UM researchers look to help kids end trauma-related nightmares

A University of Montana study could determine a new treatment method to help children eliminate trauma-related nightmares.

Researchers in the Clinical Psychology Program are using a modified version of exposure, relaxation and rescription therapy in the study, which is a sister study to another one being conducted at the University of Tulsa, said Cameo Borntrager, the UM study’s principal investigator and an assistant psychology professor.

Children ages 8 to 13 who have been exposed to significant life stress and who are experiencing nightmares at least once a week are eligible for the study. Funding allows researchers to study 60 kids, but so far only two have gone through the study, Borntrager said.

It’s not uncommon for children to experience nightmares in general or for kids who have been exposed to trauma or significant stress to have nightmares for a period of time. However, prolonged nightmares are not normal, and children often don’t mention sleep difficulties to parents, Borntrager said.

ERRT has been effective for adults, and Borntrager said she’s hopeful the modified version, ERRT-C, will provide long-standing relief of nightmares for children.

The study consists of five 90-minute treatment sessions that help children target negative sleep habits.

Children write or draw detailed descriptions of their nightmares and then researchers hone in on themes. Children then rewrite their nightmares to exclude the negative themes and insert positive themes.

The treatment does not change children’s memories, Borntrager said.

“We can’t change what happened to them,” she said.

Instead, the treatment works to help them change what happened to them in their dreams, she said.

As children sleep better, their attention and concentration levels also should improve, she added.

The study also includes a post assessment and three- and six-month follow-up assessments.

To learn more, contact the Research on Implementation Science and Trauma in Youth Lab at 243-6684.

Leave a Reply