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Studio for the Healing Arts

Sleep Monsters and Superheroes:

Empowering Children through Creative Dreamplay 


About the Book

Dani and I are excited to share this excerpt from a chapter we co-wrote based on her therapeutic work with troubled adolescents. Despite their history of anti-social behavior viewed as incorrigible by the courts and social service agencies, these teens responded with profound changes in their behavior and adjustment to the healing power of their dreams and dreamwork--sometimes with the opportunity to share and understand only one dream.

Chapter 8: The Power of Dreamwork with Traumatized Adolescents, David Gordon, PhD and Dani Vedros, LCSW co-authors.


The following is an excerpt from our chapter in Sleep Monsters and Superheroes: Empowering Children through Creative Dreamplay by Clare R. Johnson and Jean M. Campbell, Editors,


Thomas had been released from a juvenile correctional facility on his 18th

birthday and was mandated by the court to participate in therapy. He had  been placed in the facility at age 12, following a conviction for sexual assault. He had not successfully completed the sex offender
program in Corrections and had committed multiple violent 

offenses while detained. He was being released because the facility could 

not hold him beyond age 18. None of the local stepdown facilities 

would  take him because of his reputation. 


When it became clear that Thomas was going to be released into the 

community regardless of whether a treatment program would accept him, 

he was allowed into our program. Sincere participation in the program 

was not a requirement of probation, soThomas knew that just as he had 

waited out the system inCorrections, he could easily wait out his six 

month probation in the program. Surprisingly, after a month of unproductive meetings, he agreed to share a dream at Dani’s request. 


Thomas’s Dream:


At the time I had this dream I was thirteen. 

I was lying in the timeout room in my underwear. The floor was hard 

cement. I had never been so cold in my life. I had been fighting and 

acting crazy. was so pissed off at being there I wanted to die and I was 

planning to fight until I was killed or killed someone else. I fell asleep on 

that floor and in my dream God came to me and he stroked my head and 

it felt really warm. I realized I was going to be OK, and that I was going 

to make it out of there. I kinda felt loved for the first time. He didn’t 

say a word to me, it was just the touch. 


I woke up crying. I wanted to live and to get out. I knew I was supposed 

to do something with my life but I didn’t know how or what I could do. 


This simple, clear dream was emotionally and spiritually transformative. The dream had provided this young man with a direct experience of hope, 

redemption, and inherent sacredness as an individual at a very critical 

point in his life. Its healing power had lain dormant however, until he was afforded the opportunity to process the dream’s wisdom with Dani. With 

the dream as the ultimate authority, tensions around power and hierarchy

were no longer relevant. Thomas could relax and trust his therapist to 

provide the help his dream told him he deserved. 


His dream also provided a grounding and centering experience to which 

he could return whenever he was feeling difficult emotions, by simply 

reentering the dream in his memory. For the first time in his life, 

Thomas was able to express and fully experience his fear, anxiety, grief, shame, deep sadness, and loss.

Through thisprocess, he changed a lifelong pattern of acting out 

aggression and hostility. Within the Mindful Dreaming paradigm, 

one can see that Thomas’ dream helped him to release his tight grip on 

control, embrace humility, and follow guidance. This single dream prompted him to release judgment of himself and others and to find 

greater self-caring and compassion. 

Thomas remained in treatment for an additional 10 months. When he 

ended therapy, he was less stuck in the past and more actively engaged 

now in his present life: working full time, taking community college 

classes at night, and looking for an apartment.


“If we care about children, we must care about their dreams; this means being willing to listen without judgment, to help with the scary stuff, and to encourage dreamplay that is safe and fun. The authors of the excellent collection Sleep Monsters and Superheroes know this well. They offer us a treasury of techniques and experiences that will help us to cheer on-and learn from-the kids we know as they draw guidance, healing, and creative energy from their dreams and become dream magicians, operating consciously in the place between sleep and awake, braving up to night monsters and crafting bigger and braver stories for life.”


--Robert Moss, Best-selling author of The Secret History of Dreaming, Active Dreaming and The Boy Who Died and Came Back



“A compelling and readable book that captures the innocence, creativity, and universality of children’s dreams, their vulnerability to nocturnal monsters, and cataclysms and capacity for creative and spiritual inspiration… It will be a source of guidance, insight, and solace for parents, teachers, mental health and health professionals, clergy, and to anyone interested in the creativity and resilience of the human spirit.”

--Alan Siegel, PhD, Associate Clinical Professor, UC Berkeley, Dream Wisdom: Uncovering Life’s Answers in Your Dreams


“This is the book for which we have all been waiting. It is a comprehensive, articulate discussion of children’s dreams, their nature, and their nurture. As the title implies, there are plenty of monsters and heroes in children’s dreams, but this book provides guidelines for using children’s dreams for creativity, enjoyment, and for the healing of mind and body. Such timely topics as videogames, trauma, and death are mirrored in children’s’ dreams as well as how they can help children cope during their waking hours.

--Stanley Krippner, PhD, Alan Watts Professor of Psychology, Saybrook University; coauthor, Extraordinary Dreams and How to Work with Them


“What a delightful book these IASD authors have created. It is not only an insightful trip into the impact your own childhood dreams may have had on your life, but a very important guide to help parents and adults to work with children’s dreams and nightmares. Something every parent should read.”

--Bob Hoss, Director and past President, IASD, Dream Language, Self-Understanding Through Imagery and Color


“Many children must face nightmares and learn about dreams on their own as I did. With this captivating and comprehensive book, talented dream experts have created a detailed guide designed to enhance the inner and outer worlds of the young and old alike. If I’d had access to this practical advice, I might have begun my lucid life at an even earlier age!”


--Beverly D’Urso, PhD, Teacher of Lucid Dreaming/Lucid Living at

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