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Dream Therapy: Case Study #2
#1
Dream Therapy Case #2
October 6, 2015
 

Nancy (actual name changed for identity purposes) is a middle aged female who is experiencing nightmares and night terrors regularly (just about every night). She complains of having the same recurring nightmare since December 2014, but the dream has been getting longer, more detailed, and more vibrant since then.
 
Nancy has a very unfortunate history of abuse and trauma and has witnessed atrocious acts of violence. Most notably, she witnessed someone being disciplined for stealing $5. The obscene punishment for him was that his hand was chopped off. She also witnessed her boyfriend being shredded to a pulp by about 15 gang members armed with machetes and knives. It is no wonder why Nancy was having nightmares, although she did spend 12 years in psychotherapy and psychiatric help about a decade ago (which alleviated much of her earlier night terrors).
 
The client asked for acute help for this recurrent night terror.
 
 
The Dream (“Terror at the Boarding House”)
 
In the dream, Nancy is about 10 years younger and is in a 3-story house in a southern Louisiana neighborhood. She transitions from the basement to the 3-story instantaneously and hears troubling sounds from the next bedroom. She suspects that it is the killer again (note: before this, she has never seen who the killer is during her dreams, but he always kills the women in the house….by the way, only older women live in this house).
 
Nancy walks to the next room and sees 4 babies lying down on the ground. They are all male babies, and one of them has had his fingers severed off. There is no blood but the fingers are still lying on the ground next to the baby’s hand.
 
Nancy hears more noises and assumes that the killer is still at work. She hurries downstairs to catch him. All she finds is a trail of dead women. She hears a noise outside. She runs outside to try and find the killer. She hears the sound of someone sliding down the gutter pipes. She turns around and sees him (for the first time, by the way….in all the earlier dreams, she never saw the killer). The killer immediately runs in the shadows.
 
She sees his long mullet hair and big muscular arms, EXCEPT that one arm is cut off just above the wrist. He was carrying a machete and ran into the 3rd house down the street. Nancy stared in disbelief…..the killer was her neighbor!
 
(There were more details offered, but this serves as the general summary).
 
 
Exploration
The Exploration starts with telling the dream in the first person, present tense. After the dream is recounted, we use the DRAW method to further describe the major symbols, images, and characters from the dream.
 
Nancy chose the following images that she determined would be the highest priority: 1) The neighbor, 2) the arm that was cutoff, 3) the baby with fingers missing.
 
The DRAW method stands for Describe (further details about that object), Re-experience (the feelings), Associate the image to real life, and Waking life triggers.
 
In short, we took each of the three images and related them to waking life after the image is fully detailed by the client and all the feelings are re-felt (note, typically for long and detailed dreams, the client and counselor explores more than just three objects, but in this case, we were short on time).
 
First was the neighbor. The client had an ah-ha moment when we spent a lot of time on his long blond hair and muscular arms. She couldn’t believe it at first, but she said from the dream description that his face was familiar. It wasn’t until after much reflecting that the dream neighbor was one of her old boyfriends from decades ago. Her jaw hit the floor! Incidentally, it was the same boyfriend who she had witnessed at 14 years of age being slashed to death by 15 young renegades with knives. No wonder the neighbor had a machete in his hand!!
 
Next, we explored the one arm that was cut off. As we explored this image closer, she kept moving the cutoff point further and further down, to where it ended up just above the wrist. It didn’t take long for her to equate the one arm symbol to the time she witnessed the real-life thief’s arm being chopped off.
 
Next was the baby with missing fingers. Although after the fact, it seems so profoundly easy to equate the baby to her own baby child (who is now 30 years old), it took us considerable time to flush this out. Basically, her only son in real life was born with a club hand. He has had multiple attempts to integrate/fuse fingers onto his hand, but no operations have worked. Thus, although this 30 year old son has become very successful, he has done it without one set of fingers. Obviously, this baby represented her own son, and it became quite clear that the client was not wanting to make this connection because of the tears that began flowing when the connection was made.
 
 
Insight
 
In the insight stage, the dreamer and counselor work together to garner the meaning of the dream based on what we’ve explored with all the images. This dream had most of her earlier trauma embedded in it, with the boyfriend getting murdered to the thief’s hand getting severed to the traumatic birth of her own son. These images were clear as day after the context was outlined.
 
However, the big meaning of the dream was most profound when we explored the baby a little further. I asked her if there are any regrets from the dream with respect to the babies. Is there anything you feel you should have done that you didn’t do in the dream? She immediately stated that she should have bundled up the baby and taken him with her. I summarized by saying that it sounds like she should have been a mother to this baby and be very loving to it and protect it. She agreed.
 
I then asked whether she has these feelings recently in real life. Tears immediately began gushing out, and as her counselor, I admit that tears began swelling in my own eyes as she began explaining the situation. It turns out that 2 years ago, her son stopped contacting her, and she assumed that it was because of some particular situation. However, he had just contacted her 30 days prior to this session. Thus, I asked when the babies started showing up in the dream, and she said just two weeks prior to this session!! The babies showed up when her own baby showed up in real life! More tears flowed. The meaning of the nightmare that she has been plagued with was finally ascertained! Suddenly everything made sense, including the early-life trauma and the machetes, and the killings.
 
 
Action
 
The crying wasn’t over. In therapeutic dreamwork, we never just interpret the dream and conclude the session. There is one more step….take the interpretation and create one or more action items to improve the person’s life.
 
In Nancy’s case, her final tears (of joy this time) came pouring out as she created the obvious action item:
 
“I need to call Steven and tell him I am here for him and apologize if he ever felt I wasn’t there for him.” It was obvious that the dream was screaming the subconscious regrets she felt in her real life. The timing on the nightmare was perfectly in line with the miscommunication between her and her son.
 
Incidentally, Steven is flying in to see his mom in two weeks. Nancy was not the only one crying for joy. How can anyone keep their eyes dry when such monumental insights can come from the very nightmare that has been haunting her for the better part of a year?! Nancy received a miracle and left with the most positive spirits she has had in years!
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