(this is raw unedited text transcribed directly from the audio)
Dr. Kenner: Annie, you have a question?
Annie: Hi Dr. Kenner. Yes, I have a friend, she’s sort of like a little sister to me. She’s 21 and I haven’t seen her in a few years and this weekend I just actually got in contact with her and I noticed that she confuses her dreams with reality. A lot of times, she’ll tell me that she had a dream and she wants me to help her in her dream defeat her problem. But how do I tell her that it’s just a dream? It’s not real.
Dr. Kenner: You need to give me an example, and if there’s anything private you can just change it. I just need the type of example that she gave you.
Annie: Her family was abusive to her when she was growing up.
Dr. Kenner: Physically abusive?
Annie: She told me that last night she had a dream that they were abusing her, and she wanted to tell them to stop. So today, she called me and told me that she wants my help. She wants me to come with her in her dream so that I can defend her and stop abusing her.
Dr. Kenner: Okay, physical abuse, is that what you’re referring to?
Annie: It seems more of an emotional abuse.
Dr. Kenner: Now this is falling into the category of trauma. Many trauma victims have told me that when they were being beaten or you can name it sexually abused or emotionally torn apart, that they would cope and they use very different strategies. There are only so many strategies you can use to cope. Some of them tried to pretend that they weren’t where they were, that they were really at a friend’s house. So from the outside, we can look and say they’re crazy, but actually it was a rational coping strategy to deal with a horrific situation. They would try to disengage. And then your subconscious is processing everything, and if her family was abusive to her and it hasn’t been resolved in the sense that she doesn’t feel like she’s had her say with them, and she’s dreaming now … you’re now saying that she wants you to go to her family, or to go into her dream? Which one is she asking you?
Annie: She actually asked me to go with her to her dream.
Dr. Kenner: How did you answer her?
Annie: I kind of left it open. I didn’t really answer her question. I just listened to her.
Dr. Kenner: Well, the fact that she knows it’s a dream, she said, “Come with me in my dream?”
Dr. Kenner: So she still can differentiate reality from a dream. It’s just that she’s not differentiating that you can’t come with her in the dream. Whether she meant … you know her, I guess you haven’t seen her in a while, but you could say something along the lines of, “Help me understand you better. What type of help are you wanting me to do? What specifically do you want me to do?” What do you think she might say?
Annie: You know, I don’t know. She’s so young. She’s 21 and I just don’t know her well enough to know exactly what she’s going through. I just really want to help her be able to tell the difference between what’s dream and what’s real.
Dr. Kenner: That’s a different situation. If you help her get specific, she might say on the better end of things, she might say something to the affect of, “Well, I know you can’t come in my dreams. I’m just meaning that metaphorically. If you were in this situation that I’m describing to you in my dream, can you think along with me and figure out what to do?” Now that would be okay, because she’s still telling the difference, she just wants some help, some guidance, in how to handle trauma. And if that’s not something you’ve done a lot of, then you can just tell her, “It’s wonderful that you’re motivated to ask for my help. I’m not the right person to ask. I would get professional help,” and I, Dr. Ellen Kenner, would recommend a cognitive therapist. Because they’re going to teach her thinking skills and they will help her differentiate fantasy or dreams from reality better, to get those boundaries better. You could go to the website to check them out, but AcademyofCT.org, CT for cognitive therapy, they list therapists who have been trained by them all over the world.
Dr. Kenner: She could seek help there. If she can’t find one and of course just because you find a cognitive therapist doesn\'t mean the chemistry between you and any individual therapist is great, but if she can find a good cognitive therapist that she feels at home with, someone who has had some experience dealing with trauma. Basically you’re reprogramming your mind to not feel like the essence of people and reality is abuse, but that you’re free to live your life again and that was an awful childhood, but an anomaly, meaning you were unlucky but now you’re free. You want to be able to move on and you want to mentally free yourself too.
Tell me why, if you don’t know her that well now, tell me what’s drawing you into her life again?
Annie: I feel like I gave up on her. She was like a little sister to me and when she was in her foster care, she spent a lot of time with me and she called me out of the blue. I hadn’t talked to her in years. And I’m glad that she can confide in me again, because we did lose touch. But I don’t want to scare her away, because she needs to be able to have somebody, since she doesn’t have family. I feel like I’m her only family.
Dr. Kenner: Are you okay with that?
Annie: It seems like it’s a lot of pressure on me. But at the same time, when you care about somebody, you stick with them no matter what.
Dr. Kenner: You said so you can care about her. Are you a therapist?
Dr. Kenner: If you were a trained therapist who dealt with trauma all the time, you could probably easily give her some guidance. If you are not a trained therapist and this feels like it’s overload for you, if you don’t want to take on the role of being her caretaker you can delimit your involvement. Be there but be one of several friends she has to turn to. Help her be more resourceful and help her get professional help. But you have your own life too, that you have a right to enjoy. So make sure that you keep the boundaries where it’s appropriate for you.
Dr. Kenner: So you don’t get in over your head. And if it ends up being a wonderful experience, you reconnect with her and have a lifetime new family member or one that’s returned, that’s great. But if it’s not going in that direction, it’s your life. You don’t owe your life to somebody else.
Dr. Kenner: Thank you so much for your call Annie.
Annie: Thank you so much Dr. Kenner. I really appreciate it.
Dr. Kenner: Let me know how things go if you get a chance.
Female 1: You’re a good mom.
Female 2: I’m the best.
Female 1: No, I’m pretty sure the best moms let their daughters drive.
Female 2: And yet?
Female 1: Well, come on.
Female 2: Let’s not have this conversation.
Female 1: But I took the class.
Female 2: I spend enough time not knowing where you are. I don\'t want to add to that the possibility to that that you’re on the highway. I just don’t want you driving. Okay? I want you here.
Dr. Kenner: That is from Buffy. Maybe that rings true to you. Maybe you have kids who are just learning how to drive and you’re anxious. How do you deal with that anxiety as a parent, knowing that you have a new driver on the road? Or maybe you remember back to your childhood – did your parents let you drive? My parents were delighted to let me drive because that meant I could drive myself to all of my after-school events or I could take my sisters who were younger to events. How do you manage the anxiety if you’re a parent, dealing with a teenager? If you’re a teenager, how do you deal with your parents’ anxiety? And how do you build trust in your parents? Help them build trust in you, that you’re competent and able to drive, to take those first steps not only driving, but the first steps in life? Eventually you’ll be moving out of the house and on your own. How do you do that in a way that’s not as rollercoaster-like as most families deal with?