An Introduction to Integral Deep Listening

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I will be doing a podcast for the American Counseling Association this coming week. This organization has 55,000 members world-wide and uses these podcasts as a source for professional continuing education credits. I have put together a narrative of the material I plan to cover in this question and answer format, and I am posting it here as both an introduction to Integral Deep Listening and its relationship to dreamwork, since that is the focus of the podcast.

Why work with dreams?

Dreams are sources of internal information, direction, and validation; they are also fun, amazing, entertaining, and highly instructive diagnostic tools that can provide useful treatment recommendations. They can indicate how and why a client is stuck

People already have within themselves many of the tools they need to get well. You can help your clients to access these tools.

Dreams can point your clients toward autonomy and self-healing – learning to be their own best friend and counselor. Dreams can put people in touch with what has been called “the healer within.”

Dreams often mean a lot to your clients, even if they don’t understand them – a frightening repetitive nightmare, a warning dream, a “message,”

Therefore, people can and do draw conclusions, right or wrong, from their dreams that can script their lives.

There are ways to work with dreams that minimize interpretation, transference, and counter-transference.

Why work with Integral Deep Listening?

Integral Deep Listening is one specific approach to dreamwork and, more broadly, personal transformation. I created it in 1980 and it has been in a constant process of development and refinement since then.

Before I tell you about it, I want to explain the context of dreamwork. This is best approached in terms of the circle of interventions.

There are intentional, affective, cognitive, behavioral, and interpersonal ways to change. Every form of therapy favors one of these five but contains all the others.

For example, Jungian analysis is highly intentional. It focuses on how dreams can awaken a future self.

It has an affective component, in that it wants dreamwork to bring about catharsis in how a patient feels about themselves.

It has strong cognitive elements, in that it has definite ideas about what dreams mean and what dream “symbols” mean.

It is behavioral, in that it looks for concrete improvements in health in people’s lives.

It is interpersonal in that it focuses on the relationship between the dreamer and the person who interprets the dream.

By far the most well-known and widely-practiced approach to dreamwork is symbolic and interpretive. Freud’s psychoanalysis and Jungian analysis are the best known examples of this. The many cognitive theories of dreams and dreaming fall into this category, such as Coutts’ theory that dreams alternate between selecting and testing scenarios for solving waking problems, Barrett and Blechner have also done important work on showing the evolutionary roots of dreaming as a problem-solving mechanism. Hartmann proposed that dreaming may function like psychotherapy;

Another approach involves the comparison of dream themes, called the “Content Analysis of Dreams,” developed by Robert Van de Castle at the University of Virginia. It is primarily interpersonal, in that it compares dream themes and elements among dreamers to find common, repetitive themes in order to discover what dreams are and how they work.

A third approach to dreamwork is behavioral, which ranges from scientific studies of dream duration, emotion, physiological correlates, sleep stages, dream telepathy, and anything else you can imagine. These include the neurologically-based theories of dreaming, like the activation-synthesis theory of Hobson and McCarley and the continual activation theory of Zhang. While these approaches emphasize behavior, they include the other four types of intervention.

A fourth approach is phenomenological, following Husserl and represented by Medard Boss. It emphasizes intention, but includes all the others.

Another approach involves role playing, following Moreno and Perls. It emphasizes interaction, but includes all the others.

Integral approaches attempt to take all of these types of interventions into account. IDL is an example of an integral approach to dreaming. Another is Arnold Mindell’s somatically-rooted, shamanistic, and holistic approach to dreamwork. Another is Ken Wilber’s AQAL, which interprets dreams as reflective of developmental level and as self-aspects, representative of what Jung called “shadow.”

How does IDL use all these approaches?

IDL uses all of these, but often in unexpected ways.

It relies on interpretation, but primarily by the interviewed characters themselves; not so much by the dreamer or the clinician;

It uses role play, but not in a Gestalt sense. Either the role of a dream character is assumed or the student/client becomes the personification of a waking life issue, such as abandonment, loneliness, or physical pain.

A comparison of dream themes with life dreams leads to the conclusion that life and its events may be effectively and beneficially approached as a self-created dream or delusion from which we are in a process of awakening. This is not to say that life is not real, but that our perception of life creates pain and suffering when it is out of balance or delusional.

IDL is phenomenological in that it asks you, the clinician, to drop the core skill set that you were taught and that you are paid to use: interpretation. It does so in order to emphasize a preference for a type of listening that is deep and integral.

By “deep,” IDL refers to a listening to alternative perspectives, not to the “roof-brain chatter,” which we normally listen to.

By “integral,” IDL refers to a process of listening that is in harmony with the AQAL model of Ken Wilber’s integral philosophy and psychology. It pays attention to levels of development, lines, or competencies, such as cognition, empathy, ethical, communicative, artistic, and the self line. It also considers the perspectives of the interior microcosm and the exterior macrocosm, as well as those of the individual and the collective. (Where these intersect you either get approaches that emphasize consciousness, developmental stage, and cognition; that are phenomenological; or you get approaches that emphasize values, ethics. These are contextual, interpretive, cultural, and intra-subjective. Or you get approaches that emphasize individual behavior. These are autopoietic (self-creative), physiological, behavioral; Or you get approaches that emphasize social and natural systems and patterns of interactions. IDL attempts to address all four of these.)

IDL is also integral in that it emphasizes human potentials, or the future evolution of humanity. To find solutions to the urgent problems of global warming, predatory capitalism, and war will require the rapid education and evolution of millions, if not billions, of people. A core mission of IDL is to support and hasten the birth of these potentials within the consciousness of every client, with particular emphasis on changing family culture, which is the primary source of identity for future generations.

What sorts of client populations is IDL most effective in working with?

Anxiety disorders of all sorts:

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)

Social Phobia

Panic Disorder



Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

Using IDL, nightmares generally stop with one interview.

Repetitive dreams generally stop with one interview.

Post-traumatic stress disorder: three interviews a week for three weeks will significantly reduce the symptoms of at least half of all cases of post-traumatic stress disorder. I am trying to be conservative here. I have never had a case where the major symptoms of PTSD were not radically reduced, but that is unbelievable, so don’t believe me. Do your own research using IDL with your clients with post-traumatic disorder and make up your own mind.

I should mention that any dream is generally understood to the satisfaction of the dreamer with one interview using IDL. While this is simply an aside and taken for granted with IDL, it needs to be noted how significant this one aspect of the work is, in the history of dreamwork. It is an extraordinary claim.

Insomnia – to the extent that it is a co-morbid factor with anxiety, IDL reduces it significantly.

Exogenous depressions

Psychological components of head injury, particularly reduction of anxiety and depression and stabilization of mood.

The psychosomatic components of physical disease processes

e.g. cancer.


skin conditions

Pain management

Rebuilding trust in relationships

Finding life purpose

Building self-confidence/self-esteem

Finding or restoring life balance

My various texts provide explanations and examples of these different types of ailments as addressed by IDL.

If IDL is so useful, why isn’t it broadly known and widely used? 

There are a number of reasons.

I am neither a researcher or a marketer, nor have I to date written articles for peer-reviewed professional journals. This is why I am currently seeking collaborators with a published research background.

While the method itself is simple, it requires training, because it is based on assumptions that are radical and novel for many people, both clinicians and clients.

The therapeutic protocol itself requires a minimum of half an hour to forty minutes, or essentially the entirety of a single therapeutic session.

How does IDL determine efficacy?

Efficacy is best determined by the scientific method. This involves providing the steps for an experiment, performing them, and then having the results checked by peers in the method. This method is empirical: we use it when we cook, with any sort of yoga or meditation instruction, or with an interpretation of Shakespeare, for example. It is not limited to science.

IDL asks clinicians to first follow the methodology in their own lives, to test the procedure themselves, and then to validate the results using two methods. Look at the results in your life when you apply the recommendations for life change that are part of the process. Does your life get better or not? Do the problems the interview addresses get better or worse or stay the same? Secondly, compare the results with other Practitioners of IDL. That is basically how IDL deals with issues of efficacy, or epistemology – how you know what is true and real.

I am also hoping that other clinicians will work with me to conduct studies of the method for publishing in peer-reviewed journals. In particular, its effectiveness with anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder deserve such research. So any clinicians who listen to this and who want to collaborate toward the publication of innovative research, please contact me.

How does IDL work?

Your client tells you three life issues.

The reason for the three life issues is to demonstrate the relevancy of the method. If it does not alleviate major issues of concern to the client, what use is it?

They may also tell you a dream.

If they tell you a dream or nightmare, you work on the three life issues in the context of working on the dream. They choose a dream character other than themselves to become and interview. IDL recommends interviewing an antagonist or an object in the dream.

If they do not have a dream, they choose the life issue of greatest concern. This could be the basic presenting issue in therapy, for example: loneliness, divorce, grief, suicidality…

In this case, they arrive at an image to interview by duplicating the automatic process of dream image creation: An intention, represented by the chosen life issue, is associated with its core feelings, which are named. For example, if the core issue is loneliness, the central related feelings are named. We will say sadness and fear. The feeling or feelings are given a color or colors by the client, for instance blue or grey. They then imagine themselves surrounded by the color or colors and watch them congeal into an animal, object, or figure. It could be an octopus, a potted plant, or Aunt Jenny. The image itself is largely irrelevant; it is a metaphorical conveyor of a relevant and often transformational perspective.This entire process is described for both dreams and life issues on the IDL website under IDL Resources, Questionnaires.

Once a dream character is chosen or the personification of a life issue is created, the client is instructed to become it, to take its roles, to look out at the world from its perspective, and describe what it sees. This is not having a mental image of the animal, object, or person; it is becoming it and answering a series of questions as the character. 

Interpreting and analysis comes later; for the time being the client is instructed to stay in role and the therapist, teacher, or parent instructed to stick to the IDL interviewing protocol, either for interviewing a dream character or the personification of a life issue. They are essentially the same.

What are the functions of an IDL interview?

The interview has many functions, too many to cover here. These are explained in one of the series of texts written for students of the method, IDL Interviewing Techniques.

However, here is a summary of some of the benefits of the interview:

Getting into role is an intrinsic and essential competency for personality development in children. Adults largely lose this ability, acquiring stereotyped roles of parent, worker, driver, cook, and so forth. Revitalizing this essential skill unlocks creative options for personality development in people of any age.

Finding that an “imaginary” or “meaningless” image, like a singing salamander, can indeed be more real and more meaningful than our normal sense of self or our normal “reality” is a transformative shock for many.

Getting into role often involves a shift in state that is felt or experienced by the therapist, parent, or teacher; there is a real, authentic, and undeniable transformation that can happen. Don’t believe me; perform the experiment and decide for yourself.

These shifts, while real and often evidential, do not last. That is the purpose of application of recommendations that are provided by the interview and also the purpose for repeated interviews.

The process of questioning keeps a person in role so there can be assimilation into it. This involves an expansion of awareness, of self-definition, of consciousness. It is not dissociation, nor does it weaken the sense of self, because this process is not a trance, nor is the “self” of your client encouraged to go dormant at any point as it does in say, hypnosis. Eyes are open to maintain contact with time, space, and identity.

Each time an interview is done there is a temporary expansion of identity into the perspective of the character, called an “emerging potential.” This mostly goes away after the interview, as one’s normal, habitual perspective reasserts itself. However, it does not go away completely. An expanded residue remains. With repeated interviews and repeated expansion and contraction of identity, there is a slow, steady, developmental evolution into the perspectives of emerging potentials.

The recommendations are operationalized. This teaches clients how to frame change in ways that can be measured.

An action plan is developed involving daily monitoring. This teaches clients self-monitoring and accountability.

Feedback in an accountability structure is initiated. The results of the daily monitoring are either emailed daily to you or else brought in once a week to the next appointment.

Another major function of the interview is to teach a phenomenological approach to life. That is, the ability to suspend judgments, expectations, preferences, and interpretations, in order to deeply listen.

Another function of the interview is to teach multi-perspectivalism, not as a concept, but as an experience. As clients become clouds, rocks, monsters, cars, and toilet brushes, and find that all are equally sources of authentic transformation and growth, their sense of self expands and thins. This means that there is less of a self to be damaged, and the self that is damaged is no longer who they are; it is merely one component of who they are. That is an important and fundamental distinction in the healing process.

Interviewing is designed to first familiarize and then amplify six core qualities in the awareness of the student: confidence, compassion, wisdom, acceptance, inner peace, and witnessing. These qualities support the evolution and broadening of consciousness out of their opposites: low-self esteem and fear, selfishness, ignorance, resistance and rejection, stress, and subjective unconsciousness

Are there other issues about how the interviewing process is integrated into therapy?

 The entire process of checking personal application of recommendations from previous interviews, doing another interview, and working up an action plan from the recommendations for self-monitoring for the next week will take a double session. Therefore I typically see people every other week, giving them two weeks to work with the recommendations in between sessions.

In addition, there is bibliotherapy. Clients are given reading assignments in the form of chapters from a client-oriented text I have written, Waking Up. Some sessions do not focus on interviewing but rather on making sure the material in the reading assignments is understood well enough to be applied.

One chapter describes the Drama Triangle, a concept from Transactional Analysis, involving the three roles of persecutor, victim, and rescuer. IDL expands on the concept, applying it not only to relationships but also to the cognitive realm of one’s thoughts and feelings, as well as to dreams. The reading assignment and subsequent discussion is designed to enhance awareness of the Drama Triangle in the three realms so as to first objectify it and then eliminate it, because drama is seen as a major source of one’s waking dream, and clear, authentic living requires growing out of it.

Another focus describes emotional, logical, and perceptual cognitive distortions. The purpose of this material is to teach clients to objectify their thought processes to accomplish three things. First, so that cognitive distortions do not cause them to identify with emotions that keep them stuck in pain, misery, anxiety, and depression. Secondly, so that they learn to think clearly, and third, so that they learn that they are not their thoughts.

Another chapter educates students of IDL in powerful meditation techniques as a way to disidentify from any and all “selves” and to cultivate peace of mind.

What would you say is the basic goal or purpose of IDL?

Our identity is largely determined by our childhood scripting. But to meet the challenges of the world today we need to evolve into emerging potentials that want to be born into expression in our lives, and the earlier the better. Consequently, IDL is interested in interviewing children, in teaching parents to use it with their children, to create personal and family cultures that are not determined by family and cultural scripting, whether religious, national, or ethnic. One book I have written, Ending Nightmares for Good, focuses on these issues. Think of what it would mean to be raised in a family in which your dream characters and personifications of your life issues were interviewed for their take on the life issues most important to you, and your family helped you to apply the resulting recommendations in your daily life. Think of what it would mean to children and the world for you to be raised in a family where you were not only interviewed, but you, as a child in the family, interviewed your parents and helped them to apply their recommendations. What would that do to the power structures of families? What would that do to the advancement of the core qualities of confidence, compassion, wisdom, acceptance, inner peace, and witnessing in the world?

IDL is currently looking for support from clinicians who are interested in testing these concepts in their own lives and in their practice. I invite my listeners to investigate the IDL website and contact me regarding any questions they may have: Joseph.Dillard@Gmail.Com




Posted in Essays, What is IDL?

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