A Psychodramatic Guide to Nightmare Help

Kerry, 10

"This guy was whipping me. He stole a car. The car hit a rock and exploded. He died. i was scared because this guy was really one of my teachers. He deserved something for whipping me and I was good and mad at him. In fact I hate his guts. But a dream like this really scares me because he was killed. I saw him explode. It was like it really happened, like I MADE IT HAPPEN. Anne Sayre Wiseman Nightmare Help, p54.

In her thoughtful book Nightmare Help: a guide for parents and teachers , Wiseman provides a method that approaches the dramatic conflicts found in nightmares; "as a problem to be solved in a way the dreamer finds useful so they learn more about themselves. The aim is to alter behavior that keeps us stuck." The dream becomes an expressive mode of creative resolution of old traumas and unfinished business. By helping and guiding children to dialogue with the dramatic images and feelings found in the dreams and nightmares a psychodramatic solutions oriented form of psychotherapy is envisioned. Children's nightmares such as the screaming robot, the green dinosaur monster and the exploded teacher (above) are but a few of the dramatic situations children find themselves in. Finding resolution allows for the dramatic reframing of unfinished business and healing of emotional traumas and psychological injuries.

From my own therapeutic perspective, there are a number of conceptual metaphors that might apply to Kerry's dream (above). Kerry perhaps feels that he is the teacher's "whipping boy", or that he feels that the teacher's criticisms feels like a "tongue lashing". Kerry paints himself as the dreams protagonist and the victim of unjust authoritarian punishment at the hands of the teacher. More important is the fact, that for whatever reason, the child feels self righteous hatred towards the teacher to the point that he wishes that his frightening villainous antagonist were dead. The question, whether imagining the teacher's death is justified or not is not the primary issue, what is, is that this child is learning to hate in his thoughts and communication interactions. Wiseman attempts to help and guide the child by behaviourally reframing the situation by using an inner dialogical imagination technique with the dream characters. In searching for dialogical solutions the child imagines asking for help and guidance from the school principle (appeal to authority). The child will hopefully learn to resolve his feelings of hate and those in authority will help mediate such dramatic conflicts.

On a final note about how children may be influenced and learn to create violent images, we can turn to our mass media culture (media violence) for understanding. We do live in a society that commercially promotes graphic violence. In the popular film The Upside of Anger we become witness to the pleasures of a spatter fantacy of an angry mother (watch film clip Imagine This to the scene at the end).

Further Reading;

Fritz Redl and David Wineman Children that Hate.

Fritz Redll and David Wineman Controls from Within; Techniques for the Treatment of the Aggressive Child

All material Copyright 2006 International Institute for Dream Research. All rights reserved.