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Guest Post by: Lily Smithson
Art Therapy and Dreams
Most sufferers of PTSD find that they have bad dreams. The worst thing about nightmares is that you have no control over them. Even when you are managing to get successful treatment during the day and are piecing your life back together, waking up in a cold sweat during the night can feel like you have slipped backwards. A nightmare can have long lasting effects too, and worst of all, dreams don’t just plunge you back into the traumatic event, but also they skew it, alter it, and can often reoccur for years.
Studies of PTSD sufferers have discovered that their nightmares differ to the bad dreams most people suffer from. While a non PTSD sufferers may have dreams and nightmares during REM sleep (rapid eye movement), for those with PTSD, nightmares can occur in both REM and non-REM sleep. PTSD sufferers can also experience nightmare-type visions during waking hours, making them far worse than night terrors of other form of negative dreaming.
PTSD nightmares are not just recreations of the traumatic event either. Sufferers find the event is skewed and changed, becoming a variant of the actual event. In some cases, this can make the nightmares even worse than the original event, as sufferers find that family members, their children or other people they care about are suddenly drawn into the event with the sufferer becoming an onlooker, rather than the victim. All this can create terrible feelings of guilt, and combating these nightmares is not easy, but it is possible with the right therapy, and art therapy is one method with which you can learn to gain control over your dreams and turn them from a negative into a positive.
Art therapy has been around for years and is a proven and effective therapy for all sorts of mental, emotional and physical conditions. However, because art therapy provides people a method of visualizing and recreating the scenes in their dreams, it is particularly effective at combating the nightmares associated with PTSD.
Art therapy was developed n the 1930s after psychiatrists in Britain and the United States found a link between the artwork being done by mental health patients and their illness. Since then, it has grown into an effective and proven method of assessing and treating all sorts of emotional and mental conditions, including PTSD. The best thing about art therapy, compared to other forms of psychoanalysis, is that it enables the sufferer to have complete control. Rather than a therapist asking a patient to explore his or her feelings and emotions, art therapy provides a safe space in which the sufferer can process their thoughts while remaining in full control or what they are creating.
Art therapy and PTSD
Art therapists have reported remarkable results in treating patients with PTSD. One of the main benefits is that with traumatic experiences it can often be difficult to verbalize the feelings and emotions felt by sufferers. This is doubly true when it comes to nightmares because quite often dreams lack logic or linear structures and are more like a jumbled mess of negative feelings, vivid images and emotions rather than a true narrative structure.
Art therapy enables sufferers to process these feelings and images in a way that can be assessed and discussed. Furthermore, having an outlet to release the negative feelings evoked by dreams, can reduce the emotional impact when nightmares do occur, but the medium used to express these emotions can play a pivotal role too, which is why art therapists require both experience in therapy and art.
Different art mediums allow patients different ways to express what they are feeling. For instance, paint is very expressive but not as effective as a sharpened pencil at allowing patients to relay intricate details. Even computer-aided design can provide effective art therapy as it gives a patient even more control, with images easily manipulated, changed, deleted and altered.
Art therapy may involve the creation of visual narratives where patients try to capture individual traumatic scenes using colors to represent their emotions and feelings. Other methods of art therapy may involve a more holistic approach by allowing the patient to express just feelings of self, using the art medium but not focusing on specific details or scenes. Whatever approach is taken, art therapy can be highly effective at combating the negative impact of dreams and nightmares, and sufferers of PTSD who wish to learn more should contact the American Art Therapy Association who will be able to help steer them to a an art therapy professional that may be able to help.
About the author: Lily Smithson is a freelance health writer working with online health providers to convey information and guidance via the internet.
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