Regular Features:
Edition 3: Feb 09

As distressing as nightmares can be for young people, when they are shared and when reassurance is received from parents, teachers and counsellors, nightmares can be robbed of their emotional sting.

This month, we learn the value of empathy and re-scripting as key steps toward restoring the emotional balance of refugee children who have posttraumatic nightmares. Deb shares her experience about these issues in her regular column; dream expert Dr Alan Siegel offers therapeutic strategies to use with trauma survivors; and Mirjiana Askovic provides a case study using some of these ideas as well as neurofeedback therapy.

Most posttraumatic dreams blend current threats to the self with parallel wounds from the past. In putting this edition together, I was reminded of the need to address safety in the present while exploring repetitive dream themes and earlier losses and traumas.

Young refugees do not have to suffer their nightmares in silence. I hope the strategies in the following pieces will help empower you in your healing efforts.

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> Deb Gould is a STARTTS Clinical Psychologist and clinical supervisor.


You are 12. You wake up at 5am, having seen in terrible detail your home being burned. Your father has pulled you from the flames and you stand outside together, watching your sister burn to death. In a rage of pain, your father shakes you. You cannot go back to sleep, fearing that you will be taken back to the burning house. Learn more >>


Dr Alan Siegel, an adult and child psychologist specialising in work with dreams, suggests the following strategies to assist trauma survivors who have posttraumatic nightmares: Learn more >>

Dalia, a 5 year old Iraqi girl, was referred to STARTTS by her mother. Dalia presented with severe sleeping disturbances. She had difficulty falling asleep and would wake up after only 2 to 3 hours in fear, reporting nightmares. Her mother was unable to soothe Dalia, and would need to spend the rest of the night holding and comforting her. In turn, the school reported that Dalia was withdrawn and a fearful child.

Dalia arrived in Australia with her mother and older brother in a boat when she was 2 years old. The journey to Australia was traumatic: the boat was lost at sea for several days, the family didn’t have enough food, and Dalia was difficult to soothe. After arrival, the family spent 5 months in a detention centre without appropriate medical care. On assessment, it emerged that Dalia’s mother was depressed and not coping well parenting her children without her husband, who remained in Jordan. The mother also reported that, as a baby, Dalia was sensitive, not easily settled, and had feeding difficulties.

The initial phase of therapy involved work with Dalia and her mother to strengthen their bond and attachment. This was done through psychoeducation, modelling, and teaching on safe touch using massage and essential oils. A key objective was to demonstrate soothing techniques and to encourage mum to be more physically nurturing with Dalia. Mum’s parenting skills were strengthened and she was encouraged to pursue her own therapy. Learn more >>



Max Schneider
> Max is a Child & Adolescent Counsellor at STARTTS and the service's School Liaison Officer.



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Nightmare Remedies

Dr Alan Siegel suggests a number of nightmare remedies - self-help techniques that can help children break the spell of their bad dreams and use them for personal growth and creative inspiration.

A simple method for transforming nightmares is to use the 4 R’s of nightmare relief:

Reassurance (support, comfort)

Rescripting (discussion, fantasy, writing, art, or drama to re-experience and revise different parts of the dream narrative, with the goal of opening up new endings and directions)

Rehearsal (trials of rewriting and re-enacting the dream)

Resolution (the dreamer brainstorms and identifies behaviors they can further examine or try to change)

Disclaimer The information contained in Hints for Healing is provided as an information source only.  The views expressed by contributors do not necessarily reflect the position or views of STARTTS.  The material is provided on the basis that readers are responsible for making their own assessments of the issues discussed, and always work under clinical supervision.

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