From trauma to healing through lucid dreaming

© Clare R Johnson, PhD

The use of lucid dreaming in psychological healing is established: there have been many different trials and experiments on resolving nightmares and the integration of lucid dreaming into PTSD therapies.

But how do we go about overcoming traumas through lucid dreaming?

It’s useful to understand the effects a repressed trauma can have on someone’s life. It can emerge in the strangest ways at unexpected moments in life.

A hypnotherapy example

One woman suddenly developed a crippling fear of flying, along with panic attacks accompanied by stomach cramps. She had no idea why this was suddenly happening. It was only when she went to a hypnotherapist (Deirdre Barrett, author of The Pregnant Man) and uncovered her childhood memories that she realised this flying phobia was linked to the death of her sister one night in the bedroom they shared. The child had died after experiencing stomach cramps similar to the ones the woman was now experiencing. In this particular case, the simple fact of reliving the memories and connecting them to her fear of flying resulted in the woman’s phobia vanishing, and she was able to fly in a plane soon afterwards.

Resolving trauma can take time, but the first important step is often recognition.

A lucid dream example

A British woman told me about the terrible dreams she had as a child linked to past trauma. She would see her sister tied down on a conveyer belt in the sitting room, moving towards an evil man who stood waiting to hurt her. The dreamer stood rooted to the spot, utterly powerless to help her sister.

After reliving this awful nightmare many times, the dreamer realised that she could change things in the dream. The next time the nightmare happened, she knew that she was dreaming and that she could act to change things. Instead of standing helplessly, she made a knife materialise in her hand. With it she attacked the evil man, stabbing him.

She woke up and the traumatic nightmare never returned.

This lucid dream shows the way that post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which often involves recurrent nightmares in which the trauma is repeated or represented in some way, can be helped by dream lucidity and active engagement with the dream.

It also shows that dream violence can be very useful in situations such as this one, where the dreamer needed to take the fundamental step of moving from a standpoint of powerlessness to one of power. She took control of the negative dream figure and this sent out a message to her unconscious mind: I am no longer a victim. I am strong. I can fight to change things.

Waking dreamwork techniques can help resolve trauma. When we have a dream which shakes us up or leaves us feeling disturbed, but we don’t really know what it’s about, waking dreamwork can be very helpful. There are many different types of dreamwork, from Gestalt therapy to dream art therapy.

writingAs part of my PhD into lucid dreaming and creativity, I developed a dreamwork technique called Lucid Writing, which involves re-entering the dream in a relaxed state and allowing the imagery to develop and transform, then writing without stopping or judging the content, and just seeing what emerges.

When Lucid Writing is guided by a knowledgeable dreamworker, it can be useful for raising past traumas to consciousness, resolving traumatic nightmares, and changing deep-set behavioural patterns. It is not wise to tackle deeply disturbing nightmares alone if you are not used to doing dreamwork, so please do contact a registered psychotherapist, hypnotherapist or an established dreamworker to help you.

 A Lucid Writing example

A woman attending one of my weekend creativity and dreamwork courses decided to work on a recent bad dream about flying through an electrical storm in a tiny plane, alone at the controls, knowing in terror that she was going to crash and die.

I guided her and the other participants into a light trance and invited them to re-enter their chosen dream. Then, still focusing on their inner imagery and the emotions surrounding the dream, they wrote without stopping for five minutes.

The woman was in tears as she shared her Lucid Writing with us. The dream had changed spontaneously as she relived it so that now another plane in the sky had guided her to safety. As they approached the landing place, the storm had subsided and the sun had come out.

As we talked about this, the woman revealed that she had finally understood something about herself: she was deeply unhappy with her life and was being bullied by her boss. Her relationships were falling apart. She now realised that this was because she had unconsciously taken on a victim mentality and refused to accept any help. Now she felt that help was on hand and that she was able to reach out for it. She felt that this simple realisation would transform her life.

planeTrauma has many ways of surfacing, but when we look to our unconscious, we will usually find the answer to what is happening and why. In a larger sense, we know far more than we think. When we establish a close relationship with our nightly dreams, we can find ways of bringing waking lucidity into those dreams, through lucid dreaming or waking dreamwork such as Lucid Writing.

When we do this, we are in a position to work towards the healing of trauma and nightmares, and can begin to transform our lives.

If you have ever resolved a trauma through lucid dreaming and would like to share your experience, please send your dream to the Amazing Lucid Dreams book project.