Why do we dream?
  The expectation fulfilment theory of dreaming
sleep and dreams

Research from neurobiology and neurochemistry that supports theory of psychosis

Research from Professor Claude Gottesmann (1), (2) at the University of Nice-Sophia Antipolis in France shows that the brain is acting the same way in schizophrenia as it does during REM sleep when we dream. Gottesmann suggests that REM state disturbance is a better model for schizophrenia than we have had previously, and this opens a door to a more realistic understanding of the mechanism and possible treatment for schizophrenia. 

This is good news, as schizophrenia is hardly understood at all by medical science at the moment.  Indeed, the medical profession has a poor record in this area.(3)

However, there are psychiatric teams in and outside the NHS who for six years have used the 'psychosis as a dream state' model, and found it invaluable for helping patients understand, control and recover from their experience of schizophrenia.  Joe Griffin and Ivan Tyrrell developed this model from observation of 'patients' experiences of schizophrenia.

Schizophrenia and the expectation fulfillment theory of dreams

Conventionally, anxiety, depression and psychosis are seen as separate symptoms that sometimes overlap.  HG therapists see all these states as a continuum, from 'normal' human functioning through increasing anxiety or anger, depression and, ultimately, to psychosis.  Here’s why: In 1993 Joe Griffin first published his theory (4) that it is emotional arousals that are not acted out during the day that become the subject of our dreams.  Dreams metaphorically act out the expectations and thereby discharge the autonomic nervous system so we can begin each day afresh.

Sleep researchers have known for decades that depressed people dream more intensely, and for longer periods than non-depressed people.  All depressed people worry and a worry is an expectation.  Griffin’s theory is the only one that offers an explanation for the link between depression and dreaming.

As an individual's stress levels rise, this generates emotional arousal — worries — that if they are not resolved by taking action, will increase and extend REM sleep periods as the brain attempts to de-activate these leftover emotions.  Unfortunately, REM sleep is exhausting; it uses as much energy as being awake does, and it is accompanied by extensive firing of the orientation response, exhausting the mechanism that focuses our attention during the next day.  This leads to the morning exhaustion and flatness that characterises depression. All depressed people wake up tired. (It also explains that, when a psychotherapist concentrates on stopping a depressed patient from worrying, the depression lifts.)

But what happens when the degree of emotional arousal exceeds the level that the REM sleep mechanism can deal with in the night? 

Schizophrenia is waking reality processed through the dreaming brain

In 2001 Ivan Tyrrell observed, while working with a patient who was cycling rapidly from normal to psychotic consciousness, that the psychotic phases were accompanied by rapid eye movements, and hypothesised that schizophrenia is waking reality perceived through the REM state.  This happens, he deduced, when the brain reaches a point where its emotional arousal level has overloaded the ability of the REM sleep mechanism to dearouses the autonomic nervous system, so distressing dream imagery spills out in the daytime.(5)

If this is true, and since every depressed or anxious person has an emotional needs deficit and psychotic episodes are preceded by intense stress, depression or high anxiety, then both depression and psychosis should be resolved by reducing the stresses on people by getting their innate emotional needs met – the earlier the better.
Four years ago Hartlepool Mind discovered this analysis of the essential emotional needs of the human being and redesigned its entire service, abandoning the traditional focus on diagnosis and dysfunction and concentrating on helping clients meet the essential emotion needs that are givens of the human being.  The results so far are dramatic – even people who were labelled schizophrenic found that, as more and more of their needs were met with the help of staff at Hartlepool Mind, they become less stressed, and the symptoms fell away as they re-engaged with reality. (6)

A full account of the history of Joe Griffin's research appears in Dreaming Reality (pages 17-42: 'An experimental adventure'). Read the reviews.


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1. Gottesmann, C. Med Sci (Paris). 2006 Feb; 22(2): 201-5. "Dreaming and schizophrenia: a common neurobiological background?"
2. Gottesmann, C. Neuroscience. 2006 Jul 18; 140(4):1105-15. "The dreaming sleep stage: A new neurobiological model of schizophrenia?"

3. Whitaker, R. (2003) Mad in America: Bad Science, Bad Medicine and the Enduring Mistreatment of the Mentally Ill. Perseus Books.

4. Griffin, J. The Therapist. 1993 Vol.1 No 1. “The Origin of Dreams.” 

5. Griffin, J and Tyrrell, (2004) I. Dreaming Reality: How Dreaming Keeps Us Sane or Can Drive Us Mad.  HG Publishing.

6. Caldwell, I.  Human Givens Journal. 2004 Vol.11 No 1.  The road to recovery.


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© Copyright Joe Griffin and Human Givens Publishing Ltd. 2007