Survivors of war and genocide living in Australia experience shared nightmare

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A new study conducted by a Melbourne-based psychologist has revealed survivors of the Balkan wars experience an almost identical nightmare dream sequence.

The study of more than 200 Yugoslavs from three distinct ethnic groups revealed an eerily similar scenario of running from a pursuing enemy who turns out to be a once-trusted neighbour.

A presentation during the 40th Annual Conference of the Australian Psychological Society in Melbourne, by psychologist Sophie Bibrowska will outline her recent study into the trauma suffered by former Yugoslavians, with a view to improving their mental health.

Commenting on her findings, Bibrowska said, "Many of my clients witnessed neighbours, family members and former friends commit unthinkable acts of violence during the Balkan wars. As a result, they are suffering Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). One of the symptoms of PTSD is disturbed and unrestful sleep plagued by nightmares."

Bibrowska’s research found that although Bosnians, Croatians and Serbians see themselves as fundamentally different from each other, they all dreamt the same nightmare – the only difference was the political identity of their enemy.

"In working through the scenarios and sequences of my clients' dreams, it became apparent that they shared several recurring themes.Many of the Bosnians and Serbians described hiding in a forest patrolled by the enemy in order to reach a village occupied by 'their people'. Another recurring theme was the once kindly and trusted neighbour who turns on them and their family.

"Unfortunately, the experience of running away from the enemy in nightmares becomes a response to people in real life”, added Bibroska.

"As a result of what they have seen, survivors of war and genocide develop a profound level of mistrust toward those around them which affects their mental health. My focus is on helping people overcome their trauma so they can embrace their new lives in Australia. Resolving these nightmares is actually a very important aspect of successful integration into Australian society."

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Sophie Bibrowska is available for interviews: contact Elaine Grant 0412 683 068.

The 40th Australian Psychological Society (APS) Conference - 28 September - 2 October at Crown Promenade, Melbourne, Australia.

Themed Past Reflections, Future Directions, the five-day program includes international scholars and psychologists, interactive workshops, themed days and streams provided by APS Colleges and Divisions, research papers and symposia and fora.