Dreams as a Reflection of Progress:
a case of paranoid schizophrenia
Martha Derbyshire, USA.
A client I will call Eric had an active relationship with a team of mental health workers. I worked in collaboration with them doing homeopathy and energy work with Eric for four years. The vividness of his dreams provided a reflection of his internal state of being. This article will track the progress of the case by the content of his dreams. Changes in his dreams and hallucinations indicated his improvement; this information was instrumental in reducing and finally eliminating all medications and restoring health.
Keywords: Dreams, Schizophrenia, Medication
“The dream shows the inner truth and reality of the patient
as it really is: not as I conjecture it to be,
and not as he would like it to be, but as it is.”
(Carl Jung: "The Practical Use of Dream Analysis"; 1934)
It can be difficult to differentiate between symptoms, aggravation, and improvement in cases of mental illness, especially when there are multiple medications being used in conjunction with alternative therapies. Practitioners can gain insight into the progress of the case with deep listening and tracking the material presented by the subconscious through the clients’ dreams. The information gleaned from the subconscious may inform change in remedies or medications.
At 17 years old, Eric had a lengthy history of serious mental illness. He had been in and out of the state mental hospital on several occasions with episodes of severe paranoid hallucinations. He was diagnosed with depression with psychotic features, paranoid schizophrenia and thought disorder. Eric had been on various combinations of mood stabilizers, antidepressants and anti-hallucinogenic medications and was on all three when we began our work together.
For years Eric suffered from horrendous nightmares accompanied by daytime voices and visions of brutal murders, torturous killings and images of death. He reported hearing a thousand voices all at once; he considered the world evil. He figured he might as well commit suicide before someone killed him. He believed he did evil before he was born, that he didn’t deserve to live and prayed that he would die.
When I first met Eric, his dreams often centered on being brutally killed by his friends and family. They tied him to trees, lit him on fire and buried him. He said, “My soul was obliterated; my life was erased.” He dreamt of being thrown off cliffs, of people shooting him, of being stabbed, having his head chopped off and everything being covered in blood. The dreams were reported with gory details. The concurrent hallucinations were of images of the devil whose voice told him he was bad, that he would go to hell and that he would be killed.
During the course of treatment, homeopathic remedies including Mancinella (LM1), Hura (30C), Aurum (200C), Coca (200C; 1M), Strammonium (200C), Lac Humanum (200C), and Hydrogen (30C), were administered. These remedies are specific to the client at the time of prescribing rather than the diagnosis; the remedies are not specific to depression, schizophrenia or any other pathology. Deeply listening and talking with Eric about his reality to increase his understanding, rather than pathologizing and negating his experiences, were an important part of our work together which included homeopathy, energy healing and counseling.
Though medications had kept the hallucinations away for several months, Eric resumed hallucinating and his paranoia escalated when we started working together. When old symptoms return, it may indicate a regression toward ill health or a release of old energy that has been stagnated in the system. There is also the possibility that when alternative healing modalities are introduced, the effects of traditional medications can change or even be reversed. Differentiation based only on outward behavior or physical, mental and emotional symptoms can be deceiving. If we note the subtleties of these behaviors as well as look at the content of dreams as indication of the subconscious movement, we might get a clearer picture. Dream material can also be helpful in remedy choices.
Dreams indicating improvement
Shortly after we began working together, Eric experienced hallucinations away from home for the first time. On seeing an older version of himself outside the window at school, he panicked and cried for hours. But, after the first few episodes of such experiences, there was a difference that indicated progress. Eric was beginning to handle the hallucinations without the assistance of his case manager. He would have an experience privately, work through it without showing outward signs of distress and recover himself. We could consider the quality of the ideation as improvement rather than only see the increase in quantity of hallucinations as a regression.
A few months later, Eric hallucinated a robed, enlightened being who told him he didn’t need to die. He had never dreamt of a positive messenger before. There began to be occasional nightmares that included both death and resurrection - he fell into the water and believed he was dead, but then saw a comforting image of a warming fire. These hopeful images indicate that even though hallucinations had returned, there was healing going on as well. The dream didn’t end with death but with resurrection. Eric felt better inside; in the past he didn’t care if he died, but now he had regard about staying alive and could speak of this. Dialoguing about his experience and reflecting the changes back to him was also therapeutic.
Eric was accustomed to being the outcast, the hated one, and the victim of his dreams. For the first time, he became the evil one who was slaughtering others! In another dream, his parents were killed but he got away, only later to be found and decapitated. He dreamt of having a knife held to his throat and not being killed. Eric was no longer consistently being mutilated in his dreams. This might suggest that he could survive outside his dreams as well, that he might have some power over the deadly dreams. These indicated improvement in the case.
The progress of the dreams is reflected in Eric’s thought patterns as well. He felt more in control of his thoughts and actions. He was not compelled to smash his head into walls, or even to consider that he was the son of the devil. This young man was beginning to look forward to living. He made some new friends at school and his relationship with his brother improved. He dreamt of Santa Claus, of a labyrinth (symbolic of returning to center), and of music! These were clear indications of a wider spectrum of life, including pleasure as well as fantasy, not only while he was sleeping but in his waking life as well. As a team member I supported the decisions of his psychiatrist, but also offered an unorthodox perspective based on the progression of his dream states.
When Eric’s anti-psychotic medication was changed the nightmares and hallucinations returned with a vengeance. He laughed that his dreams could be so bad: he saw people cut in half with a chainsaw and have both halves come to life. He hallucinated that blood was squirting out of his mouth while he was brushing his teeth; he saw skeletons chained to his bed yelling for Christ’s help. Nonetheless, he realized that he did not belong to the devil nor was he a hideous creep. Eric understood that he was a different kind of kid. Even though he felt people had hated him all his life and that he had been called a freak forever, now he could talk about it and not let his difference bother him as much. Eric had some objectivity about his dreams and hence his life. He was making new conclusions about himself; he was no longer completely convinced of his negative self-concept. The aggravation actually provided me with helpful information about the deeper healing at hand. I continued to dialog with him about his dreams but without attempting to analyze them.
Nearly a year into treatment, Eric reported a dream where people were chasing him through the forest with a gun. “I became younger, like in my past: I was just a vulnerable little thing. I ran into white light that shone everywhere. I woke and felt like I was spinning with the light. I felt completely relaxed; my entire system came to a halt. It surprised me so much I turned to stone, but I didn’t fall down. I could control my body. In other dreams where I see white light, I collapse like a lifeless corpse. In the past, my inner soul would have been blown away and ripped in all directions.” This dream demonstrated positive movement in Eric’s psyche; he was not out of control and was not collapsing. I dare to speculate that if he had been getting worse, the dreams would have presented a less positive message.
Witnessing himself in hallucinations
During a visual hallucination of a man threatening him with a knife, Eric said to himself, ”This is a hallucination and I am still scared.” This is a display of the newly found ability to witness himself in the midst of a hallucination. When a medication change once again resulted in an increase in hallucinations, Eric felt that the mental health field was against him. He could barely remember what he was like when he was not on medication. He recognized that he felt responsible for all the ills in his family. So, Eric was beginning to be even more objective about his illness and see how he created faulty beliefs in relation to his diagnosis. This healthier sense of himself was reflected in the following dream: “I was with my brother and a strange man who were completely poor and homeless. We had a long bike ride home; the togetherness felt good. We found a coupon for free French fries, then offered the food to others but were discriminated against. They threw things at us, it was like we were diseased and cast out. It was like leprosy, as if we were cast away by God and would be taken in by the devil. We banded together and would not have survived alone. We saved each other.” Once again, while he is struggling with external symptoms of depression and hallucinations, there is continued improvement indicated by the theme of relationship and survival in his dream world.
Eric had nightmares but didn’t wake fearful. He dreamt of having body parts blown off, but there was no blood. He dreamt of the other being in a black cloak and himself in a white cloak. They were trying to annihilate one another, but were completely matched and no one won.
Now when Eric had a hallucination he was able to detach from it’s content and track himself rather than become completely engulfed by the images. This was a major improvement as the hallucination was no longer taking over his existence. He began to have enough awareness about himself that he was able to anticipate the onset of a hallucination by the sensations in his body and talk about it rather than panic. This episode was followed by a dream where he escaped from being killed in his dream. He woke calm.
About 18 months into our work together, Eric dreamt that he was back in the mental hospital. He related the dream to his fear of not getting better. He said, “I believe I am getting better. Now I can see things as they are. I’m not as scared of what I see now – I just see weird things. I am more connected to the dimension I live in. I used to be able to feel everything everyone else felt, but now I don’t. I’m concrete, not floating around.” Eric was internalizing his progress, owning it, and labeling it.
During a dream where he was investigating how to save a family that was being threatened by the government, Eric realized that it was not his fault that the family was executed. When he had a hallucination of a shadow coming toward him with a weapon, he felt it happening, knew it wasn’t real and once he realized it, the hallucination went away. He continued his activity without being disturbed. Eric’s ability to manage his response to hallucinations reflected his growth.
There were still signs of depression, voices in his head, thousands of thoughts, forgetfulness and occasional nausea and diarrhea. However, his level of self-awareness was clearly increasing. By watching the dream states, and the quality of personal management of distress, we see continued self-awareness. If we were only considering the quantity of nightmares or hallucinations, the improvement at a deeper level may not have been acknowledged. Patience and attention to profound subtleties are indeed virtues in energy medicine.
Eric dreamt he was a genius, the smartest person in college. He cloned himself; the clone got half his brain. The two didn’t like each other in the dream; they took a debate class together, which led to a civil war! One used creativity and the other used traditional tactics. There was no victory – they always tied. They stopped attacking each other when they realized that they were equally matched. Interesting that the common definition of schizophrenia is “split personality” which is symbolized by the above dream. Moreover, as the two sides find themselves coming to a truce, the split may be healing at a deep level!
As time passed there were dreams where Eric was a leader rather than a victim. He created uprisings against massive executions. His dreams still focused around killings and massacres but they were not as brutal as the year previous and he was not being killed in his dreams, he worked with others to stay alive; they were saving each other.
After two years of homeopathy, as well as continued support from his school faculty and mental health team, there were minor hallucinations that Eric was able to rationalize while they were happening. He was momentarily alarmed on seeing an image, but it passed quickly. He said to himself “You’re not real and I’m not worried about you.” When he was younger he would have lost touch with reality, but at this point, he quickly and courageously tried to put the puzzle together for himself.
With Eric’s next bout of terrible nightmares of mass destruction, supernatural occurrences, and pure evil, one might assume this indicated a relapse. But, while everyone was being destroyed around him, he created a box around himself to meditate in and the enemies in the dream couldn’t get through. The worst evil he could create couldn’t get him! The dream could suggest that no matter how bad the problem was, Eric could maintain a sense of awareness. The day after the nightmare, he hallucinated. While talking with his counselor, he realized that the next time he needed to intervene sooner. Eric was gaining an adult perspective on his internal state of affairs and was starting to take adult action. He figured out on his own how the hallucinations related to the dream the night before, and realized if he had talked about the nightmare with someone, maybe the hallucinations could have been avoided. He could anticipate difficulties and access new ways to manage himself.
Eric dreamt he was living in a small village that was being attacked. He was trying to help people escape. He was surrounded by light; the people were around him with outstretched arms. In this dream Eric played his true self rather than watching himself in a dream as if there was a split. He knew he would find his way home; he just needed enough time. Through his life, Eric never felt like he belonged; this dream gave him a new experience. Sometimes dream content offers the conscious mind a fresh consideration.
Eric’s psychiatrist suggested that he no longer be diagnosed as schizophrenic; he was too present. There was no obsessive-compulsive disorder though there was some mood disorder evident. Since Eric had been off the anti-psychotic medication successfully for a number of months, we agreed that he would begin to wean off the anti-depressant! Eric was clear that he wanted to go beyond the protective walls of the medication to see how he would handle himself.
When the decrease in anti-depressants began, the voices in his head told him he would always be on medication. But he argued with himself, “I can get better. I can have a life and a career and stay out of institutions.” Eric now believed that his fear caused the hallucinations and that his fear was related to his belief that he could not succeed without medication. His fear of being institutionalized was a healthy fear! Rather than being caught in the anguish, he objectified the distress as fear. His ability to acknowledge his fears helped the possibility of managing them.
The first day he was completely off the anti-depressants, Eric had a hallucination. Figures circled around him and tried to kill him. No matter how much blood there was, he wouldn’t die. Eventually he got up and pushed them away. He believed the figures thought they could get to him because he was off the medications and would be weak. He knew that he doubted himself and that he was still wondering if it could be true that he could come off the medications and not end up in the hospital. With this hallucination, Eric learned that he can still slip into self-doubt and that he can make new choices based on his level of well-being.
Weeks went by without nightmares or hallucinations. There were longer spans of time where he actually had no recall of his dreams (dreaming was such a prevalent distress that I considered this a good thing!). His dreams included themes of forgiveness toward the persecutor, of others helping to save Eric, of trying to create world peace! When he was 14 years old, he thought he would be dead by the time he was18; he couldn’t conceive of a future. On his 20th birthday, he celebrated his independence.
Eric’s final medication, the mood stabilizer, was reduced. We continued with homeopathic remedies and energy healing. We talked about his future! His dreams continued to prove indicative of his progress. He dreamt he was a famous public relations person; he dreamt of leaving his parents’ home; he dreamt of the love and support of his grandfather who is dead. This was the first dream where he had a positive interaction with the death realm! For the most part, his dreams were not intimidating.
Graduation – Master’s and Doctorate
Eric graduated from a high school for special needs students and went on to a state university where he studied psychology. His mental illness no longer dominated his identification. Though he was not without nightmares and occasional hallucinations after three years of healing work, his primary fear was not about losing control, but the fear of returning to the hospital. He knew that he continued to need support from therapy while at the same time was planning to be free from medication.
Eric’s smile was contagious. He lost about 40 pounds over the year; his general ambience was lighter. He had no nightmares to report but told me a detailed dream about being chosen to fulfill a series of tasks that would lead to saving the earth from colliding with a meteor. No one died in the dream. He cried on waking, stunned that he could experience such a positive dream. Eric had no hallucinations for months!
With a gradual reduction over next year, he was off all medication. Eric continued to excel in his studies, his humor was witty, his esteem continued to grow and his family relations matured. Eric’s psychiatrist dropped his diagnosis of schizoid affect disorder.
Eric married, got his Master’s degree in psychology and went on to graduate from Johns Hopkins University with his Doctorate in Psychology and Brain Science. I recently received a note from his mother saying he is expecting his first child and has accepted a professorship at a prestigious university.
In the case presented, the client’s relationship with death, destruction and grief expressed itself through his hallucinations and dreams. Eric’s ability to differentiate between his horrific images and his true self increased; he developed an understanding of this difference along with healthier internal boundaries. Over time, his dreams and hallucinations changed from gory, brutal executions to being a harbinger of peace, thus reflecting his wholeness. Regardless of the diagnosis or the severity of presenting symptoms, beneath human thinking and feeling is the truth of wellness. By refusing to submit to intellectual assumptions regarding pathology but rather to support inherent wellness by allowing the subtleties of what is present to emerge we “Do no harm”. The vital force is always here yearning to be recognized!
Jung CG. “The Practical Use of Dream Analysis” in the Practice of Psychotherapy: Essays on the Psychology of the Transference and other Subjects (Collected Works, Vol.16). Princeton, N. J.: Princeton University Press (1966)
Martha Derbyshire, M.Ed., CCH, M.T.S.
16 Harden Avenue, Camden, Maine 04843 USA
Martha has a master’s degree in Transpersonal Psychology (M.T.S.). She has studied and practiced Classical Homeopathy for over 30 years, is the co-founder of the Maine Association of Homeopaths, is certified by the Council of Homeopathic Certification (CCH), and has been a member of the North American Society of Homeopaths (NASH) since its inception. Martha also has a master’s degree in Educational Administration and is a graduate of and was a faculty member at the Barbara Brennan School of Healing. Her private practice is in Camden, Maine, USA.
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