A Technique to Help Military Veterans with Nightmares


Justin Havens, a former British Army officer and an Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR) trained psychotherapist has been testing a novel approach to helping veterans resolve traumatic nightmares.


Insomnia, anxiety, and the sheer misery associated with night terrors is a huge problem for many of the people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Consequently, Justin has been testing, since approximately 2014, an approach with veteran groups across the UK as part of a PhD at the Veterans and Families Institute of Anglia Ruskin University.

Early results, in 2016, demonstrated that it had been successful for 16 out of 24 veterans who had completed the programme. They had not only seen dramatic improvements to sleep, but also seen an average 50% reduction in PTSD symptoms, according to Justin’s findings.

What is the Technique?

  • 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 does not wake up, the dream continues and they are able to experience the rapid eye movement (REM) sleep vital for feeling fully rested.

Although not a ‘cure’ for PTSD, the approach – known as Planned Dream Intervention (PDI) – 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.

Further Information

Useful Publications

Useful Links

Dexter, B.A. (2018) No more nightmares: how to use planned dream intervention to end nightmares? International Conference on Psychiatric & Geriatrics Nursing and Stroke. 19-20 November, 2018. Available from World Wide Web: https://www.longdom.org/proceedings/no-more-nightmares-how-to-use-planned-dream-intervention-to-end-nightmares-45944.html. [Accessed: 20 November, 2019].

Havens, J. (2015) No More Nightmares – A Revolution for Sleep/PTSD. Available from World Wide Web: https://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/no-more-nightmares. [Accessed: 20 November, 2019].

King, H. (2016) The New Treatment Hoping To End PTSD Nightmares. Available from World Wide Web: https://www.forces.net/services/tri-service/new-treatment-hoping-end-ptsd-nightmares. [Accessed: 20 November, 2019].