Connecting old and young
By Lorraine George,
My Churchill Fellowship gave me not only a new perspective on how mindfulness-based approaches could help treat PTSD, but also how lucid dreaming could be used in this way too.
"PTSD and trauma nightmares are disempowering experiences but to become fully aware within a nightmare, and know that it is just a dream, is a deeply empowering experience."
In 2018, I completed my Churchill Fellowship to research best practice in mindfulness-based treatment for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in military veterans.
At that point I had already been teaching and writing books for over ten years about a practice known as ‘lucid dreaming’. My Churchill Fellowship gave me not only a new perspective on how mindfulness-based approaches could help treat PTSD, but also how lucid dreaming could be used in this way too.
Lucid dreaming is the practice of becoming fully conscious within a dream and then directing the dream at will, all while you are still sound asleep.
Lucid dreaming has been a scientifically proven method for treating chronic nightmares for over three decades now. However, in 2022, inspired by my Fellowship learnings I worked on a scientific study with the Institute of Noetic Sciences in California, which was the first of its kind to use lucid dreaming to treat not just nightmares but full blown PTSD.
PTSD and trauma nightmares are disempowering experiences but to become fully aware within a nightmare, and know that it is just a dream, is a deeply empowering experience. It leads to intense feelings of relief and allows the underlying psychological trauma to be released and integrated at a neurological level.
How did the study actually work?
The study consisted of 49 participants, all of whom had chronic PTSD and met the clinical criterion for PTSD diagnosis using the self-report PTSD Checklist for DSM-5. Some participants were survivors of childhood sexual abuse whereas others were armed forces veterans, with two thirds of participants being female and most hailing from either the US or UK.
The study consisted of a six-day lucid dreaming workshop (taught by me) consisting of 22 hours of live instruction via Zoom, in which the participants were taught lucid dream induction techniques and how to use lucid dreaming to heal nightmares and to integrate trauma.
Due to the entire group having chronic PTSD, James Scurry, a UK Council Psychotherapist, was present at all times during the workshop and was available for 1-to-1 check-ins at any time throughout the study.
The aim of the study was for the participants to become lucid in their dreams and to intentionally use the lucid dream practice to transform their nightmares and to integrate their trauma.
At the start of the week all participants took the PTSD Check List Scale - this is a 20-item questionnaire, corresponding to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders symptom criteria for PTSD and the Nightmare Experience Scale.
At the end of the week, the participants took the same questionnaire and then, four weeks later, they completed it again. This, along with daily data collection about their dreams, formed the core of the collected data.
The study is titled Decreased Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Symptoms Following Lucid Dream Healing Workshop and was published in June 2023 in the peer reviewed journal, Traumatology. The results were really quite staggering with 85% of participants experiencing ‘a remarkable decrease in PTSD symptoms’ by using lucid dreaming practices to become conscious within their dreams and transform their nightmares.
Lead scientist of the study, molecular biologist Dr Garret Yount, from the Institute of Noetic Sciences in California was really impressed, stating that ‘the results are truly remarkable and highly significant. Immediately following the study, the average PTSD score dropped well below the PTSD symptom threshold and stayed this way four weeks later.’
In 15 years of working with military veterans and people with PTSD, I have never seen such outstanding results. Although it was a just a pilot study, the results were so impressive that the same team and I have since completed a 100-person randomised control study. The data from this larger study is still yet to be published but the initial reports confirm that we have largely replicated the results again under control conditions.
Although these are still preliminary studies, it seems like lucid dreaming has the potential to be one the most powerful treatments for PTSD currently available and I am very excited to see what the future holds.
The views and opinions expressed by any Fellow are those of the Fellow and not of the Churchill Fellowship or its partners, which have no responsibility or liability for any part of them.
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