What Is Imagery Rehearsal Therapy, And What Can It Treat?

By: Robert Porter

Updated February 15, 2021

Medically Reviewed By: Lauren Guilbeault

Those who have gone through traumatic events in life may have a difficult time moving forward. When you have witnessed certain events, they may tend to stay with you. Millions of people experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) each year. PTSD has the potential to make life very difficult and coping with your mental struggles is not always going to be easy. The mental disorder can significantly impact sleep and the kinds of dreams you have.

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Many people who experience PTSD can manage their conditions through therapy. One of the therapy types that is being used to treat PTSD is known as imagery rehearsal therapy. If you have never heard of this type of therapy, then you might be curious about what it is all about. Take the time to read on to learn about what imagery rehearsal therapy is and what it can treat.

What Is Imagery Rehearsal Therapy?

Imagery rehearsal therapy is a type of cognitive behavioral therapy. This is a treatment that involves treating patients who are having really bad nightmares. Patients who have PTSD are among the most common who receive this treatment due to the frequency and severity of their nightmares. It is designed to reduce how many nightmares you are having as well as making nightmares less severe. The treatment’s effectiveness was first shown in a randomized controlled trial of survivors of sexual assault.

Nightmares in patients with PTSD are often incredibly intense. These are more than bad dreams. According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, nightmares are defined as “vivid, realistic and disturbing dreams typically involving threats to survival or security, which often evoke emotions of anxiety, fear or terror.”

For people living with PTSD, nightmares may take them back to moments that they experienced in real life. Therapy for PTSD is often focused on helping them to manage these nightmares more effectively. Imagery rehearsal therapy is just one of the most popular and successful methods for eliminating these nightmares.

PTSD therapy and imagery rehearsal therapy go hand-in-hand. The idea with this therapy is to start trying to weaken the nightmares by talking about the nightmares to give them context. The patient will then work with a therapist to re-write the nightmare. The process has proven to be effective for many of those who have PTSD, and it usually starts slow.

Starting With The Weakest Nightmare

As you likely know, PTSD is a very severe mental health disorder. Sometimes talking about your nightmares will not be easy. This has the potential to bring you back to a very traumatic moment in your life. For this reason, imagery rehearsal therapy often starts with the weakest nightmare that you have been experiencing. Your therapist is going to want to prevent the risk of an emotional trigger to help build your confidence.

This is going to be the safest way to go about re-writing your nightmares. Starting small will make the more intense nightmares easier to tackle later on. You will begin by trying to speak about the tamest nightmare that you experience regularly and will then work your way up to the most intense ones in later sessions. It may take some time to eliminate these nightmares from your life, but this method has proven to work well for so many people who are suffering from PTSD.

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Write Down The Narrative Of Your Dream/Nightmare

To start, you are going to need to write down the narrative of your dream. This nightmare might be somewhat uncomfortable to think about at first but do your best to try to get through this process. You have to write down the important details of the dream. If you cannot recall all of the details right now, then you should keep a dream journal by your bed.

Sometimes the best way to go about this is to have a pen and paper by your nightstand. When a nightmare wakes you up, you should write down what you experienced in this journal. Try to recall as much of it as you can. Later on, you can do your best to add details to turn the information into paragraphs.

Not all PTSD patients are going to be able to get through this by themselves. In this situation, a therapist or some type of personal support may need to be present. These dreams can be quite intense and sometimes they may trigger emotional episodes. Just understand that writing down the dream is a core part of this therapy and that there is a purpose to this.

Re-write The Dream With A Positive Ending

Now that you have written down the dream that has been bothering you, it is time to try to re-write. Discuss the dream with your therapist and then work to write a positive ending for it. Instead of the dream ending with something tragic or tough for you to handle, you can instead put a positive spin on it. This may seem impossible at first, but you can work with your therapist to make this happen.

Do not be afraid to use your imagination when coming up with your new positive ending if you want to; then you could take inspiration from your favorite movies or heroes. It can be something completely off the wall if necessary. The intention is merely to turn the dream into something that makes you feel better rather than worse.

Imagine The Positive Version Of The Dream Just Before Bed

Now that you have re-written the dream, you will be able to use it to your advantage. Before going to sleep at night, try to imagine the positive version of the dream that you just wrote. This technique is known as inducing the intention to dream. You are preparing your mind to dream about what you want to.

Think or speak to yourself while you are going through this dream induction process. Tell yourself that you are going to use your positive version of the dream. If you are going to start having the same nightmare that you usually do, then it is going to end in your positive way rather than how it usually does. Just keep repeating this to yourself and imagining the positive version of the dream until you drift off into sleep.

Eventually, you will have success with this method. Many PTSD patients and others who suffer from severe nightmares have had success using this positive dream technique. It may not happen the first time, but it will help so long as you keep working with your therapist.

PTSD Group Therapy May Help

Effective PTSD treatments may also include group therapy. This may not be entirely related to dreaming, but it is something that you should consider. If you have PTSD, then it can be good to receive support from others who are going through similar struggles. PTSD support groups are an important resource, and many people have been able to overcome their issues with this type of help.

If you need help finding a PTSD group to join, then simply speak to your therapist about it. They should be able to point you in the right direction to find group therapy. Millions of people have PTSD. It is a common thing for soldiers to experience and it impacts the lives of many other people as well. This is a great way to get the help that can be combined with imagery rehearsal therapy.

Using a combination of different therapy methods can help you to overcome and effectively treat your PTSD, panic disorder or bipolar disorder. It will take time to see the best possible results, but you will continue to make progress. Do not hesitate to make use of both group therapy and imagery rehearsal therapy if you are in need.

Online Therapy For PTSD

You will also be able to seek out online therapy for PTSD. An online therapist will always be there to help you in your time of need. One of the best aspects of online therapy is that it is always available to you. You will be able to reach out to a therapist at any time if you are going through a problematic situation and ease your PTSD symptoms.

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Traditional therapy offices are only open during certain hours. Online therapy is going to allow you to reach out at any time. If you need therapy during the weekend or the evening hours, then it will always be easy to make it happen. This is an option that has the potential to be more convenient for you. You can use it in tandem with other therapy methods, or you can rely on online therapy entirely.

Online therapists are fully licensed and qualified. They understand what it is like to deal with severe nightmares. If you are experiencing night terrors or nightmares, then you can get the help of a dedicated online therapist today. You will be able to start changing your dreams into something more positive so that you can lead a happier life.

There are many types of online therapy that you can take advantage of as well. Online therapists know how to help patients with depression issues, anxiety problems, and so much more. Take the time to reach out if you need assistance. The therapists are standing by and are ready to help you as soon as you want to begin.

PTSD and general nightmare problems do not have to continue to get the better of you. You are never alone in this fight, and you can count on professionals who care about your well-being. Many methods can help you to improve your situation, so never lose hope.

If you are interested in obtaining more background information about sleep disorders and current perspectives about how to improve sleep and dreaming, visit the American Academy of Sleep Medicine website. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine publishes numerous articles and findings related to sleep medicine health care, education and research.

 

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