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New Art Therapy Shows Promise in Easing Borderline Personality Disorder Nightmares

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A novel therapy combining art and imagery, rehearsal, offers new hope for individuals suffering from post-traumatic nightmares, particularly those diagnosed with borderline personality disorder. This innovative approach, known as imagery rehearsal-based art therapy (IR-AT), integrates the transformative power of art with the established benefits of imagery rehearsal, providing a more engaging and effective treatment method. The findings were published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology.

Traditionally, treatments for posttraumatic nightmares (PTNs), which are prevalent in patients with borderline personality disorder (BPD), have been challenging due to high dropout rates and limited efficacy. This new study, however, showcases a promising alternative. By engaging patients in a creative process, IR-AT allows them to reimagine their traumatic experiences, offering a non-verbal and indirect approach that addresses the avoidance behaviour often seen in trauma therapies.

The study highlights the journey of Aurelia, a 40-year-old woman diagnosed with PTSD and BPD who underwent IR-AT. Aurelia’s treatment involved drawing her nightmares in a comic-strip format using pastel crayons, which enabled her to face and reshape the content of her nightmares in a controlled environment. This process not only helped Aurelia revisit her traumatic experiences but also alter them, leading to a significant reduction in the intensity and frequency of her nightmares.

IR-AT encompasses several phases, including exposure, rescripting, and rehearsal. Patients are encouraged to externalise their traumatic memories through art, enabling them to confront and transform these experiences. This is followed by a rescripting phase, where patients alter the narrative of their nightmares, creating empowering and positive outcomes. Finally, the rehearsal phase involves patients revisiting these new narratives, reinforcing a sense of control and mastery over their trauma.

Aurelia’s experience with IR-AT highlights its effectiveness. Post-treatment, she reported a notable decrease in nightmare frequency and intensity, a renewed sense of self-efficacy, and an overall improvement in her psychological well-being. This transformative journey was marked by a shift from victimhood to empowerment, as Aurelia actively engaged in reshaping the narratives of her traumatic past.

The implications of this study extend beyond the treatment of nightmares. By incorporating art into the therapeutic process, IR-AT addresses the emotional and psychological dimensions of trauma in a holistic manner. This approach not only provides relief from nightmares but also contributes to the broader healing process, aiding patients in integrating their traumatic experiences into their life narratives.

The success of IR-AT in this case study opens new avenues for treating trauma-related disorders. Its ability to engage patients actively in their healing process, coupled with its creative and non-verbal approach, makes it a valuable addition to the repertoire of trauma therapies. This innovative method holds great promise for providing more effective and engaging treatment options for those struggling with the debilitating effects of trauma and BPD.

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