Dreams… What a beautiful, complex, and mysterious part of our emotional life. Dreams can be full of feelings and meaning, stories and characters. From fragments of different worlds to very intimate stories, dreams are a window into our mysterious inner world – including our longings, losses, fears, and hopes.
Our most vivid dreams usually happen during REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep. This is a highly active time of your sleep when your brain is processing and integrating your life experiences. While dreams are difficult to research, since we don’t remember most of our dreams, they are very important to our emotional health.
And yes, there’s a connection between EMDR and REM sleep. We’ll get to that below. But first, why are dreams so important to your personal and creative development and to your mental health?
Your night dreams help you:
- Process, through REM, your emotions, stress, or emotional experiences. While dreaming, you metabolize your experiences and take in what you need to learn. It can be a time to consolidate your skills and talents. Dreams also offer you a chance to discard what you don’t need, like stress or overwhelming experiences.
- Get a glimpse into what you may not see or have been avoiding or repressing. Dreams are windows to your emotional internal conflicts, blocks, or unhealed parts. Often a mixed experience, dreams can open old wounds, reconnect you to lost stories, or remind you of people you may have forgotten. They may also re-awaken some romantic feelings, longings, or forbidden desires. Dreams can crack you up open to see parts of yourself that you deny. They can remind you of realities you try to avoid and fears that you repress.
I’m sure you’ve had dreams that left you full of wonder, emotions, or questions. When you wake up from such a dream, you feel drawn to understand it because you’re sure it holds some important meaning.
Whether a dream is inspiring, scary, or disturbing, interpreting dreams is a subjective experience. The dream meaning lies in the mind of the dreamer. And, while not all dreams are filled with emotional meanings and messages from within, dreams are a projection of your internal world. Reflecting on your dreams gives you endless opportunities to process and shift emotional conflicts, blocks, or trauma.
Dreams can be full of emotional meaning and messages. Dreams open the door for you to do some good emotional work and experience profound growth.
For instance, maybe you dreamed about being in a forest. The dream could leave you with a sense of being trapped, lost, and scared. Or, you might wake up feeling a sense of renewed wonder and deep connection to nature. A dream about a friend you haven’t seen in a long time, could leave you with feelings of longing and missing this friend. You realize you still have strong feelings, and wonder why you denied your feelings all these years. Or, maybe you felt relieved because the feeling quickly passed and you realized that there is nothing attached to that relationship anymore. You can truly move on. Perhaps you’ve dreamed that something is chasing you. You may wake terrified or maybe feeling empowered because you know what it takes to get out of a scary situation.
The subjective interpretations of the events in your dreams become the windows into your unique internal world. Your very unique projections about your dreams are the portals of discovery and emotional transformation.
And this is where the relationship between dreams and EMDR Therapy becomes quite fascinating when it comes to emotional healing and growth.
Yes, EMDR and REM are in fact connected! Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Therapy has a lot in common with the Rapid Eye Movement of dream-filled sleep.
When you get messages through your dreams, your mind is attempting to process forgotten experiences that have been locked in the depths of your inner world. Dreams are communication from within that indicate that some unmetabolized experiences need to be revisited, processed, and integrated.
Normally, daytime experiences don’t become “stuck memories,” because we do important clean up work at night, during REM sleep. When we dream, we move our experiences out of the amygdala-hippocampal complex (the emotional and reactive part of the brain) so they can be processed by the rest of the brain, particularly the left brain and the frontal lobe (areas related to verbal communication and consciousness).
But, when our brain can’t process some experiences (which often happens when we’re too young for such brain development) or when experiences are overwhelming, it overloads our ability to integrate and possess. Thus, we’re left with “stuck memories.”
And this is the fascinating part: while dreams bring unprocessed emotional experiences to the surface, EMDR can capture the resurfaced memories and process them. During EMDR therapy, your eyes move from side to side, allowing you to focus on and process fragmented traumatic memories, just like when your eyes move side to side when you dream.
With the help of an EMDR therapist, you can move the repressed or forgotten experiences into awareness so you can integrate those elements of your past and bring more healing into your present and future.
How do you actually use EMDR techniques in therapy to process dreams?
Therapy is a unique journey and people often bring up their dreams during the process. Both clinicians and clients know that healing and transformation can emerge when we value the information that comes through dreams. This is particularly true for psychotherapists like me who prefer a more in-depth, relational approach.
Both EMDR and dream discussions are at the heart of my practice. When it comes to working with dreams with EMDR, I’ve seen how therapy stirs up what needs to be healed and transformed.
Over the years, I have noticed something remarkable: the more effective the therapy, the more effectively my clients can access their inner world. And, as a result, they are more effective and successful in the outer world.
When therapy works, people start feeling like they can face things they would normally repress or avoid. Good therapy helps open the mind, and the emotional material that needs to be revisited comes to the surface. Undoubtedly, it’s common to start having more emotionally vivid and intense dreams, when repressed material comes to the surface.
For many, dreams may be a primary vehicle for repressed emotional material to cross into awareness.
This is a challenging time for many people. When repressed material starts spilling into your awareness, it’s common to reach for old, ineffective strategies. As a result, old emotional conflicts or traumatic experiences are retriggered and perpetuated. It’s no wonder that people tend to resist at this stage of healing and often try to push repressed material back into the subconscious and to close that window to awareness. What could be a tremendous opportunity for healing and transformation becomes a repeat of negative past patterns.
And, this is when an EMDR clinician can come in and capture the dreams’ healing potential with EMDR.
First, your subjective dream interpretation – imbued with your feelings, beliefs, and embodied experience – can be processed with EMDR. As a result, many people in EMDR therapy experience increased and more vivid dreaming. It’s a chance to process additional layers of emotional defenses, pain, or conflict. Thanks to the work you’re doing in therapy, your mind will open so that deeper emotions that need to be processed and healed can come to the surface.
In fact, this work can be so powerful, meaningful, and productive that some clients begin to look forward to their dreams so they can bring them for EMDR processing. Once they experience their internal world shifting, they just want to seize any opportunity for EMDR dream work.
I offer psychodynamic therapy, EMDR therapy (EMDR certified), psychoanalytic therapy (certified), combined with CBT, and grounded in the neuroscience of psychotherapy and relationships in order to help people discover how to live fully in the present and create more fulfilling, successful lives.
In particular I have an expertise working with creatives, performers, and artists of all kinds including writers, screenwriters, actors, fine artists, musicians, producers, directors, fashion designers, and creative entrepreneurs. My office is in Beverly Hills, Los Angeles. I provide in-person and online psychotherapy to people across California.
If you are interested in EMDR therapy, please contact me for your free 15 minute consultation to see if this therapy is appropriate for you.