Using dream work and EMDR with survivors of sexual abuse


Dreamwork is a highly effective tool in working with survivors who are in the active stages of working through their abuse. As they begin to focus on painful memories, whether they are repressed or not, often post traumatic stress symptoms are activated. Often there is much traumatic material emerging in dreams. Sometimes the dreams are symbolic ways of highlighting the emotional issues, and sometimes the dreams contain material that is an additional piece of the memory being worked on. Over time, in conjunction with EMDR, it can be clarified what the information is really about. The symbolism that emerges is often very powerful and healing for the survivor, in and of itself, as it is truly their own creation and perhaps brilliant solution to the dilemmas at hand. Recently, I have been working with a specific method of doing dreamwork, called dream interviewing, developed by Dr. Gayle Delaney. This method is extremely client centered, allowing the client to come up with personalized descriptions of elements of the dream, bridge it to issues in their current life, and make sense of what the dream means for them, rather than have the therapist make interpretations. This is similar to what we do in EMDR following the client's process and allowing the meaning to emerge for them. I have been working with different ways of combining this dreamwork with EMDR. Sometimes a very interesting series of work happens when EMDR is used to follow a dream; either using the dream as the target, or following a dreamwork session where certain issues have been clarified. Sometimes there is such a powerful metaphorical image that is created, it may take several EMDR sessions in which EMDR becomes the dream and takes off on its own direction. I have also had much success in helping to uncover material by starting with a dream element that seems to convey some historical information. I will clarify the clinical cautions to be aware of when working with possible memories. In this presentation I will give some didactic material about PTSD dreams and dreams related to sexual abuse, some examples of how dreams can track the stages of healing of the survivor, an overview of doing dream interview work, and case examples of combining EMDR and dreamwork.






Rena Zahorsky

Original Work Citation

Zahorsky, R. (1995, June). Using dream work and EMDR with survivors of sexual abuse. Presentation at the EMDR Network Conference, Santa Monica, CA



“Using dream work and EMDR with survivors of sexual abuse,” Francine Shapiro Library, accessed July 9, 2020,

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