A new study has found that dream-based therapy in which patients learn to become conscious in their dreams in order to address traumatic events from the past can help long-term sufferers of post-traumatic stress disorder.
In the pilot study of 49 people with chronic PTSD, all were given a week-long lucid dreaming workshop and 85 per cent showed a significant enough decrease in symptoms that they were no longer classified as having it.
Participants varied in their reported trauma from childhood sexual abuse to military duty and vehicle crashes. There was also a significant decrease in negative emotions, nightmare frequency and distress.
“A lucid dream in simple terms is one that continues after having the “aha, this isn’t real life, it’s a dream” realisation – which many may recognise.
In 2016, a meta-study found 55 per cent of participants claimed to have experienced lucid dreams at least once in their lifetime.
Using these dreams for therapy, which was facilitated for the study by Charlie Morley, a lucid-dreaming teacher, requires taking a guided and personalised “dream plan” into sleep with the intention of “healing” trauma.
The lead scientist on the study, Dr Garret Yount from the Institute of Noetic Sciences in San Francisco, called the results “truly remarkable and highly significant”.
Morley said that in 15 years of working with military veterans and people with PTSD he had “never seen such outstanding results”.
The theory is that after trauma the brain can become stuck in a “loop” which can often reveal itself in chronic nightmares for those with PTSD. By taking an active role in their dreams – and nightmares – through lucid dreaming, the patient can “heal” the brain from trauma in a safe, unconscious state.
The method is not unlike existing cognitive behavioural therapy for PTSD – which has lower success rates.
Matt Humphreys, 33, discovered Morley’s teaching on lucid dreaming through YouTube after finding no success with medication or existing therapies for curing his depression.
“I started having lucid dreams pretty quickly, but I was just messing about in them, flying around exploring”, he says.
Then he set out to trace the origins of a depression that had “immobilised” him for 15 years.
He dreamed about his grandmother, who had died with Alzheimer’s when he was 10. It became clear in the dream, he says, that guilt he felt for not being around more when she died was at the root of his depression. Years on, he considers himself depression free.
A randomised controlled trial of 100 people by the research team behind the pilot study was completed in April this year.
1 in 10 people in the UK are expected to experience PTSD at some point in their lives.
It’s estimated there will be as many as 230,000 new PTSD referrals between 2020/21 and 2022/23 in England.
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