The Stigma Surrounding Lucid Dream Therapy In PTSD
In our society, dreams are often thought of as “meaningless biology” (LaBerge 1). The stigma that has accompanied dreams into our century can be thought of as quite unfortunate. This stigma accompanies all types of dreams, including lucid dreams, the conscious awareness in a dream. In the small body of research that indicates the possible therapeutic uses of lucid dreaming, one can see how hard it would be for society to accept this kind of therapy if viewing the key element, dreaming, as “meaningless biology” (LaBerge 1). Society needs to change the attitudes around dreaming due to the possible benefits that dream therapy could have on problems such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
The benefits that lucid dream therapy could have for these treatments show why society needs to embrace all types of dreaming as important and useful human resources.
As defined by Stephen LaBerge, “Lucidity, allowing as it does flexibility and creative response, presents a means of resolving dream conflicts and hence fosters a return to effective self-regulation. This is the basis of approach to healing through lucid dreaming: to facilitate the person’s self-healing mechanisms by means of intentional imagery on the mental level” (Healing through Lucid Dreaming 1). Those who have had a lucid dream but are unfamiliar with the terminology could easily recognize their dream as “lucid”. Almost all dream researchers agree to these two basic principles of lucid dreams and lucid dreamers: a) that lucid dreamers will frequently awaken from REM sleep once dream consciousness is achieved and b) that lucidity will be easiest to induce at times in the night when the body is likely to be changing from REM to waking. This makes lucid dreaming sound quite disruptive to sleep.
It is perhaps a relief that lucid dreaming is normally rare unless one has trained him/herself for lucidity.
Proposing that lucid dreaming has a connection to the treatment of PTSD, an outline is needed. Appendix A and B outline various aspects of PTSD. The first is taken from Warning Signs of Trauma Related Stress (taken from Tanenbaum, DeWolfe and Albano) and the other from DSM-III-R (PTSD 1). There is mention of nightmares being a symptom of PTSD. This obviously means that dreams of the trauma and that these dreams are of a disturbing nature.
LaBerge defines nightmare as ”…the result of unhealthy reactions” (Healing Through Lucid Dreaming 1).
Even though disturbing dreams are said to be a symptom of PTSD, the treatment is non-dream oriented. This is logical because physical problems can be treated in non-physical ways and vice-versa. What is illogical is that dream oriented treatment is not considered. This could be simply an oversight, but could also be an indicator of the aforementioned stigma surrounding dreams. Dream therapy is not a new phenomenon, but it seems unfortunate that it is popular only within select circles or therapists.
Lucid dreams could be an important tool for the recovery of PTSD victims and it is unfortunate that this stigma could be the preventing factor surrounding this type of therapy.
In an article by George Howe Colt, he discusses the advantages of lucid dreams:
Instead of being eaten by a dream monster, lucid dreamers may be able to eat the monster themselves. Instead of showing up for an important exam dressed only in his underwear, a lucid dreamer can race home and put on clothes or, knowing it’s only a dream, throw caution to the winds and find out what happens when he walks into an exam undressed. “The value of lucid dreams is you can have any imaginable experience without consequences,” says LaBerge, himself a lucid dreamer (Life Special/Cover 5).
The first of these advantages, the “dream monster,” involves being less afraid of the threatening situation (Colt 5). If a person suffering from PTSD has a distressing dream about their trauma, it could be very beneficial to re-experience the trauma while having more control and less fear.
This gives the opportunity for exploration of other possible outcomes (as seen in attending the exam to view the reactions while only half dressed) or the exploration of feelings in general. A person in therapy of PTSD could be instructed in their therapy session .