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My urban fantasy setting has, among other things, succubi and incubi. They have all of the traditional traits you'd expect (wings, the ability to change their appearance, superhuman sex appeal bordering on mind control, etc.)

A particular succubus in my story decided she wanted to work as a licensed therapist, but none of those abilities are particularly useful in that department (not to mention that pesky "professional ethics" thing). There is, however, one power available to her kind that might be of value to her and allow her to do her job in ways normal humans could not. Because, like in certain mythos, succubi and incubi also have the power to enter people's dreams.

The things they can do in there are rather complicated, mostly owing to the fact that in my setting, dreams aren't just a series of visual and aural sensations in a person's head. They're whole temporary universes inside a person's soul that the dreamer merely experiences from their one perspective, but which can be observed, experienced and influenced by any supernatural creatures who can enter them.

But of course, the sorts of "therapy" a dreamwalker could do by entering these mental worlds Psychonauts-style and beating the tar out of their clients' inner demons would not have any grounding in reality at all, and any questions I could ask about the value of this ability to a therapist would be downright meaningless, because the answer would be wholly in my, the writer's, control. And besides, physically manifesting within a person's dreams to intervene with their subconscious would be the nuclear option anyway, with great potential danger both to the dreamer and to the dreamwalker. So I'd like to examine the more mundane sorts of options she might have when merely in "observation mode".

Assume we have a succubus working as a therapist for somebody who knows she is a succubus, or at least knows about her dream-walking abilities (so that she can actually convince her client to fall asleep in her presence). Further assume that this succubus is only using her power to observe dreams, and assume that when used in this capacity, dreams work the same way that they do in the real world, and that the succubus can only experience the dreams from the same perspective that the person having the dream experiences them from.

Would this actually have any value to a therapist at all? Do we know enough about the nature and causes of dreams that witnessing a client's dream firsthand would provide any valuable insight to a real-life therapist into how to approach therapy?

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    $\begingroup$ See en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psychoanalytic_dream_interpretation . Practically speaking, the consensus seems to be that the practice isn't worth diddly squat in terms of effectiveness but it will make the succubus-therapist pretty wealthy from all those billable hours. $\endgroup$ Jul 13 '21 at 2:01
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    $\begingroup$ If a third party can enter a persons dream then quite obviously the meaning of the word dream is profoundly different in your world than in the real world. With such a fundamental difference it makes no sense to compare the efficiency of psychotherapy in the two worlds. It may even be the case that in your world psychotherapists are actually effective at doing whatever it is that they are supposed to be doing. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Jul 13 '21 at 6:13
  • $\begingroup$ @AlexP I said as much, did I not? Hence the more limited scope of the question. $\endgroup$ Jul 13 '21 at 10:01
  • $\begingroup$ @CyrusDrake Your question could be well improved by clarifying relevant information to the question without the extra world fluff. Knowing about professional ethics and the look and feel of succubi definitely helps us understand the world but doesn't help us decide whether dreamwalking could be useful for a therapist. Also holy cow that wall of text. $\endgroup$
    – IT Alex
    Jul 13 '21 at 19:18
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Improve the patient's sleep.

People with PTSD or depression or anxiety often have vivid nightmares that make it hard to function. It's hard to focus on therapy when you're exhausted.

The top two treatments for nightmares and bad sleep are (other than drugs) image rehearsal therapy and Systematic Desensitization and Progressive Deep Muscle Relaxation

Image rehearsal therapy works as such.

Create detailed, nonfrightening endings for nightmares you've had repeatedly Write down and rehearse the nightmares with the new endings Learn how to monitor your nightmares so you know how well your IRT treatment is working

A succubi or incubi could directly observe the dreams, and then suggest ways to rehearse them to be better.

Systematic desensitization is when you find a phobia, expose it to them in light doses, often with things like deep muscle relaxation to make it relaxing, not scary.

If the dreams had particular traumas like dogs or men with beards or female teachers wearing pink you could work to make those traumas less scary.

For example, suppose the succubus observed their patient being chased by a dog down their school corridors while men with beards screamed at them from windows, till they reached a classroom where a female teacher wearing pink stabbed them to death.

They could then work on desensitization to the three elements of trauma and make a new ending where they fed the dog some beef jerky, reported the bearded men to the police for catcalling in a school, and have the dog help her do appropriate self defense from the dangerous female teacher with a knife.

Get useful information about emotions from dreams, and relax better.

Dream interpretation is harder to do, and we don't have any clinically proven ways to use it to improve therapy. Many succubi and incubi would no doubt offer such though, as many therapists offer such today, and dream science would be a lot more advanced with our ability to record vast numbers of dreams. They may have developed superior ways to improve the quality of dreams to make sleep better, or glean useful emotional information from dreams.

Science is verifiable, falsifiable, and testable. It's hard to do those three with a small dataset heavily impacted by patient biases. Incubi and succubi who could observe the dreams and record them would allow science to advance much faster in this area.

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    $\begingroup$ Dream interpretation has never withstood scientific scrutiny, the help it could offer would probably not be significant. +1 for desensitization though. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Jul 13 '21 at 13:15
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    $\begingroup$ Science has never had succubi to monitor changes directly and record all dreams. $\endgroup$
    – Nepene Nep
    Jul 13 '21 at 15:44
  • $\begingroup$ out of every supported explanation for dreams we have, none of them would support dream interpretation as useful. dream monitoring may well be useful, (look at Cartwright's work on depression) but dream interpretation is just inkblots without even the ephemeral rigor of actual ink blots. you might as well say it can help balance their humors. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Jul 13 '21 at 18:37
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    $\begingroup$ @John most dream journals would be sketchy at best. A lucid person watching a dream from a third part perspective (especially into nightmare patients) could quite possibly identify triggers, repressed fears, and other potentially beneficial things for a therapist to know. Knowing what to work on is half the battle and patients that lie to themselves and the therapist are a real issue. $\endgroup$
    – IT Alex
    Jul 13 '21 at 19:21
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Observing dreams will give little more information

Observing dreams would only be done for getting a better view of the patients problem origins. The question is, why? The patient is obviously already cooperating if she/he allows you to observe their dreams. The patient will already tell you what you need, especially with pointed questions. You could argue that observing dreams will access the subconscious more easily, but it seems relatively minor when the patient is assisting to the best of their abilities.

Your dreams work differently, but we don't know much how they work. Still, we can assume they are more relevant to the dreamer than real dreams. That means they aren't useless. They can add to what has been said. A picture is sometimes more powerful than a thousand words. The dream could show this. The problem is that we need to get the patient in a state to divulge the correct information. This could lead to the same problems as normal therapy, where memories and such are accidentally changed or added. This can have disastrous consequences, like the real life people who have effectively been giving a trauma about rape for example, even though this never happened.

All in all the dream can only add some clarity to the diagnosis, which doesn't mean we'll have a super psychotherapy.

Psychotherapy in dreams

You suggest the succubus could actually battle the demons of this person, but this could have really bad consequences. But this loses sight of something much more powerful. The dreamer can fight his or her own demons. The goal is simple. Guide the patient in a dream to battle their demons, so they get empowered by this. They can start with small and easy to beat demons. At the same time, practice with the real demon analogues can be used. As a crude example, they can practice overcoming their fear of heights by creating controlled environments. Using some techniques they can slowly go higher, or be fully exposed to a huge height and never able to fall off. If you subject them long enough and nothing dangerous happens, or they feel in control, they can learn to overcome this. That way they might be able to defeat (partial) demons. Even just learning together with the therapist can help them.

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    $\begingroup$ +1 but, "The patient is obviously already cooperating if she/he allows you to observe their dreams." I've observed some patients that were looking for psychological help but they were unsure what their problem was. Other patients look for help but when it comes down to the moment of confessing they don't have the courage to do so, as it basically means admitting their weakness. Those patients might feel more relaxed if their problem is identified indirectly, for example, from their dreams. $\endgroup$
    – GFA
    Jul 13 '21 at 11:52
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We do not know about dreams enough to give you a definite answer. However, your succubus therapist would be an excellent researcher since she can observe the dreams directly (in our world it is not possible, we have to rely on recollections of dreams which are not always full and accurate).

I think that dream observation can be helpful in cases of PTSD and other types of psychological trauma if the therapist can establish that dreams reflect the trauma more or less accurately. I cannot think about other obvious uses, but my familiarity with dream analysis is limited to basics in psychoanalysis (2 years of theory as part of my education; I am not a therapist, I used to be a researcher).

I believe that 'guided dreaming' could be more productive in therapy. If succubus can induce a particular dream and let her client relive a situation causing psychological problems and try different approaches to resolving it or just vent their negative emotions, that would have a beneficial effect.

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