Junkyard Dog

October 27, 2011

Bret was a San Diego County police officer, referred to me by the Sheriff’s Department for treatment of PTSD. He had shot and killed a bank robber at close range. When Bret arrived on the scene, he found the bank robber with a gun in his hand pointed off to the side. Bret’s partner, who had arrived earlier, was injured and lying on the ground, white as a sheet, saying “I’m hit.” The suspect lifted his gun and pointed it at Bret, saying “Kill me! Kill me!” Bret fired five times until the suspect fell backwards. Bret later learned that the bank robber was facing a long mandatory jail sentence without chance of parole, and may have chosen to die rather than go to prison.

Bret first came to see me about a year after the incident. He had managed to return to work at first, but had gradually developed recurrent nightmares, flashbacks, insomnia, and daytime fatigue, which led him to seek medical (psychiatric) help. I put him on temporary disability leave, started some medications, and we began working on his nightmares.

Recurrent Dreams of Intent to Harm

Bret was thirty five years old when I first met with him; he was single and Caucasian. His main recurrent dream was about being chased by people or forces who wanted to hurt him or kill him. His pursuers appeared in various forms, as “people”, “the Mafia”, “a tidal wave”, and “a huge dog, foaming at the mouth”. After several initial sessions in which Bret told me his dreams about being chased (a common PTSD nightmare), I taught him the techniques of dream revision, also known as imagery rehearsal therapy (IRT). I suggested that as a police officer he did not need to run from his pursuers. He could use weapons to defend himself, his service revolver for example. He could bring in reinforcements if necessary, other police officers for example.

A few months after our initial training session, Bret informed me of a dream in which he had been pursued initially by a huge dog. He shot and killed the dog. The dog’s owner asked Bret “why did you kill my dog?” Bret woke up feeling angry, but he had taken definitive action against his pursuer.

This action marked the beginning of Bret’s recovery, which continued over the next year until he was able to return to work at full duty. He had several further dreams about shooting the “junkyard dog” even after returning to work. In one dream, when people asked him how he could manage to shoot the huge dog, he said “I was just taking care of business”.

Manifestation of Guilt in Dreams

Bret eventually came to realize that he himself was the junkyard dog, due to his guilt over killing a bank robber at close range, the first time he had killed anyone. Once he had come to terms with his guilt, he was able to recover. Eventually Bret’s nightmares stopped completely, and he achieved a complete recovery from his earlier PTSD.