Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

The Nightmares

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on August 3, 2012

Madeline, fifty-two, a psychotherapist, comes in after having a “terrible night.” “I just had one nightmare after another,” she reports with utter helplessness. “Tell me about it,” I say, knowing that she was going to, but also wanting her to know that I was curious about the content. “I dreamt I got my period and then I was bleeding non-stop. I think it was like I was having a miscarriage, which I have had in the past. It was like I was reliving that horrible experience, even though that was thirty years ago.” Madeline says, offering up an interpretation of her nightmare. “Do you have any idea why it came to your mind last night?” I ask, wondering if something had triggered her. “Yes, my son is leaving for his semester abroad and I think that is triggering feelings of loss inside of me.” Madeline says, clarifying the connection between her dream and her present state of mind. “Dreams are powerful tools that remind us what we are dealing with internally.” I say, stating what she already knows, but still feeling compelled to say it. “Yes, but I did not like waking up so upset,” Madeline says, as if reminding me not to intellectualize her distress. “Of course not. I am sorry about that.” I say, reminding her that I feel for her. “And what were your other nightmares?” I ask, reminding her that I was thinking about her opening remark. “I also dreamt that I had sexual intercourse with one of my former patients and I was horrified at my behavior.” Madeline says, with some shame, but also knowing that this was a dream, and hence she has no conscious control over the content. “Again, I wonder if you have an idea about what that was about.” I say, knowing that she is aware that I want her to take her dream one step further. “Yes, I think that my eating is out of control and I am mad at myself for gaining weight, so  this dream was in line with that.” Madeline says stringing her anger at herself for her eating together with her anger at herself in the dream. “Your self-hatred came out at night.” I say, repeating her idea, to let her know that I am thinking about what she is saying. “Your internal world is pretty black right now,” I say, ending our session with a summary comment. “You got that right,” she says, leaving a little bit less distressed, compared to the beginning of our session.

2 Responses to “The Nightmares”

  1. Shelly said

    Madeline is so lucky to have you to talk yo. I’ve often wondered if therapists can speak to one another about issues in their own lives. Someone once told me that wr can program our dreams. Is that true? Can we control their contents? Did Madeline feel better after speaking with you, less burdened about the nightmares, less self-hating? Can speaking to you or other friends get her over her unhappiness that her son is leaving?

    • Therapists do lean on one another, and as with all human interactions, sometimes for good and sometimes for ill. Madeline did feel better, but she continued to have disturbing dreams/nightmares. I don’t think we can control the content of our dreams, but we can learn from our dreams about our state of mind. Thanks.

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