A main idea behind lucid dreaming therapy for offseting the distress from nightmares and unsettling dreams is that, once you realize you are dreaming and your physical body is safely asleep in bed, you can face your fears more courageously–allowing you to respond to the nightmare in a more adaptive manner. You can learn the basics of this approach by reading LaBerge’s chapter Overcoming Nightmares.
Clinical research by gestalt psychologist, Paul Tholey (1988), discusses the advantages of using lucidity to recognize maladaptive personality dynamics represented in the interaction between the dream and dreamer. He also infers guidelines for altering one’s responses to influence a more positive outcome in the dream. In doing so, the dreamer can consciously reconcile with or form a healthier way of relating to rejected features of the self symbolized in dream content–what Carl Jung may have called the shadow.
Tholey also highlights that, through lucid dreaming, experiences that are important to the dreamer are more accessible, which can aid in self-healing and self-integration. Interestingly, though using lucid dreams to foster self-integration often helps the dreamer better understand the meaning or source of unconscious conflicts, this does not appear necessary in order to observe a change in dream content, decrease nightmares, or restore one’s peace of mind. Some of his conclusions and guidelines for dealing with nightmare figures are summarized here:
Confronting threatening dream figures using conciliatory dialogues or exchanges is more favorable than running away or acting aggressively.
One should attempt to reconcile with the dream figure. Be friendly or compassionate. Try offering help to the figure or a gift, or ask for help or for the figure to teach you something.
Facing the threatening dream figure with courage, compassion, or curiosity often transforms the figure to be less threatening.
If a constructive dialogue or interaction is not possible, it may be useful to separate oneself from the threatening figure or imagery.
Courageously confronting nightmare imagery may lead to a transfer of positive behavior into similar situations while awake.
LaBerge discusses these issues in more depth in his book, Exploring the World of Lucid Dreaming (1990), especially in chapters on Overcoming Nightmares and The Healing Dream. Lucidity approaches to nightmares can be easily integrated into evidence-based interventions, including imagery rehearsal therapy and nightmare rescripting. These lucid dreaming principles for nightmare resolution also apply to sleep paralysis attacks.
LaBerge and Rheingold (1990). Exploring the World of Lucid Dreaming. New York: Ballantine Books.
Tholey, P. (1988). A Model for Lucidity Training as a Means of Self-healing and Psychological Growth. In J. Gackenbach & S. LaBerge (Eds.) Conscious Mind, Sleeping Brain (pp. 263-285). NewYork: Plenum Press.