part of coping with changes in our lives. They are not necessarily a sign of pathology and may even be a positive indication that we are actively coping with a new challenge. For children, this could occur in response to such events as entering school, moving to a new neighborhood or living through a divorce or remarriage.

Using role-playing and fantasy rehearsals, parents can coach their children to assert their magical powers and tame the frights of the night. New endings for dreams can be created so that falling dreams become floating dreams and chase dreams end with the capture of the villain. When we give our children reassurance and encouragement to explore creative solutions to dream dilemmas, we restore their ability to play with the images in their nightmares rather than feeling threatened or demoralized. These assertiveness skills carry over into future dream confrontations and lead to greater confidence to face waking challenges.


Even very young children can learn to encounter and overcome the threatening creatures of their nightmares. My daughter, Sophia, mentioned her first dream just before she turned two. She woke from a nap one day and spontaneously said “bird fly outside” while motioning towards the window with her hands. Because Sophia had always been fascinated with the flight and sounds of birds and airplanes, my wife and I weren’t sure if it was really a dream or just a fantasy. However, a month later, Sophia woke up screaming and sobbing with a bona fide nightmare about spiders.

The Attack of the Dream Spider

‘Pider on Sophia… off Sophia’s leg… Dad, no more ‘pider please!

While holding Sophia and comforting her, she continued to sob, saying “Sophia scared”. I reassured her that “Daddy will protect you from spiders”. I am going to teach you how to get those bad spiders away from Sophia” She listened with wide eyes. “When you see those spiders, tell them Go away bad spiders. Get out of Sophia’s bed and don’t come back!” I emphatically repeated this anti-spider anthem three times. Suddenly Sophia smiled a slightly mischievous smile. “Go away ‘piders” She said tentatively. She repeated it twice and smiled waving her hands as if to motion the spiders away. She was significantly calmed and after a bit of rocking and a short story, she fell back to sleep easily.

When Sophia woke the next morning, I asked her “Did you have any more dreams?” She flashed a playful smile and said “piders!” and laughed. For two more days, she grinned and said ‘piders’ when she woke. These subsequent dream reports were probably fabricated judging by the mischievous look on her face. However, within a few days she began to report other dreams, mostly animals, some threatening and some friendly.

Sophia’s dream spiders were more terrifying than anything in waking reality. I took the dream spiders seriously by talking directly to them and offering Sophia reassurance (both physical and emotional), a concrete strategy for facing the dream creatures and follow-up to reinforce her ability to break the spell of the attacking dream spider.

Children’s Nightmares

Children suffer more frequent nightmares than their parents and, prior to the age of six, nightmares are especially common. As soon as your child can speak, he or she may wake with a one or two word tale of a wolf or ghost. There is even speculation among specialists in child development that the sleep disturbances of infants in the first year of life may be wordless nightmares.

Nightmares diminish as children grow older, master their fears, and gain more control over their world. A long-term study of 252 children showed that five to ten percent of seven- and eight-year-old children had nightmares once a week. By the time children in the study were between eleven and fourteen, disturbing dreams were infrequent, especially for boys.(1)

. Most nightmares are a normal part of coping with changes in our lives. They are not necessarily a sign of pathology and may even be a positive indication that we are actively coping with a new challenge. For children, this could occur in response to such events as entering school, moving to a new neighborhood or living through a divorce or remarriage.

A good working assumption is that many nightmares in children are reactions to upsetting events, situations and relationships. It is important to keep in mind that often a stress such as moving to a new neighborhood will be complicated by a chain reaction of other changes. Nightmares will usually diminish in intensity and frequency as the child and the family recover and cope with stresses such as a death in the family or birth of a new family member.

Eight-year-old Brian and his younger brother Jake were not only moving from the house they had always lived in, they were changing schools and saying goodby to school friends. After the last day at his old school, Brian’s family moved into his friend Colin’s house for the summer while Colin’s family went on vacation. On the first night of sleeping in his friend’s room, Brian had a dreadful nightmare.

In tears, Brian woke and came running into his parents room, lamenting his bad dream. “I can’t stop thinking about the awful smell”. Brian’s mother, Gina, gave him a sympathetic hug and invited him to sit down and tell the whole dream. Sobbing slightly, Brian blurted out what he could remember.

Poison Gas

I see my friends Colin and his brother Ross opening the door and going into a dark room like the room I am staying in. I keep waiting over ½ hour but they don’t come out. Finally, I decide to go in and check on them. I smell gas and think it might be poison gas. Suddenly I see them lying dead on floor.

Seeing Brian’s distress, Gina wanted to reassure him. “If someone is dead in a dream, does it mean they are really gonna die?” ” No, Brian, things that we dream about are important but they don’t usually come true when we are awake. Possibly this dream isn’t about people dying but about missing your friends after we move.” “Yeah but it was so gross seeing them dead and the gas made me feel like I was gonna get poisoned too”. Gina responded “That must have been a horrible sight. I would have been scared too if I had that dream.”

After a moment of pondering, Brian relaxed a bit and said “that room I am staying in does smell kinda stinky.” He had complained before bed that his friend Colin’s collection of old teddy bears smelled bad. Gina agreed and taking the dream at face value, she suggested that they spray some air freshener before he goes back to sleep. As she looked in the cabinets for the freshener, Gina realized that Brian’s dream went beyond a simple reaction to the foul smell of the stuffed animals. She realized that she and her husband had been so busy packing and preparing for the move, they hadn’t had time to really talk with Brian about his sense of loss and his fears of the unknown.

Brian’s morbid nightmare helped his mother understand his emotional needs. As a result of the dream, Gina spent more time talking about the move with Brian and his brother. The family took steps to keep connections with old friends, and visited their new school during the summer to make it more familiar. While in their temporary house, they also moved the smelly bears and deodorized the room.

The poison gas was a response not only to the actual bad smell in the room in which Brian was staying but also symbolized the dangerous sense of insecurity Brian felt, moving from a familiar home and school and friends to an unfamiliar and unpleasant situation. If death or grief is not a current issue in the dreamer’s life, death dreams frequently symbolize loss or painful changes. For Brian, the dark room that swallowed up his friends and killed them expressed his multiple losses as well as fear.

During a period of stress or family crisis, parents should expect more frequent nightmares. Likewise, when a child suddenly has an increase in nightmares, they are letting you know they are feeling overwhelmed and insecure. You don’t have to interpret or explain their nightmares. Your reassurance and empathy plus some hugs are the first step towards helping them restore their emotional balance.

Recurring Nightmares

Anyone who keeps track of their dreams and nightmares will begin to notice recurring symbols and patterns. Studies of people who have kept dream journals for as long as 50 years have shown that certain animals or houses or people who appear in a person’s childhood or teenage dreams will still turn up when their hair is gray.

Your own personal repertoire of nightmare symbols may emerge early in childhood, evolving and transforming throughout your life span. After being stung by a bee when she was three, Annie began to have repetitive dreams of being chased and bitten by bees and other bugs. While her parents initially assumed that the bee sting experience was still bothering her, they began to notice that Annie would get stung in her dreams when other things would upset her; when her Mom went on a business trip, when she temporarily lost her favorite doll, and just after her brother was born. Her bee sting dreams had become symbolic of events that threatened her security.

Through repeating dream patterns, such as Annie’s bee sting dreams, by earlier traumatic events, they are later stimulated by current stressful situations. Repeating dream patterns may also be influenced by disturbing images from television and film (no one wants a Freddie Kreuger dream), family fears, cultural stereotypes, myths, and religious beliefs and stories.

What can we learn from recurrent dreams? They are often a warning of lingering psychological conflicts. For example, children of divorce frequently dream that their parents have reunited; abuse survivors are often victims or perpetrators of violence in their dreams; and adopted children intermittently dream of their birth parents.

Conversely, changes within recurring dreams may signal the onset of resolving a psychological impasse. For example, a survivor of child abuse who was making a therapeutic breakthrough in her emotional recovery dreamed of triumphing over a shadowy, hostile figure that had threatened and chased her in innumerable prior nightmares.


Three stages of resolution can be identified in children’s nightmares.

  • Threat: In the dream, a main character is threatened and unable to mount any defense. For example, he or she may be paralyzed while trying to flee the jaws of a hungry ghost imprisoned by aliens.
  • Struggle: Attempts to confront the nightmare adversary are partially successful in fending off danger. An example would be temporarily escaping a robber with a knife and trying to dial the phone for help.
  • Resolution: The nightmare enemy, opponent, or oppressor is vanquished and the threatening creatures are put in cages, slain, or held at bay with magic wands, or otherwise disarmed.

In some cases, children spontaneously resolve a recurring nightmare as the formerly distressing situations which caused the nightmares get worked out in the child’s real life. Bob had one such persistent childhood nightmare that changed decisively with time. Although his father was not inherently cruel and abusive, his stormy personality often led to outbursts of anger that frightened Bob and his sister.

After his father’s return from military service, Bob began having nightmares about horrific encounters with a ghost-like monster in the basement of his house. These ghost nightmares continued for almost two years from when he was seven until he was nine.

At first the ghost dreams would leave him shaking in abject terror. As time went by he would try to stand up to the ghost but as the following dream indicates, he did not immediately prevail.

Screaming at the Ghost in the Basement

I was down in the basement in bed sleeping and it was the terror of all terrors. I knew the ghost was around the corner to the right between me and these stairways where you could get back up to the house. I knew if I moved or made the slightest sound the ghost would get me. I couldn’t stand the tension so I finally decided I would just yell and let the ghost come out and get me. I sat up in bed and screamed as loud as I could. The ghost came roaring out of its hiding place and jumped all over me and attacked me and I instantly woke up.

Bob woke up feeling simultaneously scared and defiant. Despite the consequences, he was determined to fight back. He later interpreted the threatening ghost as a symbol of his father’s angry outbursts.

When his father had returned from overseas, he had not only interfered with Bob’s special relationship with his mother, but had been punitive with Bob as he tried to reassert his role as “man of the house.” Gradually, as Bob adjusted to his father’s presence, he became less intimidated by his father’s moods and began to identify with the positive characteristics of his father–especially his father’s creativity with tools and building.

Bob’s gradually improving relationship with his father was reflected in a breakthrough dream.

Dad Helps Me Float to Safety

I was at the top of the basement stairs looking down. The stairs disappeared from under me and I was falling and falling into the basement, terrified the ghost would get me when I hit the floor. Just then I saw my dad down there. He turned on this blue light and as soon as he did I floated into the basement and knew that I was safe.

Bob’s father who had been verbally harsh during the months after returning from overseas had begun to soften and allow Bob to work with him in his workshop which, happened to be in the basement. Providing the blue light symbolized how his father had transformed from a competitor for Bob’s mother’s love into a positive paternal role model and protector. That positive change in the father/son relationship allowed Bob to work out his recurrent nightmare.

A crucial factor in understanding repetitive dreams is looking at the degree of resolution or mastery in the dream. As children mature emotionally and intellectually, they gain increasing control over their childhood fears and feel more confident in their ability to solve problems and handle situations independently. This gradually increasing sense of control is reflected not only in their waking achievements but in their dream life.

The Four R’s That Spell Nightmare Relief

There are many potentially beneficial nightmare remedies that parents, family members, and even siblings can use to help a child break the spell of a disturbing nightmare and transform terror into creative breakthroughs. In order to soothe the lingering terror and banish the demons of the night, you must learn the Four R’s that spell nightmare relief for your children. They are REASSURANCE, RESCRIPTING, REHEARSAL AND RESOLUTION.

Reassurance is the first and most important dimension of remedying children’s nightmares. This includes “welcoming the dream” with special emphasis on physical and emotional reassurance, which will calm your child’s anxiety and help them feel safe enough to give details about the nightmare and be open to further exploration.

Everyone has nightmares and no one has to bear the pain without help. Reassurance quells the post-nightmare jitters and allows you and your child an opportunity to discover both the creative possibilities and the source of what sparked the nightmare that may still be disturbing your child.

Rescripting means inviting and guiding your child to imagine changes in the outcome of their dream by reenacting or rewriting the plot. Even with young children, rescripting is most effective when it is a collaborative process of brainstorming together. The most well-known form of rescripting is creating one or more new endings for a dream using art work, fantasy, drama, and writing.

Rescripting(2), is like assertiveness training for the imagination. Ominous dream monsters, demons, and werewolves can be tricked and trapped, tamed and leashed, given time-outs, bossed around, and generally made less intimidating. With parental assistance, the child with nightmares can be taught to revolt and throw off the yoke of dream oppression by using magical means such as fairy dust, a wizard’s wand, Star Trektm “Phasers,” special incantations and spells, or other handy tools of the imagination. Very often developing and rehearsing solutions to dream dilemmas carries over to increased confidence in facing waking conflicts.

One of the most enjoyable aspects of resolving nightmares is helping your child create their own repertoire of “Magical Tools” for dream assertiveness. These tools are limited only by your imagination and can be inspired by your child’s interests, current movies or television shows, your families cultural background, books or projects they are completing for school, and so on. Just as garlic or a crucifix repels a werewolf or a silver bullet kills a vampire, some magical tools can be chosen to disarm a specific character in a recurring nightmare such as a special spray for ghosts or an invisible shield for gunmen. Other tools can be of the all-purpose variety such as the old reliable magic wand, Luke Skywalker’s “force” from Star Wars or even trusty police tools such as hand cuffs or a secure jail cell with the key thrown away!

Zoe, at age six, had occasional, recurrent nightmares of fire ever since she witnessed the Oakland/Berkeley Firestorm(3) when she was two years old. The following dream was one of the worst episodes of this theme.

The Killing Fire

I was at my school and about six people came and set fire to the whole school and it burned all the way to the Golden Gate Bridge and they were going to kill all the kids and they only chose to save my sister.

She woke from the dream in the middle of the night, tearfully pleading for hugs and reassurance. She did not feel comfortable or ready to talk about the nightmare at the time or even in the morning before school. Because of her artistic inclination, she was, however, intrigued with the idea of drawing her fire dream that evening and ended up making a series of sketches with markers.

By talking about the elements of her drawing, the bright colors, the architecture of her school, and placement of the Golden Gate bridge, Zoe was able to begin exploring the dream through the medium of her sketches. This led her to recall some of her earlier fire dreams and to ask a series of questions about the Firestorm–how it had started and where she was during the event. She decided she wanted to actually see the site of the fire which was located quite near some friends of the family. At the time of the visit, many houses had been rebuilt, but she was fascinated by the fact that there were still empty lots and burned out foundations where homes had been destroyed.

Like many children her age and older, Zoe did not want to discuss other fears connected to her recent fire dream except to say that she had the dream after watching a violent movie at a friend’s house. Although she may have had other worries at the time of the nightmare, her desire not to explore further was respected by her parents. However her artistic rendition of the dream, curious questions, and resulting visit to the fire zone resolved her fire nightmares. Subsequent to her creative exploration of this nightmare, she gradually became more forthcoming in reporting upsetting dreams and even offering ideas about what caused them based on the previous day’s events.

Even chronic nightmare sufferers, both adults and children, have found relief from relatively simple treatments and techniques. Vietnam veterans with persistent nightmares have been successfully treated with psychotherapy approaches that focus on resolving both the dreams and the unresolved traumas that caused the dreams to continue.

There are a few areas of caution that should be considered with respect to rescripting. The first is the use of violence in fantasy solutions to bad dreams. Killing the nightmare adversary may not be the optimal solution even in imaginary battles. Ann Sayre Wiseman, author of Nightmare Help warns that suggesting the murder or destruction of a dream foe may subtly encourage violent solutions to life problems and reinforce a tendency that children are already overexposed to through television, movies, news and violence in our society. On the other hand, encouraging creative, nonviolent, assertion in working out dream battles, may lead to improved and more constructive waking problem-solving skills.

The second caution is about the limits of creating new endings for nightmares. There is a misconception that using fantasy and magical tools to create a new dream ending assures that the underlying problem that stimulated the dream has been resolved. This may not be the case. While impressive results have been obtained using rescripting to reduce the frequency and intensity of nightmares, we must remember that nightmares, especially recurring ones, are messages–even warnings–from within that we are overwhelmed by a new situation, crisis, or chronic conflict such as a custody dispute or marital conflict. When there is a persistent problem in a child’s life, we may need to go beyond reassurance and rescripting to discover fundamental solutions to the life problems that set off the dream. This leads us to the two final R’s — rehearsal and resolution.

Rehearsal is practicing solutions to a nightmare’s various threats. Going a step beyond the new endings or magical tools used in rescripting a nightmare, rehearsal involves repeating the dream and its solutions in various forms until a sense of mastery or accomplishment has been achieved. This stage parallels the stage of psychotherapy called “working through,” where for adults, the insights they have gained need to be put to the test–at first in the relationship with their therapist and gradually by practicing new forms of relating with others and experiencing themselves in new ways.

Resolution is the final stage of alleviating the haunting spell of a nightmare. Discovering the source of the nightmare in your child’s life and working towards acknowledging and even correcting the life problem that has caused the nightmares are preliminary steps. Resolution can only come after a child feels secure enough (reassurance) to explore new solutions through art, writing, drama, and discussion (rescripting) and has practiced those solutions (rehearsal) with a parent or adult guide.

If a child continues to be curious about what is emerging from his or her exploration of a dream, they can be encouraged to honor their dream by connecting it to a person, situation, or feeling in their current life. By keeping in mind the major emotional issues affecting your child such, as the birth of a sibling or starting at a new school, parents can be alerted to the probable sources of a nightmare.

Through the process of exploring, brainstorming, and rehearsing metaphoric solutions to their children’s nightmares, parents begin to feel more secure in linking dream symbols to the current events and relationships in their child’s waking world. Nightmares emphasize to parents exactly what is most difficult for their child and open up possibilities for resolving important emotional challenges.

When to Seek Help for Nightmares

Whereas moderate nightmare activity may be a potentially healthy sign that the unconscious mind is actively coping with stress and change, frequent nightmares indicate unresolved conflicts that are overwhelming your child. When children’s nightmares persist, when their content is consistently violent or disturbing, and when the upsetting conflicts in the dreams never seem to change or even achieve partial resolution, it may be time to seek further help from a mental health specialist or pediatrician. Especially if there is no obvious stress in your child’s life, repetitive nightmares could also be caused by a reaction to drugs or a physical condition, so it is advisable to consult a physician to rule out medical causes when nightmares do not appear to have a psychological origin.

Repetitive nightmares are often accompanied by other symptoms especially fears of going to sleep, anxieties or phobias. Increased nightmares can usually be linked to a recognizable stress in the child’s life such as absence or loss of a parent, suffering abuse or violence, marital or custody disputes in the family, social or academic difficulties at school, such as being teased or having an undiagnosed learning or attention problem.

Nightmares are more often like a vaccine than a poison. A vaccination infects us with a minute dose of a disease that mobilizes our antibodies and makes us more resistant to the virulence of smallpox or polio. As distressing as nightmares can be, they offer powerful information about issues that are distressing your child. When children share their nightmares and receive reassurance from their parents, they feel the emotional sting of the dream, but also begin the process of strengthening their psychological defenses and facing their fears with more resilience. Gradually, a parent’s empathic response to their child’s nightmares can break the cycle of bad dreams and transform intensely negative experiences into triumphs of assertiveness and collaborative family problem-solving.

The above excerpt was reprinted with permission from Dreamcatching: Every Parent’s Guide to Exploring and Understanding Children’s Dreams and Nightmares by Alan Siegel and Kelly Bulkeley. Published by Random House’s Three Rivers Press. Copyright c 1998.


1. Ernest Hartmann, 1991.

2. The concept of “rescripting” was adapted from

Gordon Halliday, “Treating Nightmares in Children” in Charles Schaeffer, (editor) Clinical Handbook of Sleep Disorders in Children (New York, Jason Aronson, 1995)

3. Alan Siegel, “The Dreams of Firestorm Survivors”, in Barrett, Deirdre (editor), Trauma and Dreams, (Boston: Harvard University Press, 1996).

Reprinted with permission of the International Association for the Study of Dreams

Copyright ©2003 Association for the Study of Dreams. All Rights Reserved


Read Full Post »

Patricia Garfield

As I prepare for my upcoming trip to Japan, I will post articles here on  nightmares for those of you who have been affected by the recent earthquake and tsunami.  Each of the authors I will feature are active members of the International Association for the Study of Dreams.  In addition to being a founding member of IASD, Patricia is also a dear friend and beloved mentor.  She has a special place in her heart for the dreams of children.  Please visit her website for more information on her work, which is widely available in many languages, including Japanese.   If you have a Japanese spouse, as I do, it can be interesting to read her books in your respective languages and then discuss them afterwards. Dream sharing is a wonderful way to enrich marriage and family life.  I hope you enjoy the article!  Sheila

Guidelines for Coping with Nightmares After Trauma

Patricia Garfield, Ph.D.

Experts say that nightmares are normal after a trauma.

If you are having nightmares after the recent tragedy (or any other trauma), be assured it’s a natural reaction. Whenever people feel threatened and anxious, their minds try to cope with the situation. Having nightmares is actually a good sign that you are struggling to make sense of the horrific situation. It’s the brain’s way of attempting to accept the unacceptable. You might have dream replays of the traumatic event or other nightmares in which you or loved ones are hurt or in danger.

夢でわかる本当のあなた - The Universal Dream Key

You cannot change what has happened, but you can change your dreams about it.

The past is behind you, beyond your ability to change it. However, you can affect the present, which will in turn transform the future. Strange as it may seem, you can influence your dreams by planning your behavior in them and changing how you act during them. You can shift from the role of passive victim to one of active participant. Instead of running or hiding, you can overcome the dream danger. By transforming your dream, you develop more confidence in dealing with waking threats. You can focus your energy more directly on any waking problem you face.

夢学(ユメオロジー)―創造的な夢の見方と活用法 - Creative Dreaming

Start by changing any nightmare in some small way for the better.

Get help in your dream. Help yourself as much as you can. Find shelter. Ask other dream characters for assistance. Plan to help those in trouble in your nightmares. Save those in need. Treat the injured. Look for any positive image in the dream you had, such as trying to call for help. Build on this as a base for improving the dream. Picture the help arriving. As you take action in your nightmares you will be helping yourself to gather your resources for coping in the waking world.

Use your imagination to prepare for better dreams.

In the drowsy period before you fall asleep, picture your usual dream scenario. Now picture it changing for the better. Visualize what you could do to improve the dream. Find the lost dog. Break free from the kidnapper. Make telephone contact with rescuers. Make the dream better.

You have many more options in your dreams than you know.

What you do in your dreams makes a difference, just as it does in waking life. By changing your dream behavior you are improving your life skills.

Each nightmare you can change for the better is a step toward recovery from trauma.

Your dreams are an inner resource that can lead you through difficult times. Use them.

Read Full Post »

After the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, many people in Japan and throughout the world have been experiencing scary dreams.  This is a very good article on working with nightmares by my friend Alan Siegel.

For more excellent articles, please click here to visit Alan’s website.


Alan Siegel, Ph.D.

Copyrighted Excerpt from Dream Wisdom: Uncovering Life’s Answers in your Dreams
by Alan Siegel, Ph.D. (Berkeley: Celestial Arts, 2003)

During a crisis or after a traumatic event, it is important to know nightmares are more common and upsetting. We experience each nightmare as a traumatic event and for those who have experienced violence, a natural disaster, accident or other trauma, posttraumatic nightmares rub salt on our emotional wounds. Keep in mind that moderately upsetting nightmares may actually be a positive sign of normal coping but very graphic nightmares that are repetitive and unchanging may signal an emotional impasse.

Nightmare remedies are self-help techniques that can help adults and children break the spell of their bad dreams and use them for personal growth and creative inspiration. A simple method for transforming nightmares is to use the 4 R’s of nightmare relief. Reassurance, Rescripting, Rehearsal, and Resolution.

Reassurance is the first and most important step. This breaks the spell of the nightmare by giving emotional reassurance and for family members or children, physical comforting may help as well. Once you feel reassured and the nightmare’s reign of terror has been overthrown, you can relax, become curious about the nightmares meaning and message and begin to approach the dream in a more playful manner.

Knowing that occasional nightmares are normal and their frequency and intensity may increase during crises may also be reassuring. A key factor, especially for children, is not to dismiss or ignore the nightmare with a message that “it’s just a dream” or you should just ignore it. Nightmares, especially during a life crisis are very hard to ignore. Reassurance paves the way for Rescripting the dream. Rescripting uses discussion, fantasy, writing, art, or drama to re-experience and revise different parts of the dream narrative with the goal of opening up new endings and directions. You can use techniques from the Experiential Dream Menu in Chapter 11 of Dream Wisdom, to transform and tame the most threatening interactions and moments in the nightmare. This can be as simple as experimenting with rewriting one or more new endings for the dream or may involve more elaborate free associations to link the conflicts in the nightmare to unresolved life issues.

The third R needed to implement a nightmare remedy is Rehearsal. This involves multiple forays and trials of rewriting and re-enacting the dream. If you are having nightmares about an auto accident or serious physical injury, imagining one new ending may only be the beginning. Depending on your creative inclinations, you may need to write out one or more new endings, sketch or paint the threatening elements in the dream or role play with a friend or with a psychotherapist or dream group. Creating new endings does not have to involve killing your dream adversary. The terrorist or robber or wild animal can be frozen or shackled. Walls, cages, force fields, or even magic wands can be made available as you rehearse dream solutions. Adults may need to loosen up their imagination but children take to this easily especially with adult guidance. And for children, non-violent strategies for subduing dream villains can model creative problem-solving strategies that do not necessarily emphasize violence.

Rehearsal is somewhat parallel to the phase of psychotherapy, called “working-through” which involves taking breakthrough insights and testing them out in a variety of ways with people and situations. When nightmares are extremely painful or repetitive or related to a profound trauma, rescripting and rehearsing dream solutions may need to be repeated before the nightmares subside. It is important to keep in mind that conjuring up one new fantasy ending for a dream is not going to solve a deep problem that may be causing the nightmares. However, even if dream rehearsals must be repeated for people who are suffering more severe trauma, even initial efforts at rescripting may in some cases, dramatically reduce the incidence of posttraumatic nightmares.

The final Nightmare Remedy “R” is Resolution. Discussion and various trials of rescripting and rehearsing solutions usually trigger insights about what life issues are causing the nightmares. At this point, the dreamer on her own or with the help of a friend or psychotherapist is ready to resolve the nightmare. Resolution occurs when the dreamer brainstorms and identifies behaviors they can further examine or try to change. Examples of resolution would be Lisa’s work-related nightmares series in Chapter 6, of Dream Wisdom, which included the dream, ‘Too Many Chefs Spoil the Stew”. After rescripting the dream, she realized, she had denied her assertive side and was being taken advantage of by the employees in her restaurant. After rehearsing various dream assertiveness strategies for rescripting the attacks of her wayward employees, she made a series of changes that led to exerting more clear authority at work and being more aware of her tendency to deny her assertive side.

We do not have to suffer nightmares in silence. Using the menu of techniques in this section and chapter 11 of Dream Wisdom, you can detoxify your nightmares, and use them as a source of insight and personal growth. In more acute situations, resolving nightmares can create breakthrough in dealing with the aftermath of a traumatic situation.


Whereas moderate nightmare activity may be a potentially healthy sign that the unconscious mind is actively coping with stress and change, frequent nightmares indicate unresolved conflicts that are overwhelming your child. When children’s nightmares persist, when their content is consistently violent or disturbing, and when the upsetting conflicts in the dreams never seem to change or even achieve partial resolution, it may be time to seek further help from a mental health specialist or pediatrician. Especially if there is no obvious stress in your child’s life, repetitive nightmares could also be caused by a reaction to drugs or a physical condition, so it is advisable to consult a physician to rule out medical causes when nightmares do not appear to have a psychological origin.

A further issue to consider is whether your child may be suffering from a sleep disorder. Many parents may confuse sleep disorders like sleepwalking and talking with nightmares which are more psychological in origin. Sleep disorders may or may not be accompanied by nightmares and are generally organic in origin. They are surprisingly common affecting over 15% of the United States population with 95% of all cases going undiagnosed. The International Classification of Sleep Disorders published in 199010, lists 84 conditions that interfere with sleep including Primary Snoring, Jet Lag, Restless Leg Syndrome, Narcolepsy and Sleep Apnea. Many sleep disorders such as Jet Lag will go away on their own. Others such as various forms of insomnia may reduce children’s ability to learn, lower their resistance to disease, and increase accident-proneness. Some sleep disorders may even be life-threatening such as sleep apnea. If you suspect that your child is having a sleep disorder11, speak to your pediatrician to determine if he or she needs to consult a board certified sleep specialist or to be evaluated in a sleep center12 13.

The current diagnostic manual of the American Psychiatric Association (DSM-IV) includes Nightmare Disorder as an officially recognized affliction of both children and adults. Those who suffer from this disorder have “extremely frightening dreams, usually involving threats to survival, security, or self-esteem” that “generally occur during the second half of the sleep period,” and may cause “significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.”

Repetitive nightmares are often accompanied by other symptoms especially fears of going to sleep, anxieties or phobias. Increased nightmares can usually be linked to a recognizable stress in the child’s life such as absence or loss of a parent, suffering abuse or violence, marital or custody disputes in the family, social or academic difficulties at school, such as being teased or having an undiagnosed learning or attention problem.

Nightmares are more often like a vaccine than a poison. A vaccination infects us with a minute dose of a disease that mobilizes our antibodies and makes us more resistant to the virulence of smallpox or polio. As distressing as nightmares can be, they offer powerful information about issues that are distressing your child. When children share their nightmares and receive reassurance from their parents, they feel the emotional sting of the dream, but also begin the process of strengthening their psychological defenses and facing their fears with more resilience.

Gradually, a parent’s empathic response to their child’s nightmares can break the cycle of bad dreams and transform intensely negative experiences into triumphs of assertiveness and collaborative family problem-solving.

10.Diagnostic Classification Steering Committee, International Classification of Sleep Disorders: Diagnostic and Coding Manual (Rochester, MN: American Sleep Disorders Association, 1990).
11. Richard Ferber, Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems (New York: Simon and Shuster , 1985).
12. Christian Guilleminault, Sleep and its Disorders in Children (New York: Raven, 1987).
13. Charles Schaeffer, (editor), Clinical Handbook of Sleep Disorders in Children (New York: Jason Aronson, 1995).

Read Full Post »

Thanks to the movie Inception, Dreaming is big news these days. Here are just a few of the latest articles and news clips.  Many feature IASD members.

Can Dreams Be Manipulated? NBC News Video

July 24: The hit summer movie “Inception” is renewing interest in dreaming – the short movies that play in our head while we sleep. But can dreams be manipulated, as the flick suggests? They can indeed, says Deirdre Barrett, a psychologist who both researches and writes about the subject.

“CNN’s American Morning talks with Deirdre Barrett, a psychologist about the science of sleep and whether “Inception” is realistic.”
“With training and awareness, sleepers can turn nightmares into happy endings or learn to mentally try out fantasies that occur in dreams, like flying.”  Wonderful article on dreams–using Inception vaguely as the starting point. It has Jayne G, Deirdre Barrett, Stickgold, Cartwright, and LaBerge quoted.
Features IASD Members William Domhoff and Gayne Gackenback
San Francisco Examiner Article by IASD Member Linda Mastrangelo
Article by IASD Member Ryan Hurd


Dream Art by Brenda Ferrimani

“If you are interested in Lucid Dreaming experts recommend keeping a dream journal as the first step. It’s important to vivid dreaming and recall to have the intention of catching a dream every night. When the psyche realizes that someone’s paying attention to this “dream stuff” she sends more and more!”


Inception Stars Talk Sequel and What That Ending Means

On the red carpet of the film’s L.A. premiere, MTV News caught up with the stars of Christopher Nolan’s latest mindbender to see if they thought the film could support a sequel and to quiz them on their interpretations of the final scene, with one actor offering a very tantalizing clue.


An Active Dreamer’s Review of Inception

Article by IASD Member Robert Moss, another take on the movie.


Inception’s Dileep Rao Answers All Your Questions About Inception

New York Magazine, Vulture

Vulture had the pleasure of speaking with Dileep Rao, who plays Yusuf the chemist in the film (he was also in Avatar, which makes him, in terms of box-office bankability, the Indian Will Smith). Rao helpfully revealed everything he knows — and thinkshe knows — about Inception’s mechanics.


How Inceptions Astonishing Visuals Came to Life

Wired Magazine Article

“Paul Franklin specializes in turning the imaginary into reality. As the visual effects supervisor for Batman Begins, The Dark Knight and now Inception, Franklin is well-versed in helping directors like Christopher Nolan populate their cinematic worlds with larger-than-life computer-generated images.

However, in spite of Inception’s lush, physics-bending effects, Franklin’s work on Nolan’s cerebral sci-fi film was surprisingly measured.”


Read Full Post »

The Stuff Dreams are Made Of

If you have been following the buzz from the new Leonardo DiCaprio film Inception, you know that we might be up for a rollicking good time at the PsiberDreaming Conference this year!  The International Association for the Study of Dreams is even exploring the possibility of having some of those involved in the making of the film present a discussion at PsiberDreaming 2010 when the conference goes online between Sunday, September 26 and Sunday, October10.

Registration is now open for PsiberDreaming 2010.  Click here for more information. This is a very affordable, fun online conference.  I hope to see many of you there.  There is also a call for dream art for the online conference.

And there is a Proposal for Submissions deadline coming up on August 1, 2010.  Although several people have already made conference proposals, Jean Campbell has let me know that there is room for a few more.  Due to the fact that there are only 24 openings for presentations in the schedule, IASD is focusing on presenting as much new material as possible.

This year’s theme is a Shakespeare quote: “We are such stuff as dreams are made on.” If you would like to help out as a conference volunteer, particularly if you have editing or technical skills, please contact Jean Campbell at jccampb@aol.com to let her know as soon as possible. I’m looking forward to seeing you in PsiberDream Time!

Read Full Post »

Lucid Dreaming Tips – How to do Reality Checks

As a result of the movie Inception, there has been a surge of interest in lucid dreaming.  The following video has some nice tips for becoming lucid in dreams by learning to distinguish between waking and dreaming reality.

More information on Lucid Dreaming

Robert Waggoner’s website and book Lucid Dreaming – Gateway to the Inner Self. Robert is a past president of the International Association for the Study of Dreams.

Robert Waggoner’s blog

More links from Ryan Hurd’s Dream Studies

The Lucid Dream Exchange

When the LDE began almost a decade ago, it was mostly a place for lucid dreamers to share their experiences to learn from and inspire each other. Now it also has monthly interviews with lucid dream experts, as well as dozens of excellent articles for beginners, pros, and those seeking new perspectives.

World of Lucid Dreaming
This is a comprehensive website on lucid dreaming with good content and a focus on technologies that can help with learning how to lucid dream.  Also some unique info on how binaural beats can induce lucidity.

A lucid dreaming database with scholarly articles, educational outreach and a unique documentary on lucid dreams.

Stephen LaBerge
LaBerge is the American psychophysiologist from Stanford who scientifically validated lucid dreaming in the lab. His site can be difficult to navigate, but it’s worth it.  His specialty is lucid dreaming induction techniques, and his message for the masses is that lucid dreaming is a learnable skill.

Beverely D’Urso
Beverely D’Urso has been writing thoughtful articles about lucid dreaming and what she calls “lucid living” for many years. She also was one of Stephen LaBerge’s first “star dreamers” in the sleep lab.

Scott Sparrow
Psychologist Scott Sparrow wrote the first lucid dreaming book published in the US in the 1970s. His website contains the full text of this book: Lucid Dreaming: Dawning of the Clear Light as well as several presentations that detail his unique perspective on lucid dreaming.

Robert Waggoner
Waggoner is the president of the International Association of the Study of Dreams and also an expert lucid dreamer. This website also has a great Q & A style blog.

Lucidity Letter
This is lucid dream researcher Jayne Gackenbach’s site. She has scrupulously archived all the articles from the now defunct academic journal Lucidity Letter. The LL is a treasure of scientific and psychological research into lucid dreaming from 1981-1991. Many of these articles are now classics in the field.

George Gillespie
George Gillespie is one of the core lucid dream researchers from the 1980s who did some ground-breaking work with his own dreams. While Gillespie does not maintain a website, some of his most influential articles can be found here.

Lucid Dream Forums

One of the best ways to learn more about lucid dreaming is by discussing it with others. Different forums attract different audiences, but each are moderated by folks who are enthusiastic to share their techniques, experiences, and advice.

Mortal Mist
The dedicated moderators to this forum say that Mortal Mist “may not be the biggest lucid dreaming forum out there, but we strive to be the best.”  I have found that this forum has a more mature perspective on lucid dreaming than some of the bigger forums, and attracts dreamseekers with a flexible and open viewpoint.  Their dream journal system is unique: choose your privacy level, and tag and search for dreams like you own.

Lucid Dreaming 4 All
This is the oldest forum on the web – almost seven years of discussion, tips, advice, and outlandish stories have been archived by the site’s faithful moderator Pasquale.

A forum based in the Netherlands with a strong international community of dreamers.  Tim Post and his merry crew also are experts in using technology-assists for lucid dreaming induction. The site also offers articles, videos, and lucid dreaming workshops.

DreamViews is a very active forum with an impressive list of topics on lucid dreaming, including how to use technological aids as well as many mnenomic techniques to increase lucidity levels.

Lucid Dreaming Forum
This forum is attracting a lot of attention, and already boasts over a thousand registered members.  A good site for beginners to test the waters.

Read Full Post »

Dreams are big news these days. There’s an article on dreaming in the New York Times comparing the spread of dream groups over the past five years to book clubs. The author points out that the leadership for such groups ranges from skilled professionals to self-proclaimed experts.  If you are thinking of leading a dream group or joining one, the International Association for the Study of Dreams is an excellent resource for developing your skills.  As dream groups become more popular, it is more important than ever for dreamworkers and dreamers to familiarize themselves with the ethics of working with dreams.


We, the Board of The International Association for the Study of Dreams (IASD), therefore adopt and recommend the following fundamental principles and elements as necessary for any adequate training program for professional work with dreams.

We define dreamwork in the following way: any effort to discover, speculate about, and explore levels of meaning and significance beyond the surface of literal appearance of any dream experience recalled from sleep. This would include anyone serving in the role of psychotherapist, counselor, educator, or group facilitator in the interpretation or exploration of dreams for the purposes of providing psychotherapy, personal growth, or spiritual guidance for others.  The ETHICAL CRITERIA FOR DREAMWORK TRAINING published herein are suggested basic criteria for those engaged in, or aspiring to undergo approved training in, working with dreams, and IASD assumes no responsibility in connection therewith.

These criteria are designed to apply to practitioners whose practice is exclusively or mainly focused on work with dreams. To the extent that other practitioners include work with dreams as part of their practice, these guidelines should also apply to them.

Formal human service work utilizing dreamwork, as defined above, should conform to all existing regional and national laws regulating the practice of health, mental health, pastoral counseling or spiritual direction. The publication of these criteria is not to be considered as an endorsement by IASD of a particular training paradigm, nor are they to be considered as qualifications or grounds for certification for serving the role of psychotherapist, counselor, educator, or group facilitator in interpretation of dreams for the purposes of providing psychotherapy, growth, or spiritual guidance for others.

(1) Any program training people to work with dreams should have a clearly stated ethical component. We recommend the Statement of Ethics for Dreamwork” adopted by the IASD as a foundation for ethical components of dreamwork training.

(2) In accordance with this basic Statement of Ethics, any program training people to work with dreams should emphasize that all dreams may have multiple meanings and layers of significance. Programs which offer to train people to work professionally with dreams (i.e., responsibly, for pay) are free to emphasize one particular technique or theory over others, but in order to achieve minimum standards for adequate professional training, these programs must expose their students and trainees to a representative variety of different techniques and theoretical models that include an overview of current approaches in the field, and a historical and cross-cultural perspective of human studies and therapeutic approaches to dreams.

(3) Any program training people to work with dreams should include a significant component of an adequately supervised practicum, face-to-face work with dreams, both one-to-one with individuals, and facilitating group experiences. As electronic media become more and more a feature of our lives, IASD wishes to encourage dreamwork training programs to extend this supervised practicum component to include telephonic, computer-linked, and other “media” as well, always making sure that these training experiences are carefully supervised by thoroughly skilled practitioners.

(4) At the outset, any program training people to work with dreams should have clearly stated written goals, as well as clearly stated written policies regarding the evaluation of student/trainee progress and performance. Professional training programs should provide written evaluations of students’ and trainees’ progress and performance in a timely fashion.  Evaluations of student/trainee work and progress should be applied equally to all students regardless of background. Written descriptions of educational goals and requirements, ethics, and evaluations policies should be made available to students prior to registration for the training program.

(5) Any program training people to work with dreams should focus serious attention on the universal propensity of people to naively attribute their own less-than-conscious values, feelings, ideas, and judgments to others.  Sometimes called “projection”, or “transference” and “counter-transference”, this universal tendency must be addressed directly and made more conscious in the process of professional work with dreams.

(6) Any program training people to work with dreams should require its students to have done substantial work on their own dreams with qualified practitioners, and to commit themselves to ongoing personal dreamwork with qualified practitioners and supervisors.

(7) A program should assure that the practitioner has at least some basic knowledge of related fields, such as group dynamics, psychology, psychiatry, medicine. These additional areas of knowledge should be detailed enough to ensure as far as possible that no harm is done to the dreamer or group member through errors of omission or commission by the practitioner. In addition, any program training people to work with dreams should require its students or established practitioners to be alert to signs of and to obtain assistance for their personal problems at an early stage, in order to prevent significantly impaired performance. When students or established practitioners become aware of personal problems that may interfere with their performing work-related duties adequately, they should take appropriate measures, such as obtaining professional consultation or assistance, and determine whether they should limit, suspend, or terminate their work-related duties.

(8) When dreamwork is done to help persons with any psychological problems, the practitioner should have an appropriate professional degree and license in addition to the dreamwork training.

(9) Any program training people to work with dreams should offer and require a minimum familiarity with the history of dreamwork, not just as a preoccupation of Western culture, but as a world-wide phenomenon. Once again, professional dreamwork training and education programs are free to emphasize one element of this diverse history over others, (e.g., the Western medical/psychiatric tradition of dream exploration), but they must also present the student/trainee with a sufficiently diverse historical overview that includes exposure to at least some of the aboriginal and non-European traditions that view dreaming as means of communion with realms of spirit. It is recognized that the meaning and use of dreams may differ across and within cultures. When there are ethnic and/or cultural differences between the dreamer and the counselor, psychotherapist, dreamwork teacher, or spiritual guide these should be attended to and respected. Discussion of, sensitivity to, and respect for cultural differences both within and among cultures should not only be observed but considered an opportunity for greater communication and understanding.

(10) Although dreamwork training for specialists (such as medical practitioners, therapists, social workers, etc.) will require further training beyond these basic areas, even specialized education and training in working with dreams should conform to the fundamental principles outlined here. Those who are licensed or regulated by regional or national requirements must follow those requirements for training and practice in specialty areas in addition to the guidelines described herein.

(11) Those trained in dreamwork must demonstrate continued formal and informal study in their areas of expertise to refresh old skills and keep abreast with important developments in the field. It is recommended that a minimum of 15 hours per year be devoted to enhancing or reviewing areas of skills. Formal course work at accredited institutions, workshops with highly qualified practitioners, or continuing education offered by the Association for the Study of Dreams are ways to meet this requirement.

(12) Professional practitioners of any skill have an ethical obligation to pass on to succeeding generations the substance of their specialized knowledge in a coherent and accessible fashion. This is as true for those who work with dreams as it is for many other professional group.

(Adopted by the 2001 IASD Board of Directors)

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »