How EMDR Can Help You Put Trauma-Related Nightmares to Bed

Trauma occurs when a terrible experience or series of experiences cannot be fully processed. Those with such unresolved trauma often end up struggling with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). A common symptom of PTSD involves reliving the experience. In waking life, these might occur as flashbacks or intrusive thoughts. While sleeping, PTSD can cause disturbing nightmares.

Everyone has nightmares from time to time. Trauma-related nightmares are far more frequent and far more distressing. These recurring dreams have been linked with an increase in suicidal thoughts. As a result, many trauma survivors have turned to Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) as a path toward healing.

What is EMDR?

EMDR is a unique form of psychotherapy. Its track record with trauma is stellar. Generally speaking, EMDR focus on these three pillars:

  • Past events are the cause of the problem. Thus, the approach is to create new, positive links to your past.
  • Your current symptoms are directly targeted with the aim of desensitizing them.
  • New perceptions for the future are cultivated and integrated into the client’s worldview.

To achieve the third pillar, an EMDR therapist has you intensely focus on the traumatic memory (or nightmare, in this case). As you do this, the therapist performs specific hand and finger movements in front of your field of vision. Research has found that this provokes your eyes into a state like Rapid Eye Movement (REM). In this state, painful memories can be transformed into positive replacements.

The EMDR Nightmare Protocol

EMDR is designed to help individuals process and integrate distressing memories. A person might be having nightmares because of an unresolved traumatic event. EMDR can help the individual confront and reprocess this memory, which can lead to less nightmares. During your sessions, you will have the opportunity to focus on a specific dream. The goal, of course, would be to desensitize this intrusive memory and replace it with a new dream of your own making. This process can be enhanced via the EMDR Nightmare Protocol.

The client first attains a calm state via relaxation techniques of their choosing. From there, a specific recurring nightmare is chosen. The client writes out the nightmare as if it were a short story or script. Included in this description are sensory factors, e.g.

  • How does the nightmare make you feel?
  • What are you thinking during the nightmare?
  • Do you make any assumptions about yourself in the nightmare?

Here comes the active part. You, as the client, will be asked to imagine a different outcome for this particular nightmare. All options are on the table. Remember, this is a dream. Therefore, dream logic applies. The only requirement is that you insert the shift into the nightmare at a point before anything traumatic happens. Once you have the revised version in your head, rewrite the nightmare down to the tiniest detail — but with the positive changes replacing the traumatic moments.

During the day, replay this edited “nightmare” in your head. Rehearse having this dream instead of the trauma-related nightmare that’s been haunting you. As it gets closer to bedtime, deeply visualize the dream while engaging in relaxation techniques. Continue this protocol until the nightmare is replaced by the dream of your choice.

Learning More About EMDR

EMDR can sound awfully abstract when described in writing. Here are some pragmatic notes:

  • EMDR takes place over eight phases
  • It usually lasts from six to 20 sessions
  • The outcomes for PTSD-related treatment are top-notch

If you or someone you know is struggling with PTSD — and specifically nightmares — let’s talk about it. We invite you to reach out to set up a free and confidential consultation. We will answer your questions about EMDR and help get you started on a path to recovery.

Trauma Therapy in the Denver Area

Trauma therapy can be an effective way for individuals to process and cope with the effects of trauma. If you or someone you know has experienced a traumatic event, consider seeking the support of a qualified trauma therapist who can help guide you on your healing journey.  To get started, you can email us, use the contact page, or call 720-551-4553 for a free, 15-minute phone consultation.  You can also read more about EMDR on our Trauma Therapy services on our Trauma Web Page.

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