The 3-Minute Therapist: a new way to help veterans with nightmares

In this new segment of the 3-Minute Therapist, I speak to Justin Havens, a former Army officer and an EMDR trained psychotherapist who is testing a novel approach to helping veterans resolve traumatic nightmares. The insomnia, anxiety and sheer misery associated with night terrors were a huge problem for many of the people with PTSD I got to know while researching Aftershock, and their families, so I was keen to hear more about Justin’s work.

Justin has been testing this approach over the past two years with veteran groups across the UK as part of a PhD at the Veterans and Families Institute of Anglia Ruskin University.

Early results show that it has been successful for 16 out of 24 veterans who have completed the programme. They have not only seen dramatic improvements to sleep, but also seen an average 50 percent reduction in PTSD symptoms, according to Justin’s findings.

Here’s some background from Justin:

“The technique works by helping people imagine a different outcome to their bad dreams. While awake, the individual asks themselves ‘what would I like to happen next in my nightmare that feels good and puts me in control?’ For example, a burns victim might have nightmares about being burned. They might imagine a new ending to their dream: standing under a waterfall laughing as all the scabs get washed away.

“The idea is that the individual doesn’t wake up, the dream continues and they are able to experience the REM sleep vital for feeling fully rested. Although not a ‘cure’ for PTSD, the approach — known as Planned Dream Intervention — can make life more bearable for people with PTSD, and help stabilise them ahead of further therapy.

“The concept was originally developed by a former US Navy psychologist called Beverley Dexter, who has taught this skill to several hundred US service personnel and veterans, though no formal research has been undertaken.”

Anyone interested can find out more from Justin at There is more info including a video case study at Sounder Sleep For Veterans.