How to Stop Nightmares with Role Playing and Lucid Dreams

By Jenny Casale

If you're a lucid dreamer, you probably already know that becoming lucid is a powerful way to deal with nightmares. Now, in a 2015 study, researchers have validated this theory by teaching nightmare sufferers how to lucid dream - with significant findings.

The 10-week study combined the practice of lucid dreaming with Gestalt therapy - a form of psychotherapy which emphasizes personal responsibility and uses role playing to resolve past conflicts. The participants were split into two groups: one group received Gestalt therapy alone, while the other group received Gestalt therapy and were trained in lucid dreaming for one hour per week.

Good news for wannabe lucid dreamers

Over a period of 10 weeks, 12 out of 16 (75%) were able to learn to dream lucidly. This supports the idea that lucid dreaming is a learnable skill and accessible to the general population.

Both groups kept dream diaries throughout the experiment, as well as reporting on their sleep quality via questionnaires at 5, 10 and 12 weeks.

The result? Both groups reported significantly fewer nightmares at the three-month follow-up. However, the group who learned lucid dreaming reported a reduction in nightmares that was both sooner and higher...

Treating Nightmares with Gestalt Therapy

Gestalt Therapy and The Two Chair Technique in Treating Nightmares

In Gestalt therapy sessions, the dreamers were encouraged to describe and confront their nightmares by role playing the main characters and images with the two-chair technique.

This is where one chair represents the dreamer, and the other chair represents the nightmare character or image. Through improvisation, the dreamer then swaps between chairs and role plays the nightmare figure vs themself.

Gestalt therapy is successful in treating nightmares because it helps to:

  • Understand why you're having nightmares in the first place
  • Realize that the emotions of the dream are part of your own personality
  • Gain a sense of control and responsibility for yourself through role playing
  • Relieve the emotional strain of the nightmare through group therapy

Treating Nightmares with Lucid Dreaming

The addition of lucid dream training to the study had a noticeable impact. Though both groups reported fewer nightmares after three months of treatment, the lucid dreamers were reporting results before the Gestalt therapy had concluded at 10 weeks.

Here's what the researchers did for the group who learned lucid dreaming:

Other Effects of Gestalt Therapy and Lucid Dreams

Interestingly, the 12 people who were exposed to both Gestalt therapy and successfully learned to lucid dream during the study reported improved sleep quality to a statistically significant degree.

Though it's still a small sample, it does lend credence to the idea that lucid dreaming, besides stopping nightmares, can also provide a better night's sleep.

Another finding was that lucid dreamers got much better that remembering their dreams after 5 weeks, while those in the Gestalt therapy only groups found no difference on their dream recall.


About The Guest Author

Jenny Casale is a teacher with a passion for learning - about everything. She is a grandmother of two and lives in New Zealand.

About The Author

About The Author

Rebecca Casale is a lucid dreamer and a science writer with a special interest in biology and the brain. She is the founder of World of Lucid Dreaming and Science Me.