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Wilmer, H.A. (1982). Vietnam and Madness: Dreams of Schizophrenic Veterans. J. Amer. Acad. Psychoanal., 10(1):47-65.

(1982). Journal of American Academy of Psychoanalysis, 10(1):47-65

Vietnam and Madness: Dreams of Schizophrenic Veterans

Harry A. Wilmer, M.D., Ph.D*

For five-and-a-half years I have listened to the dreams of Vietnam veterans at the Therapeutic Community for chronic schizophrenic patients at the Audie Murphy Veterans Hospital, which I directed. The clinical records of these Vietnam veterans rarely if ever contained a detailed history of their military experiences, or the contents, severity and frequency of their nightmares.

The dreams of Vietnam reveal an unconscious history of the war. In the tormenting nightmare images, the war lives on in the psyche as if Vietnam still existed, night after night. The combat dreams and the attendant insomnia are often the most disturbing symptoms. Such dreams may still occur nightly or weekly as long as 8 to 15 years after the war and the delayed stress reaction may not appear until many years after the war.

By focusing on the world of dreams, a helpful bond was created. Almost all patients were enormously relieved that at last some professional person was interested in the dreams, not afraid to listen patiently to their nightmares and their combat experiences. The patients were, in a manner of speaking, haunted by these persistent, dreadful dreams and welcomed any light being thrown on them. Some veterans, upon suddenly awakening from such nightmares, have assaulted their wives, believing that they were still in Vietnam.


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