A Cure for Bad Dreams

bad dreamTwenty five years ago, when I was a fledgling therapist finding my way in a Community Mental Health clinic, I was sitting in a meeting when another young therapist, named Ed, mentioned that he knew how to heal bad dreams and keep them from repeating.

I remember almost nothing from all those boring meetings I attended but I still remember his instructions as though it were yesterday. According to Ed, the technique is a Native American practice. I don’t know which Native American taught it to him or what tribe she was from but I am still grateful to her and to Ed for teaching it to me.

In the last quarter century since he showed it to me, I have shared this instruction with hundreds of clients, with my family and have used it myself frequently. As far as I know, it has never failed. It works as well for young children as it does for adults, for the mentally retarded or the genius. The only problem is that you have to remember to do it as soon as you wake up.

Instructions for resolving bad dreams

Give the subject this instruction: “When we have bad dreams we always wake up before the dream is complete. If we are falling off a cliff we wake before hitting the bottom. If we are running from bears we wake up before we are caught. If we are at school in our underwear we still wake up before the story is complete. The reason for this is because the dream is like a question from our unconscious mind. The unconscious is asking, ‘This is what I think you want. How do you want this to end?’”

Now assign the homework: “The next time you awaken from a bad dream, before you are fully awake, think about how you would like the dream to end, and then end it. If you are falling from a cliff, spread wings and fly away. If you are sitting in class in your underwear, notice that everyone else is completely naked. Dreams can be magical so come up with a happy ending and be as magical as you want.”

That is all there is to it. Just putting a positive ending on the dream right when you wake up resolves the dream and stops it from repeating.

Explanation of why this works

People who are acquainted with the Felt Sense of Ask and Receive already know that our unconscious is communicating with us all the time. We just don’t understand what it is saying. We want direct instruction from our unconscious but the unconscious expresses itself in metaphor and through images, sounds and feelings. Without knowing the meaning of our headache we take a pill. Without knowing the meaning of our discomfort we distract ourselves.

Nowhere is our unconscious more active than in our dreams. In our dreams the metaphoric nature of the unconscious is unimpeded but it is still trying to communicate with us. Our poor unconscious never gives up talking to us even though we so blithely ignore it.

We don’t have to know the meaning of the communication to have a useful conversation, but we do need to know that we are conversing. By ending the dream we are engaging with the metaphor presented by the unconscious and shifting it in a desired direction. Our unconscious is just giving us what it thinks we want when it has us falling off a cliff, because that is what it thinks we are asking for with our incessant worrying and negative thought. By steering things back in a positive direction it communicates, “No, let’s not do that. Let’s do this…” In 25 years I have never found it to fail.

The added benefit of all this may also be that our unconscious learns that we don’t really want bad things to happen but instead want to be safe or happy or free or satisfied, so it can give us that. This has been my experience. Now I hope you will all try it and let me know what you find.

We hope that you will try out this technique and leave us feedback in the comment section below as a way to help others.

As long as you are here, we hope you will feel free to browse around the site and let us know what you like and what you would like more of.

With Love and Gratitude,

Tom, Sandi and Pam


  1. Hi Sandi
    I loved this! and so true about the unconscious talking to us. ALL the time. But are we listening?
    Interesting parallels. With the Self Awareness Formulas (SAF) we have a questionnaire or we use Infrared to find our most stressed organs and glands and the particular emotions that are in play when these organs-glands are stressed. We can also tell the approximate ages when the emotion- event began; often it was traumatic in the eyes of a child. We carry this pattern with us, unconsciously, through our whole lives (and it continues to direct us!) until and unless we take a look at it, discover the message.
    It is awesome when we put two and two together and finally understand. It is like waking up from a bad dream, but now in full control.
    See the interesting parallels?

    • You are so right Kathy! The metaphoric nature of our unconscious is more obvious in dreams, but this is really how our mind works. One of my favorite quotes (though I don’t know who actually said it) is: “Reality is a giant wave held back by metaphor.”

    • Ah, thank God for Google! I found the quote, it is from Carlos Castaneda (of course): “I saw the loneliness of man as a gigantic wave which had been frozen in front of me, held back by the invisible wall of a metaphor.” — so much more poetic than my recollection!

      • Of course it was Carlos Castaneda. He was a part of our “up-bringing.”
        Dreams were and are so very important to the native peoples, in many cultures, so it makes sense that they would have found a way to understand the messages, and then to reduce the severity of bad dreams.
        And don’t forget, the Dream Catcher is a native item..
        But much of this is wishful thinking. With the Self Awareness Formulas, we have a method for finding and understanding our own unique set of circumstances. Peculiar to us. One of a kind solution, as it should be.

  2. Thanks for the article. Great idea. Will have to try it.

  3. I would like to read articles on chemical sensitivity -and how to neutralize it – i.e., allergies to perfumes, solvents, chlorox wipes, cigarette smoke – – people in my office wear alot of perfumes and I can’t breathe — my heart starts pounding then i get a headache & get disoriented. The doctor said – it’s because I am in Menopause. no remedy – If I hug someone who has perfme on them – it’s on my clothes and the smell bothers me till I am able to take the sweater off when I get home. I’m sure I’m not the only one with this type of allergy. thank you.

  4. I always forget a dream 5 seconds after I wake up. But 25 years ago I had two recurring dreams so often that I had every detail embedded in my memory (at the time). I tried counselling and hypnosis for a cure, but all I got was a very learned sounding interpretation of one of the dreams which did nothing to stop it. I thought I was doomed to have these dreams come up whenever they wanted to for the rest of my life. Always exploring matters of mind and spirit I learned about cognitive dreaming during this time. In the dream I was pursued by people who wanted to kill me. I had to run along a narrow track that ended at the edge of a cliff. Overwhelmingly afraid of heights I would stop, turn to face my pursuers and be stabbed in the heart by the first attacker and wake up with the pain still in my chest. The final time I suddenly realised that I had the power to change the outcome. So, when I reached the cliff top, where I usually stopped, I knew this was a dream in which I could do anything, so I ran off the edge of the cliff and began to fly. I awoke joyful and pain free. I never had the dream again. Another dream was similar, but, in that I changed my “mindset”, within the dream, from fearful stranger to welcoming friend and the outcome, instead of hostile aggression, was relief and warm connection from ‘them’. I had taken control of the situation in my dream and changed the outcome completely. There have been other bad dreams since, but, I have used that technique and neutralised them so quickly that I don’t have any memory of the “content”. Also, I learned EFT in 2006 and have used that as my primary tool ever since – i.e. dream, wake up, tap, go back to sleep, but, now I am reminded of it, I found the “change the ending” technique very empowering. I can certainly recommend it and I think it would be very empowering for a child to be taught this method.

    • Yes! You naturally found the technique. The good news about this technique is that you don’t have to do it in the dream (lucid dreaming is hard!), just do it as soon as you awaken.

      Using EFT (or Ask and Receive) is also useful if there is residual distress after you have ended the dream satisfactorily. I prefer this technique of ending the dream rather than just treating for the distress because it keeps the dreams from repeating.

  5. That was a interesting article and it makes sense. Thank you for sharing that. I hope to use it if I ever have a problem with bad dreams.
    As I assist some mentally challenged adults, I will tell them about the technique also and see if it helps them have more peaceful nights.

    • I have found that when working with mentally challenged people or children it is often useful to brainstorm about possible endings. Like: If you are falling off a cliff in your dream what would you like to do? If you are being chased how would you handle it? Don’t worry if the answer is not socially appropriate. If the person wants to turn around and shoot the attackers that is ok, remember it is a dream.

  6. I really appreciate you posting this article. It is so timely for me personally as I had a nightmare two nights ago about a dinosaur (T-Rex) attacking a building that I and many other people were in, just destroying it. I will try this simple technique next time I have an upsetting dream and will also tell my children about it. Thanks so much.

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