Dreams and exposure therapy in PTSD

Authors

  • Barbara Olasov Rothbaum,

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Emory University School of Medicine, Atlanta, Georgia
    • Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, The Emory Clinic, 1365 Clifton Road, Atlanta, Georgia 30322
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  • Thomas Alan Mellman

    1. Department of Psychiatry, Dartmouth Medical School, Lebanon, New Hampshire
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Abstract

Exposure therapy is a well-established treatment for PTSD that requires the patient to focus on and describe the details of a traumatic experience. Nightmares that refer to or replicate traumatic experiences are prominent and distressing symptoms of PTSD and appear to exacerbate the disorder. With this apparent paradox in mind, exposure therapy and the literature on sleep and PTSD are reviewed in the context of the relationship between therapeutic exposure and exposure to traumarelated stimuli that occurs in dreams. It is concluded that nightmares that replay the trauma and disrupt sleep do not meet requirements for therapeutic exposure, whereas other dreaming may aid in the recovery from trauma.

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