What can be done about nightmares?
It really depends on the source of the nightmare. To rule out drugs, medications or illness as a cause, discussion with a physician is recommended. It is useful to encourage young children to discuss their nightmares with their parents or other adults, but they generally do not need treatment. If a child is suffering from recurrent or very disturbing nightmares, the aid of a therapist may be required. The therapist may have the child draw the nightmare, talk with the frightening characters, or fantasize changes in the nightmare, in order help the child feel safer and less frightened .
The nightmares which repeat a traumatic event reflect a normal psychic healing process, and will diminish in frequency and intensity if recovery is progressing. If after several weeks no change is noted, consultation with a therapist is advisable.
Adults' nightmares offer the same opportunity as other dreams for self-exploration and understanding. With practice, the dreamer can often learn to decode the visual and symbolic language of the dream and to see relationships between the dream and waking life. The nightmare by nature is distressing, however, and the dreamer may need to reduce the distress before looking more closely at the meaning of the dream. Some techniques for reducing the distress of the nightmare include writing it down, drawing or painting it, talking in fantasy to the characters, imaging a more pleasant ending, or simply reciting it over several times. The more relaxed the dreamer can be while using these techniques the better. A number of good books are available for learning how to understand dreams. Alternately, the dreamer may wish to ask a therapist for assistance.
Sometimes nightmares are related to intense stress or emotional conflict that is best dealt with in consultation with a therapist. One should not hesitate to consult a therapist when in doubt.
It may be surprising to learn that many people are not really disturbed by their nightmares, even though the experiences themselves are distressing. Research has shown that about half of people who have quite frequent nightmares regard them as fascinating and creative acts of their minds, and either view them as very interesting or dismiss them as "just dreams". This illustrates the fact that one's attitude toward nightmares is quite important.