Dreams Mental Illness Impacts Term Paper

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One mental disorder that has been researched with regard to its effect on dreams is post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). "The reexperiencing of a traumatic event in the form of repetitive dreams, memories, or flashbacks is one of the cardinal manifestations of posttraumatic stress disorder ("Sleep Disturbance as the Hallmark of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder" 697). These findings correlate findings related to neurosis, in which incorporation of events from daily life into dreams can create anxiety dreams and aversion dreams. The trigger event plays itself out over and over in the mind of the sufferer of PTSD, both in waking and dream life. For example, research on the neurophysiology of animals shows that central nervous system responses that lead to the genesis of REM sleep also are linked to the "classical startle response," and this is akin to the startle behavior commonly described in PTSD patients." ("Sleep Disturbance as the Hallmark of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder" 697). Any mental illness, like PTSD, that has a strong emotional as well as cognitive component, is likely to have a stronger impact on dreaming than mental illnesses without a strong triggering emotional component. This is because dreams are related directly to emotion, and particularly negative emotions coupled with the presence of external or waking life stimuli may in fact cause the genesis of dreams (DeKoninck).Buy full Download Microsoft Word File paper
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Interestingly, research shows that acute stress, as opposed to PTSD and anxiety disorders, can suppress dream recall (DeKoninck). This apparently conflicts with the high arousal state experienced by bipolar and PTSD patients, showing that mental illness may indeed affect dreaming in ways that the non-mentally ill do not experience even when acute stress is a variable. There are also personality trait factors, unrelated to personality disorders like narcissistic or borderline personality disorders, that are related to dream content, ability to recall dreams, and dream patterns (DeKoninck). Most correlations between dream recall frequency and personality traits like extraversion/introversion, anxiety, dependence, openness to experience, and boundary thickness have revealed no statistically significant results. Of these traits, the boundary thickness or thinness is the personality trait factor most strongly correlated with dreaming in the research. Thin boundaries mean that a person more open, trusting, and vulnerable, and also has a richer fantasy life vs. The average person or the person with thick boundaries. A thick boundary person will be rigid, and "do not differentiate clearly between thoughts and feelings," (DeKoninck160). Thin boundary persons have dreams that are more emotional and with greater potential for nightmares (DeKoninck). Auhmann, Lahl, and Pietrowsky likewise found that thin boundary people have dreams that are more personally meaningful vs. those with thick boundaries.

The clinical use of dreams in people with mental illness is a fascinating field of research that transcends the typically shallow insight into cognitive functioning. Applying a contemporary revision of shamanic practices to dreaming, a practitioner can aid a person to confront fears and anxieties. For example, a person with PTSD can be helped in therapy using multimodal and holistic practice. By having the person record his or her dreams over the course of several weeks or months, the therapist helps the individual take control of the contents of his or her psyche and reactions to stress. Coping mechanisms express themselves in dream life as well as waking life. Exploring the dream world provides a set of keys and symbols to the subconscious processes operating in waking life, which may give rise to symptoms like panic attacks or bouts of anger and anxiety. Keeping a dream journal, the person can then discuss the content and emotionality of the dreams in therapy. Through the discussion of the dreams in therapy, the person will be rehashing the anxiety to the point where the person may be able to eliminate the need for medications.

Factors that influence dreams in addition to the presence or absence of mental illness include neurophysiological organization, cognitive organization, intellectual capacity, maturity, past experiences, culture, gender, personality, memory, concerns, mood, presleep experiences, and stimulations in the environment during sleep (DeKoninck). The relationship between dreams and mental illness is not as direct and obvious as expected. Some persons with mental illness, like those with schizophrenia, do not have vivid dreams, whereas those with bipolar disorder do. Yet depression is linked to nightmares and night terrors, showing that some mental illnesses can lead to dreams that manifest the contents of subconscious fears even when other mental illnesses lead to dreams that parallel flattened affect (Purse). Much of the phenomena may be related to brain chemistry. The brain may give rise to the mind, which is an illusion, and which is also why pharmacological interventions can alter cognitive and sleeping states (Diamond).

There are some disorders that reveal the intimate and complex connection between brain, mind, and body. For example, isolated sleep paralysis (ISP) has been commonly confused with some types of mental illness because of the link between ISP and night terrors (Nielsen and Zadra). Disruptions of emotional states lead to sleep state disruptions with waking state consequences. Dreams also have a potent linguistic component, in which analyzing a dream verbally as in therapy can lead to an understanding of the latent content of that dream and aide with an understanding of the underlying emotional mechanisms. Thus, dreams can be used as part of clinical recovery and treatment for mental disorders. The study of dreams should include attention paid to the potentially therapeutic function of dreams as vehicles to express challenging cognitive or emotional content. If persons with mental illness can train themselves to dream lucidly, or at least to recall dreams with greater frequency, then perhaps the social and psychological functioning of those individuals may improve. It may also be helpful to research the genetic component of mental illness, as it correlates to the genetic component of dream patterns.

Different mental illnesses will have differential impacts on the quality of sleep and dreams. Mental illness spans a broad and diverse range of conditions, and the list is continually changing depending largely on the whims of psychiatric research and its attendant conflicts of interest with the pharmaceutical industry. Dreams rarely feature prominently in the types of psychiatric research that give rise to clinical studies, due to the nebulous nature of dream research and the positivist nature of research on pharmacology. The bible of the psychiatric institution, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual is being revised each year, often by adding or removing disorders. Conveniently labeling individuals with symptoms can be counterproductive to healing, but is conducive to the capitalistic model embedded in psychiatry. Applying research on mental illness to research on dreams can be complicated and contradictory. Mental illness is not monolithic, and nor is any one mental disorder. Clinical depression will express itself differently in each person, for example. It is important to note that the connection between mental illness and dreams is tenuous. When exceptional dreams are reported, it does not signal the presence of mental illness. Some people with mental illnesses like depression and schizophrenia report boring dreams, but others do not. Stress and anxiety may give rise to dreams that are also filled with anxiety and stress, but sometimes the dream state may offer opportunities for healing. It is technically impossible to compare the dreams of normal people with those with mental illness because there is no such thing as a normal person, and no standard dream format, structure, or content of a dream in any cohort.

Although there are some measurable differences between the dreams of some mentally ill persons with some mental illnesses, and some persons without mental illnesses who may erroneously be called normal, it is impossible to generalize. Dreams are a universal phenomena, affecting animals as well as human beings. Thus, dreams serve a universal biological and cognitive function. The cause of dreams and the cause of mental illness might in fact be related to the same neurobiological and chemical factors, given that many dream symbols transcend personal background and culture. Yet others do not, showing that there are individual differences with regard to dreaming. Mental illnesses may give rise to a more complex, or more staid dream state but more research is needed to connect dream to waking realities and provide a master key to understanding both.

Works Cited

Auhmann, Carolin; Lahl, Olaf; Pietrowsky, Reinhard. "Relationship between dream structure, boundary structure and the Big Five personality dimensions." Dreaming. Vol. 22, No. 2, p. 124-135.

Barrett, Deirdre. "The "Royal Road" Becomes a Shrewd Shortcut: The Use of Dreams in Focused Treatment." The Journal of Cognitive Psychotherapy 16(1): 55-63.

Cartwright, Rosalind, Baehr, Erin, Kirkby, Jennifer, Pandi-Perumal, S.R. And Kabat, Julie. "REM sleep reduction, mood regulation and remission in untreated depression." Psychiatry Research. Vol. 121, Issue 2, p. 159-167.

Cukrowicz, Kelly C. et al. "The impact of insomnia and sleep disturbances on depression and suicidality." Dreaming. Vol. 16, No. 1, p. 1-10.

DeKoninck, Joseph. "Sleep, Dreams, and Dreaming." Chapter… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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