Freudian Psychoanalysis and IDL

What Do Freud and Psychology Have to Do With Dream Yoga?

What do Freud and his offshoots in modern psychology, counseling, and coaching have to do with dream yoga? On the surface, relatively nothing at all. Most know nothing about yoga and are completely unaware of its empirical nature. Nor do they share the traditional goal of yogas: liberation from samsara. Regarding Wilber’s integral AQAL, which IDL regards as a potent and effective re-definition of dream yoga, most of psychology doesn’t even know who Ken Wilber is. If you look in most introductory text books on psychology (as of 2015) you won’t find him in the index and you may not even find the term “transpersonal.” So what? There remains in psychology a strongly humanistic and rationalist emphasis that avoids and discounts anything that could be categorized as a significantly more advanced developmental stage.[1] IDL shares this caution and skepticism, but largely for different reasons, believing it throws out the sacred baby with the metaphysical bathwater.

Psychology is a relatively young field that is still attempting to justify its existence as a “real” science. Consequently, the mainstream tends to veer away from interests that appear unscientific. While there have indeed been scientific studies of meditation carried out by psychologists, among others, these are generally not associated with the word “yoga,” as if meditation were not a yoga, and meditation is not widely accepted as a legitimate psychological intervention, although it is gaining in both credibility and popularity, mostly among some psychotherapists. Instead of being called “meditation,” it is generally called something else, like “mindfulness,” or “relaxation therapy,” or “stress management.” Why? Even Wilber’s integral could be faulted for something similar. Yogic practices are called “integral life practices” rather than “yogas.” Why? IDL has no problem with the term “integral life practice” and uses it. It goes on to define them as forms of yoga. Why?

Yogas are life disciplines with the intention of union with the sacred, however it is defined. What is it about the sacred, and union with it, that is either toxic or out of fashion in many contemporary psychological circles? Why do science and psychology avoid it? At this point one cannot say that yoga is too closely related to Hinduism or even Eastern spiritual traditions, because the largely secular invasion of hatha yoga has largely disassociated the term from either the sacred or the East in the minds of many. Are meditation and yogas too experiential and not “rational” enough? Yoga presents development as primarily a sacred and experiential process rather than a rational and cognitive one. For people who are focused on achieving, maintaining, and advancing credibility at a mid-personal level of development, claims of levels that transcend and include their own are threats. The response is to ignore such claims; if this doesn’t work, then the next response is reductionism, that is, to claim that which transcends and includes one’s own world view is actually a prepersonal belief system. This is the prevailing assumption regarding yogas in general.

One would think that in light of all of this that the answer to the above question would be, “Freud and psychology have little, if anything, to do with dream yoga.” However, this is not IDL’s answer. Both traditional yoga and psychology address the question, “How does man wake up?” Where traditional yogas are interested in awakening man out of delusion and into an imagined utopian state of consciousness, psychology has mostly focused on awakening man out of delusion, generally defined as sickness, and into his potential for normalcy, or a balanced, satisfying life within his current culture and society. While this may seem like a mundane and secular goal, a strong, healthy self-sense is a pre-requisite for stable, higher development.

The goal of normalcy and the steps required to insure it have tended to be hidden in bronze age and traditional cultures because of tight-knit social and monastic communities, the paternalistic, disciplined structures they embody, and the regularities of routines within them. These provided tremendous stabilizing factors that tended to compensate for individual deficiencies in ways that individualistic, industrial and technology-mediated existence since the 1800’s does not. Psychology has been understood by some as a response to both the alienation and exposed roots of dysfunction that become both obvious and problematic outside of traditional cultures.[2]

When the goal of achieving waking competency in the world is understood to be a form of waking up, psychology can indeed be appreciated as a powerful dream yoga. The acquisition of balanced mid-personal level development, which is the fundamental goal of most psychology, is an accomplishment that few attain, and without it attempts to achieve balanced development into higher levels will fail. Therefore, anyone who is interested in dream yogas, waking up, or enlightenment needs to seriously consider the significant assistance psychology offers in bringing development to mid-personal levels.

Mid-personal level development entails “ego strength,” the holy grail of some forms of psychodynamic psychotherapy, “self-esteem,” real world competencies as measured by the ability to hold down a job, raise a family without abnormal amounts of discord, and maintain mental-emotional equilibrium in the process, that is, no major depression, anxiety, addictions, or volcanic eruptions. It entails the use of reason in problem solving and the control of emotional impulses. In other words, the major goal of psychology is the attainment and maintenance of normalcy in the interest not only of personal health but societal stability. These are the goals, purposes, and functions that the public expects from psychology and psychologists: to promote personal health and social functioning. The agendas of psychologists are mostly shaped by the motivations of the people who pay their salaries. There are notable exceptions in both research and practice, but those are standard deviations away from the bulk of the bell curve. Most people don’t seek counseling to be super-normal, to access the sacred, to learn a yoga, or to not be “normal.”

Classical yoga and lucid dream training today tends to focus on transpersonal competencies, such as meditation, and shamanistic competencies, such as psychic abilities, control, freedom, power, without mastering personal ones, such as getting a suitable education, making a living, learning to get along with others, managing life stress, juggling nutrition, exercise, work, family, and leisure, developing emotional objectivity, and learning how to think. Lucid dreaming is less likely to ask questions about what sort of control, freedom, or power is to be developed or what one is going to do with them once they are developed. In addition, dream yogas marginalize themselves when they become associated with pre-rational superstition, magic, belief, tradition, and mythology. This makes it easy for psychologists and other mainstream professionals to discount dream yogas in general instead of discriminating between the rationally-based and beneficial, and that which is less so.

Those who us who would like to see yoga rehabilitated have a responsibility to separate the wheat from the chaff and speak up when the emperor has no clothes. One embarrassing example, the naming of which will irritate many in this age of pluralism and egalitarianism, is ayurveda. Based on Vedic scriptures between two and four thousand years old, ayurveda is a yoga that claims to provide scientific solutions to everything from nutrition to architecture. Really? The same can be said about meditation. Both Hindu and Buddhist traditions claim meditation develops psychic powers. We now have millions of people around the world who have meditated, and research studies on serious meditators from various Hindu and Buddhist traditions. Good research on the many astounding and profound benefits of meditation are widely available. Where is the research demonstrating these psychic powers?

Yogas of all forms will do much better if they align themselves with and draw from the many tools psychology provides to help people wake up. These include helping people objectify their emotions, problem solve, develop confidence, acceptance, and reason. What is not sacred about these skills? What is not yogic about them? Notice that these are intertwined with the six core qualities of confidence, compassion, wisdom, acceptance, inner peace, and witnessing. How important are such competencies to waking up? How important are they to enlightenment? IDL considers them to be pre-requisites, and those who think they can bypass them are in fact lengthening the time and increasing the amount of energy expended in the journey to those goals.

Most psychologists do not see themselves as practicing a yoga. Instead, they aspire to be rational scientists, empathetic listeners, or problem solvers. However, the basis of science is empiricism, which is a logical, rational process. Despite their often non-rational contexts, yogas are also logical, rational processes in that they are empirical methods. Like science and psychology they say, “In order to get these results, follow these instructions. Confirm your results with peers in the method.” Psychology has tended to ignore both the rational roots behind the highly experiential nature of yoga and the implications of pursuing psychology as if it were a yoga. Traditional yoga has tended to ignore the importance of understanding the perils of unquestioned beliefs and mythologies.

IDL can be viewed as a yogic re-definition of psychology in several ways. It addresses the dysfunctionalities associated with prepersonal and personal levels of development, as psychology does, but for different reasons. Like psychology, IDL recognizes that a stable, integrated prepersonal through mid-personal foundation is required if higher levels of development are to be accessed and maintained. This is a different focus than simply returning people to normalcy. IDL and Healing discusses what can go wrong on each of the different levels and what interventions may be most effective. IDL is also yogic in the sense of emphasizing, following Wilber, the importance of establishing an integral life practice, which is a holistic approach to both goal setting and healing. This is different from both traditional yogas, which tend to assume that the religious context in which the individual is embedded is sufficient and provides the goals they need in order to achieve enlightenment, and most forms of psychology, which tend to assume that treatment related goals are sufficient for its goals of a happy, healthy life.

IDL is heavily indebted to psychology through Wilber’s integral, Moreno’s sociometric methology, Berne’s transactional analysis, and the work on cognitive distortions by Ellis, Beck, and Burns. However, with the exception of Moreno’s contribution, these are primarily tools for developing objectivity through cultivation of the witness. IDL is non-psychological in that it emphasizes an “inner compass” which is not a self-construct or centered on the development or actualization of a self. It is not a “superconscious,” “higher self,” “soul,” “intuition,” “conscience,” nor is it to be equated with Cayce’s “Ideals,” Plato’s “Forms,” Maslow’s, self-transcendence, Kohlberg’s post-post conventional, Jung’s “Self,” Aurobindo’s “supermind,” or Loevinger’s and Cook-Greunter’s “spirit-self.” The difference fundamentally lies in its multi-perspectival, collective, and ontologically indeterminate nature. This is a radical departure from psychology, which is centered on self-development and self-actualization. While IDL wholeheartedly agrees it is important to develop a balanced, competent, well-functioning identity, its purpose is to become a transparent tool rather than the central, governing reality of life.

Psychodynamic Psychotherapy

Psychodynamic psychotherapy has its roots in Jung, Adler, Rank, Klein, and theorists of the object relations movement, such as Winnicott and Guntrip, but particularly and most profoundly in Freud and psychoanalysis. It is difficult to overestimate the impact of the contributions of Freud on consciousness and culture, how we think and feel about ourselves and others, on our understanding of behavior, as well as on society and how we interact with one another. While many approaches vigorously emphasize their differences from psychodynamics, almost all individual, couples, and group psychotherapy has roots, recognized or not, in psychodynamic concepts and assumptions about the nature of therapy, whether it is in assumptions about the unconscious and ego, the nature of resistance, the importance of defense mechanisms, the nature and importance of therapist and client interpretations, or an emphasis on insight or catharsis. Just as adolescents believe they are asserting their autonomy by doing the opposite of their parents’ wishes, so many forms of therapy confuse reaction to Freud and psychoanalysis with freedom, autonomy, and individuality in their theoretical structure and work. Even those branches of psychology which vociferously distance themselves from Freud share a debt to his work as a source of their reactivity. Any approach that assumes the reality of an unconscious, a subconscious, defense mechanisms, or the interpretation of covert thought, feeling, or action are anchored in Freud.

His most profound and lasting contributions lie not only in the provocation of an ongoing explosion of research into human behavior and motivation, but in reframing much of human activity as a defense against various internal and external onslaughts, instead of in traditional religious, ethnic, or even Darwinian terms. For Freud, waking up involves resolving intrapsychic conflicts between instincts, conscience, and the self. Like psychoanalysis, psychodynamic psychotherapies are based on a medical model of history taking, diagnosing, and treating in which interpretations by trained professionals provide the cure. Like Freud, psychodynamic psychotherapies assume a model of being that presupposes an unconscious, a subconscious, a psyche, psychic tension, and relies primarily on the relationship between an authority figure, the therapist, and a supplicant, the patient. Because this is essentially a parent-child relationship issues of transference and counter-transference are unavoidable in the therapeutic relationship. While it may not rely on Freud’s constructs of Id and Superego, the concept of ego remains central to psychodynamic psychotherapy.

Most of the assumptions that are foundational to psychodynamic psychotherapy are derived from Freud, in that they focus on the centrality of intrapsychic and unconscious conflicts and their relation to development. They view defenses as developing in internal psychic structures in order to avoid unpleasant consequences of conflict. They believe that psychopathology develops primarily from early childhood experiences. Internal representations of experiences, such as thoughts, emotions, and dreams, are organized around interpersonal relations. Insight is seen to be critically important for success in therapy. Symptom removal, as pursued by behavioral therapy, is seen as not addressing the “real” and “underlying” problem. There is a supposition that life issues and dynamics emerge in client-therapist relationship as transference and counter-transference. Psychodynamic therapy often uses patient and therapist interpretations of patient associations as a major method for exploration of internal conflicts and problems. It focuses on interpretations of transference, defense mechanisms, and current symptoms and the “working through” of these present problems within a context that emphasizes confidentiality.

Because psychological dysfunctions are presumed by psychodynamic approaches to have developed early in life, they tend to focus on history taking, psychic archaeology, and “uncovering.” Dating from Brück’s initial formulation based on thermodynamic concepts of the late 1800’s, psychic dysfunctions are often conceptualized as energy blockages. This association of the working of the mind with recently discovered models in physics was part of the attempt to make psychology scientific. If mental dysfunction is due to energy blockages, then the release of those blockages, called catharsis, becomes an important and basic element of treatment. This tradition has been broadly disseminated not only within various psychotherapies, but through Ida Rolf and others into those forms of body work which believe that trauma is stored in bodily tissues. Its release, through manipulation of muscle and fascia, is often accompanied by sudden cathartic upwellings of emotion, which are desired demonstrations of the release of blockages and a return to normal physical and mental health.

The basic assumptions of psychodynamic approaches to therapy indicate a broad shared world view. Therapy is about self development. Whether it is considered a return to “normalcy” or a movement to “self-actualization,” it is the self that is being developed. This self is the center of the psychodynamic universe. While it may be defined narrowly as ego or broadly as the constellation of conscious and unconscious forces, the work of psychodynamic psychotherapy is its “adjustment” and “integration.”

Another basic assumption, one that psychology shares with most yogas, is that people need guides, therapists, coaches, counselors, and gurus, in addition to friends and teachers, in order to wake up. While psychotherapists may also serve as friends and teachers, they see themselves as having skills that friends and teachers lack.

In 2014, psychodynamic psychotherapy, in one form or another, remains the most popular model for individual, group, and family therapy, for a variety of reasons. Social workers, psychologists, and counselors, who do most of the individual, couples, group, and family therapy, are primarily trained in psychodynamic psychotherapeutic approaches, as are the majority of psychiatrists who seek training beyond medical management. While a multitude of other approaches have their share of practitioners, since the 1990’s cognitive behavioral therapy has become the most widely accepted and practiced modality, usually within a psychodynamic framing. Insurance companies pay professionals based on the diagnostic categories proposed and maintained by those who use a medical model of diagnosis and treatment which has its origins in Freud’s work.

The centrality of conflict

Freud was greatly influenced by Hermann von Helmholtz, a scientist whose interests were in physics, physiology, and understanding the laws of psychology. From Helmholtz’s work Freud developed associations between the thermodynamics of steam power and personality. Freud used analogies to thermodynamics to explain his newly developing theories of “psycho-dynamics.”[3] Freud adapted the first law of thermodynamics, that “Energy can neither be created nor destroyed,” to the functioning of the human personality. He also adopted Darwin’s assumption that emotion is a form of physical energy.[4] Hence, ‘psychic energy’ can neither be created nor destroyed, it can only be converted from one form to another.

The principle of conservation, another principle of thermodynamics, states that the total amount of energy in any given physical system is always constant, that energy quanta can be changed but not annihilated, and consequently that when energy is moved from one part of the system it must reappear in another part.  Freud used this principle to conclude that society cannot eliminate the impulses it condemns in its citizens. All it can do is make individuals unconscious of their impulses, which then continue to assert their influence in disguised forms. In pursuing this analogy from physical laws of thermodynamics, Freud noted that the human personality is also an energy system that contains “psychic energy.” The function of psychology is to investigate the modifications, transmissions, and conversions of psychic energy, which shapes and determines personality.[5]

For Freud, human psychology is a product of three competing intrapsychic processes, the id, superego, and ego. The id is instinctual and comprised of biological needs and drives such as hunger, thirst, and sex. It provides energy for the psychic system just as fire provides energy in thermodynamics. The superego consists of society’s rules, internalized as conscience. In thermodynamic terms, the superego would be a lid on a boiler that contained water, which was to be converted into steam. The ego is the conscious mind, containing your thoughts, judgments and memories. In Freud’s thermodynamic metaphor, the ego is analogous to the wheels and escape valves where steam is turned into work or otherwise released.

The ongoing, never-ending conflict between id, superego, and ego was seen by Freud as a battle between the desire to live and grow, called eros and personified by the id, and thanatos, or the desire for self-destruction and death. Freud saw the ego as caught between these two pulls, and generally overwhelmed, by the combined powers of the id, which often presents highly threatening urges that are experienced as self-destructive and deadly to the ego, and the super-ego, which, as internalized social injunctions, generally pulls the ego away from itself and toward thanatos. 

Part of Freud’s success was due to his ability to anchor his concepts of the mind in popular and well-respected scientific laws that gave his theories a patina of respectability. In addition, he was himself a respected scientist, medical doctor, and neurologist who had professional credibility among his peers. However, the main reason for the success of Freud’s ideas was his creative genius. In particular, his description of defense mechanisms and their function was brilliant and has stood the test of time. Freud also possessed an outstanding ability to communicate novel and challenging ideas in clearly understandable ways to a broad audience. His books are still easily read today.

Conflict is Often Unconscious

Although Freud was not the originator of the concept of the unconscious, it was fundamental to Freud’s understanding of the human mind and he is without a doubt chiefly responsible for its popularization. It provided a reasonable way to explain why people do things that are both irrational and self-destructive. That understanding was so useful and sensible that it is still in common usage today. It remains part of a lasting cultural inheritance and conceptual framing for the great preponderance of psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, counselors, and mental health workers. The concept of the unconscious is useful because it explains why and how people sabotage their happiness in ways that they do not understand, expect, or control. The unconscious is not simply latent, or a “black box” that lies outside of awareness; it contains many active components of mental activity. Freud’s famous analogy, still widely in use today, was to an iceberg:

“The mind is like an iceberg, it floats with one-seventh of its bulk above water.” The part above water is “conscious;” the part just below water is “preconscious,” the realm of dreams. The vast majority of the iceberg is out of awareness, or “unconscious.” Freud thought that pieces of the deep unconscious could “break off” and float to the surface, where they would appear as neuroses or psychoses.

An analogy to an iceberg is also used by Integral Deep Listening. However, that which lies beneath the surface is not described as unconscious. This is because for IDL it is not out of awareness. “Ice cores” are taken of the underwater body of the iceberg, by interviewing emerging potentials. When this is done, awareness that is clearer and more integrated that that of waking identity is often provided, instead of conflict, needs, desires, and instincts battling with conscience and a waking need for control. These clearer and more integrated perspectives are not considered by IDL to be either aspects of some “superconscious” awareness, or repressed aspects of self, but rather simply listened to while taking a phenomenalistic stance. The result reveals co-existing, alternative valid perspectives which are not subordinate to any part of the “iceberg.” It is as if a holonic imprint were discovered in the core taken from the iceberg. The subject of the holon does not reside in the iceberg even though the imprint does.

Another reason why IDL does not use “unconscious,” “subconscious,” and “superconscious” is that their usefulness is largely due to ambiguity and confusion between these terms as processes and things. It is one thing to say something is “unconscious,” meaning it is out of awareness, or to say that something is “unconscious,” meaning it is in a particular place. It is one thing to say something is unconscious, in the sense it is a process that is out of awareness, and another to mean it is something that exists with the characteristic of unconsciousness. Is it the thing that is unconscious or do we lack awareness of it? These confusions and ambiguities are inherent in this terminology, and lead people to misleading confusions about the nature of awareness and how to understand it. Therefore, IDL chooses to use less problematic terminology.

There are implications for therapy of non-reliance on the concept of the unconscious. Without it, there is no assumption that psychological defenses, such as repression, are the source of internal conflict, or that those conflicts are the source of human dysfunctionality. For example, if a person is depressed, the interpretation is not made by IDL that they are repressing their anger. Instead, this or that personification of the depression is interviewed and the interpretations of that perspective are given priority as hypotheses to be tested via triangulation. This might be viewed as a psychological process if it were about the self, its healing, and its balancing. However, IDL is not about a self, which it views as a habitual and useful fiction. Instead, it is about learning to get clear and out of our own way in order to listen to life and its priorities and perform the yoga of testing its recommendations in our own lives. Waking up in a psychological sense is in service to a broader enterprise of awakening life to itself through us.

While psychoanalysis focuses on identifying, understanding, defusing, and integrating various unconscious influences, Integral Deep Listening is interested in listening to various personified perspectives which are clearly aware. It does not assume these perspectives are conscious or unconscious, “other” or self-aspects, spiritual or mundane, because these are dualistic assumptions that get in the way of deep listening. Consequently, Integral Deep Listening does not use the idea of an unconscious realm in which such perspectives reside. This is a fundamental and important difference, because Integral Deep Listening does not assume that what comes up is unconscious, disguised, or some need of uncovering and disclosure. Integral Deep Listening does not find the bifurcation between conscious and unconscious helpful, which it considers a contemporary re-envisioning of ancient and largely unhelpful dualisms springing from mid-prepersonal shamanic consciousness. Nor does IDL find conflict between the conscious and unconscious to be a topic for most interviewed emerging potentials. Instead, they tend to generate contexts that include, yet transcend, the conflict in a nurturing, respectful, authentic embrace. There is no denial of conflict, but it is reframed in a way or ways that the interview subject generally finds relevant and helpful.

Our own awareness, as well as that provided by interviewed emerging potentials, is similar to a spotlight that illuminates whatever it shines on at the moment. What you are now aware of is part of your current dream; what you are not aware of is not. Integral Deep Listening speaks of influences that are not part of your waking dream as “contexts” or “perspectives” instead of contents of your unconscious, subconscious, or superconscious mind. From the perspective of life, these perspectives are not internal or external, real or imaginary, sacred or secular, true or false. From the perspectives of most interviewed emerging potentials, these perceptual distinctions, so basic and important to you and I, are largely irrelevant. While emerging potentials generally say they personify this or that aspect of the student, that does not mean that they are interior to them or reducible to them. Indeed, the very concept of emerging implies a reality that both transcends and includes interior and subjective consciousness.

Personality Defenses

The defense mechanisms are perhaps Freud’s most brilliant and lasting intellectual insight. For Freud, conflict is an essential element of life. Integral Deep Listening agrees, viewing it in Hegelian terms as the antithetical stage of the ongoing developmental dialectic. Defense mechanisms used by Freud include repression, regression, reaction formation, introjection, turning against one’s own person, reversal into the opposite, and sublimation or displacement. Many more have subsequently been identified. How do these defense mechanisms work and what makes them so important?

The key concept for Freud is that personality defenses are unconscious; they occur out of awareness. When you become aware of them they are no longer defense mechanisms. Consequently, a large part of psychoanalysis involves the unconvering, acceptance of, and defusing of defense mechanisms.

Repression is the most primitive and effective of all defense mechanisms. Since we can only change what we are unaware of, we can escape responsibility for change by remaining unaware. The problem is that repression is a highly effective and beneficial adaptational response. It is only by remaining unaware of many stimuli that we are able to focus and complete any task. It is only by remaining unaware of constant pain signals in our bodies that we are able to experience comfort and well-being. The problem that repression raises is not only that some repression is beneficial, but that the concept is basically misunderstood and misused. For example, it is common to say or think, “He is repressing that.” However, “he” cannot be doing so, because repression, like all defense mechanisms, occur outside of conscious awareness by definition. That means, if a person chooses to ignore or forget something, it is not repression; it is ignoring or forgetting.

IDL assumes that repression exists as an automatic, survival strategy but refuses to use it as an explanation for ignoring or forgetting, because to do so projects motivations and intentions onto a person that they, by definition, do not have. Consciousness ignores and forgets; biological programming and survival scripting represses.

Regression is the falling back into an earlier state of mental/physical development seen as “less demanding and safer.” This is commonly what occurs when we dream: earlier, habitual reactions to threat, stress, and adversity are practiced, thereby reinforcing immature emotional responses and primitive forms of problem solving. Thereby, much therapy and positive waking intent and behavior are undone while addictive rescuing and persecuting emotional, cognitive, and behavioral habits are reinforced. This reality goes a long way toward most people’s avoidance of their dreams. Who wants to remember or investigate events that make them feel worse and confused? Integral Deep Listening reduces regression when interviewed emerging potentials reframe regressive waking and dream themes. For example, interviewed dream monsters are generally no longer experienced as threatening but instead bearers of important perspectives that the dreamer vaguely knew about but was ignoring.

Regression is important because it protects us from our insecurities by returning us to wht is familiar, comfortable, habitual, and reassuring. The price we pay is fixation. Unwilling to think outside the box or see beyond the horizon, growth not only stops; it is actively fought. IDL reduces this cost of regression by making identification with emerging potentials and their recommendations a comfortable and realistic response to the life issues that most concern us.

Projection, according to Freud, involves possessing a feeling experienced as socially unacceptable. Instead of facing it, that feeling or “unconscious urge” is seen in the actions of other people. For example, inadequacy or failure are generally not experienced as socially acceptable. You lose approval from your parents and teachers and status from some peers when you fail. That fear can be projected outward as impatience and intolerance toward others. Freud explained dreaming as wish fulfillment, a form of projection. While we are dreaming we are generating the meaning of what we experience and responding to dream events according to those projected meanings. Our essential unity is projected onto the canvas of waking and dream experience, with the result being that we assume others are responsible for that which we ourselves create and feel.

IDL suspends the assumption that dreams and our interpretations of waking events are projections on the ground that we don’t know until we gain additional information. While the advantage of assuming that everything is a projection is similar to that of karma, in that we take responsibility for all our experience, the disadvantage is that it is grandiose. We are making our sense of self much more responsible for both the actions of others and what happens to us in our lives than it actually is. Consequently, IDL advocates respectful enquiry of our interpretations and assumptions, rather than jumping to conclusions. However, Freud provided an invaluable service by teaching us the importance of asking, “Could this be a projection? If so, what could I be defending myself against?”

In reaction formation you act in the opposite way, which is often exaggerated and obsessive, from how your unconscious instructs you to behave. For example, if a husband is infatuated with a woman who is not his wife, reaction formation will cause him to become obsessed with demonstrating his love and affection to her. In this model, violence is a reaction formation to fear of being killed. Freud viewed waking life as a reaction formation to the instructions the unconscious plays out in dreams. Freud thought that dreaming itself was used as a form of escapism for those who view life as cruel and meaningless, in an act of reaction formation. Integral Deep Listening defuses reaction formation by undercutting the fears that generate the need to react or to move to a polar opposite psychological or experiential stance. It does so by internalizing the perspective of that which is feared through the process of assuming a fear is a wake-up call to be interviewed. Once the fear is listened to it no longer needs to be disowned through conversion into a violent response. When this is done on an international level by politicians and soldiers it makes war impossible, because it is only by first dehumanizing another person that they can be attacked. The more that another person is experienced as a brother, sister, parent, child, or as oneself, the more difficult it is to hurt or kill them.

Sublimation is the expression of anxiety, fear, and aggression in socially acceptable ways, such as debate, lawyering, joining the military, art, poetry, sport, music, invention, and any sort of creativity. Integral Deep Listening interviewing could itself be viewed as a form of sublimation, except that it also seeks to identify and interview any fears that might generate a sublimation, thereby undercutting the mechanism by which the defense is assumed to work. Sublimation projects assumptions of underlying fear and aggession onto emerging potentials. IDL provides an easy and effective way to check those assumptions. When emerging potentials are interviewed, what reasons do they give for their scores? If their high scores are sublimations, regardless of their explanations, then what are their low scores? A simpler, less projective assumption is that their scores and recommendations are not defenses. This can be tested by applying their recommendations in your waking life and see what happens.

Along with cognitive distortions, defense mechanisms are the conceptual glue that maintains the Drama Triangle in consciousness. This happens on at least two levels. The source of the defense mechanism (the Id for Freud), is the persecutor and we are the victim. When the defense mechanism is used the experience is one of self-rescuing, when it is, in fact, self-persecution because it is based on deceit and manipulation. On the level of interpretation, that is, when we say, “I am using sublimation,” “He is repressing,” or, “You are projecting,” we are posing as rescuers, saving the victim from their own ignorance, forgetfulness, stupidity, and destructiveness. We get to feel intelligent, helpful, smart, caring, and in control. The “victim” is likely to be at first grateful, because they hadn’t considered their problem in such a light, and therefore feel helped. However, with closer examination, what they are likely to realize is that they have been made wrong and inferior to someone who considers themselves smarter, more knowlegeable, and capable of mind reading, that is, accurately identifying motives, intentions, and feelings when they are in fact picking out what fits into and validates their own biases, prejudices, and expectations. This means that there is a very real danger that victims will awaken to a recognition that they are being persecuted, which will now be labeled as “transference.”

The recognition of the Drama Triangle and cognitive distortions largely avoid the labeling, interpretive, and projective problems that are intrinsic to defense mechanisms. While it is unlikely that we can completely free ourselves of using defense mechanisms, because they are such effective tools for generating useful introspection, the more that we do so the less cognitive filtration stands between life and experience. By using the simple yet powerful interventions, of awareness of the Drama Triangle, cognitive distortions, interviewing, application of triangulated recommendations, and meditation, Integral Deep Listening concludes that while defense mechanisms exist, they may be minimized rather easily and effectively.

Many fears play a central role in keeping people stuck. For example, a fear of gaining weight can lock one into anorexia; phobias involve consciously acknowledged fears. PTSD is a state of being overwhelmed by fears that are all too conscious. The object is to become aware that we are afraid and listen to what it has to say. To do so, Freud’s distinctions between the conscious and unconscious are not necessary.

For Integral Deep Listening, defense mechanisms are important because they explain how and why we lie to ourselves, based on both unrecognized and recognized fears. They are also important for people who are moving from late prepersonal and early personal to a personal level of development because they teach us to question our motivations and consider how we may be sabotaging ourselves. However, past the early personal they cease having much relevance or usefulness. After these lessons are learned, we need more than understanding or professional interpreters; what is required are tools for stopping and preventing non-productive fear.

Integral Deep Listening neutralizes defense mechanisms. For example, in repression a feeling is hidden and forced from the consciousness to the unconscious because it is seen as socially unacceptable. In Freud’s conception, this would define sexual, infantile, and sociopathic urges as well as all dream images. Called “symbols,” because their essence lies in what they represent, these images are both repressed and disguised psychosexual and thanatonic urges. Integral Deep Listening does not view dream characters as symbols, nor does it assume they are repressed or socially unacceptable. Feared images, such as dream monsters and threats, or fear itself, are given form, interviewed, and incorporated into an expanded, more inclusive self-definition. While this is a never-ending process, sources of fear and life disruption become increasingly less significant and potent as more that was perceived as “other” becomes internalized into an expanded and less rigidly defined sense of self. When children learn deep listening to their fears the utility of learning about defense mechanisms is largely bypassed.

Creative Support in Handling Resistance

“Resistance” plays a big role in Freudian psychoanalysis and psychodynamic psychotherapies. The idea is that the self, called the “ego,” fights the impulses of the id or the conscience of the superego. This concept makes conflict central to Freud’s understanding of both therapy and dysfunction. Much of therapy, then, is about uncovering the sources of resistance and neutralizing them, generally through psychic archaeology, proper interpretation, and catharsis. In psychoanalysis, as in most forms of therapy, passive and aggressive behaviors are often labeled as indications of resistance. Examples include refusal to speak, interrupting the therapist, changing the subject, transferance, or anger at the therapist. The cause, nature, and resolution of these behaviors, once they are defined as resistance, is generally also provided by the therapist’s interpretations, which are themselves projections. Resistance is in the eye of the beholder. If change resists the intentions, desires, and interventions of the therapist, is that a good or a bad thing? If change resists the intentions, desires, and interventions of the patient, is that a good or a bad thing? The answer, of course, is that if you are the patient and you experience resistance to accomplishing some change you desire, that is typically considered to be a bad thing. If you are the therapist and you experience your patient as “non-compliant with treatment,” that is typically considered a bad thing. Is it? How do you know?

Integral Deep Listening recognizes the importance of resistance. It sees it as an expression of a need to maintain stability, even when that stability is dysfunctional, as it is in addiction or states of developmental fixation. It does not see resistance as a problem to be eliminated, but something to be listened to, understood, respected, and taken seriously. Issues of resistance are minimized by avoiding a focus on teacher and student definitions of resistance. Therefore, Integral Deep Listening will often ask students to describe their resistance, name the associated feelings, give those feelings colors, surround themselves with those feelings, and watch the color or colors condense into some object, animal, or person which is then interviewed. The assumption is that a personification of the resistance itself is much more likely to provide helpful recommendations for addressing it than either the patient or the therapist. The result is that the functional nature of what is viewed as resistance is often disclosed, which in turn teaches interviewers how to pace interventions and best support work with recommendations that are made during interviews.

Saying “I don’t know” is often a form of resistance. It may mean, “I don’t want to think about it,” or “I do know, but I don’t want to tell you.” In the following interview, the feeling of saying “I don’t know” felt like the color grey, which took the form of a horse. Here is what the horse had to say:

Horse: “I’m a full-grown horse. I like that I’m free! I can do what I want to do! I don’t feel like that all the time. Sometimes it’s better not to feel free, for companionship. If I were free all the time, I wouldn’t have any companionship. No herd. I most closely personify Betty’s strength. It would be helpful for Betty to imagine that she is me. If I were living Betty’s life for her, my life purpose would be to live in wide open spaces.”

For this student, “I don’t know” was a way of saying, “I don’t feel free; I want to feel free.” By shifting her attention to her desire to experience freedom, Betty gave herself permission to move out of resistance. By becoming the horse she could explore what it meant to feel free and strong in the here and now and to know what she wanted and did not want.

Whose Interpretations Shall I Listen To?

Because historical and developmental information is essential for arriving at an accurate diagnosis, psychoanalysis has a preference for the accessing and amplification of memories. Memories are stories we tell ourselves about the past to generate some desired consequence. It may be to validate some fear or to explain some desire or failing. The assumption is that a meaningful story will both free us from the past and provide a better way of relating to ourselves and our world today. Proper interpretations by patients, clients, and students, that is, appropriate stories, translate into health today. But health is life, and life exists independently of our interpretations of it. To be alive, we need to experience life, not to experience better interpretations of life.

This leads us to a progression of interpretations. While the interpretations of others allow us to see our blind spots, those things which are known to others but not to ourselves, the interpretations of others are projections; we know ourselves better than others. While our interpretations of our past are likely to be more meaningful, whether accurate or not, than those of others, the past is a fantasy; what we choose to focus on and what we make of it is totally dependent on our present level of development, which is stuck and limited. The same is true of our interpretations of the future and of our present moment. While the interpretations of our interviewed emerging potentials, be they dream characters or the personifications of life issues, are likely to be more objective than our own, they remain interpretations of life rather than life itself. At some point we need to give ourselves permission to let go of the need to interpret and instead to live. But this is much easier said than done. We can say that animals rely minimally on interpretations, when compared to humans, and therefore live much more in the here and now. However, they are subjectively enmeshed in their contexts; lacking self awareness and the ability to stand back and observe themselves, their aliveness is subjective, without self-awareness. The trick is to develop and maintain self-awareness without it suffocating aliveness. This is essentially the role of meditation. Its purpose is to teach us to transcend our interpretations so we can experience life directly and intimately. This is basically why Integral Deep Listening teaches meditation as part of learning integral deep listening.

Medical Model: History, Diagnosis, Treatment

Because Freud saw himself as a scientist working in a new field that lacked the foundation of the hard sciences of chemistry and physics, he not only proposed mental mechanisms that imitated those of physics but created a form of treatment that imitated standard practice in medicine. Following the medical model in which he was trained, Freud first accessed a thorough history from his patients so that he could make an accurate diagnosis and prescribe an appropriate treatment. Diagnoses, which are formal interpretations by therapists that are designed to direct treatment, are necessarily indicated by the medical model.

Although clinicians who use Integral Deep Listening may use these procedures for various reasons exterior to Integral Deep Listening, such as for insurance billing or to communicate with other professionals, they are not necessary for Integral Deep Listening itself. The student knows their history; so do interviewed emerging potentials. The diagnosis is rarely put in clinical terms by interviewed emerging potentials, but it is generally clear enough to make sense to the student as a legitimate description of how and why they are stuck. It is a story framed in language that makes sense to the student because it is their own.

As an interviewer or Integral Deep Listening Practitioner, your job is to teach your students to listen to their interviewed emerging potentials. They already know how to listen to their own self-talk; they already know how to listen to external authorities. Integral Deep Listening interviewers do not need to diagnose because interviewed emerging potentials both diagnose and provide treatment recommendations. It is up to the student to decide if those recommendations are reasonable and worth applying, in consultation with you. The job of the interviewer, therefore, is not primarily as a source of diagnosis or treatment, but as a provider of structure and accountability for the maintenance of an ongoing, effective dream yoga that heals, balances, and transforms from within.

Marilyn said, “In my dream I am looking at a horse walking along the edge of a meadow. It thinks that there is a fence there, that it can’t get out. But there is no fence.” Typically, a therapist would ask many historical questions and then reach a tentative diagnosis, based on the information given by the client about their past about the dream narrative. That diagnosis will be an interpretation. A common one, based on such a dream account, might be, “The patient is feeling trapped, constrained, limited in her life when she is not.” Another possibility is, “The patient is threatened by the possibility of freedom and therefore chooses to stay stuck.” From this, in addition to drawing on information about sleep habits, relationships, and worries, the therapist may conclude that the patient is depressed, anxious, both, or something else is going on.

How IDL Evaluates Psychological Truth Claims

Integral Deep Listening does not make such interpretations. Instead, interviewers suspend such assumptions, interpretations, and projections and interviews one or more character in the dream, such as the horse, fence, or meadow. In this case, the meadow was interviewed. The job of the interviewer was to make sure the student allowed the meadow to be heard and to create an accountability structure so that its diagnosis and prescribed treatment could be tested in the laboratory of the patient’s daily life. Is their depression reduced or not? Does their anxiety decrease or not? Do their nightmares lessen in frequency and intensity or not? Do their symptoms of PTSD diminish or not? There are objective ways these things can be measured. Pretext and post-test scales of depression, anxiety, and PTSD can be given.

Integral Deep Listening considers attempts to frame consciousness and human psychology in terms of sensory empiricism, as Freud, and indeed mainstream psychology to this day, to be reductionistic. Sensory empiricism does not take into account two other varieties of empiricism, interpretive, and transpersonal. Interpretive empiricism involves the empirical evaluation of theoretical, historical, or literary theories. For example, the theory that Obama is a Muslim born in Kenya is not sensory empiricism associated with physics, chemistry, and physiology, yet it is definitely subject to empirical tests. The same is true for truth claims of mystical experience. There are empirical means to evaluate these experiences that are not at all sensory-based.

Consciousness cannot be reduced to the external individual and collective quadrants of the human holon as scientism does. A broader definition of empiricism includes the laying out of injunctive protocols, the performing of those protocols as experiments, and the evaluation of the results of those experiences by peers in the methodologies, in the internal collective and internal individual quadrants as well. Evaluating the appropriateness of interpretations is an empiricism of the internal collective quadrant; evaluating the level of consciousness at play is an empiricism of the internal individual quadrant. All three of these types of empiricism are required for an integral approach to life. Therefore, scientific studies of behavior and relationships are welcomed and encouraged by Integral Deep Listening. Interpretations of Integral Deep Listening and its application to other modalities are also welcomed. Integral life practices that monitor and evaluate the amplification of consciousness itself are also encouraged.

In the case of this lady with the horse dream, pre and post measurements of anxiety and depression can be given to provide some objective, empirically measurable determination of efficacy of treatment. The adequacy of therapist diagnoses can be and are tested against the diagnoses of interviewed emerging potentials. This is internal collective empiricism: adequacy of interpretation or perceptual field. Empiricism of the interior individual quadrant is measured by assessments by the client, the therapist, and interviewed emerging potentials of expansion in consciousness, or higher functioning either on a level of development or advancement to a higher one. For most people this is most fundamentally associated with enhanced capabilities at recognizing and avoiding drama in the three realms of interpersonal relationships, cognition (primarily the reduction of three types of cognitive distortions), and dreams. It is also associated with increased capability in setting realistic goals, adapting them to changing circumstances, and consistent movement toward them.

Help In Setting Treatment Goals

In psychoanalysis and directive or authoritative psychodynamic therapy, treatment goals are defined by the clinician based on both the diagnosis and prognosis. In non-directive approaches to therapy, goals are set and monitored in consultation with the client. The problem with both of these models is their partiality; they deal with one or at most two, of the three legs of the triangulation triad that Integral Deep Listening uses. Is the patient making progress or not? Therapists can rely on objective measures, such as pre and post tests, on their own subjective assessments, and on the subjective assessments of their client,

In the case of the lady with the dream of the horse in the meadow, she initially stated the following three life issues: “My finances. I think I have enough but I’m not sure how I spend it; Relationships, especially with Henry; Work in the school where I teach; my relationships with my colleagues and the children.” Three goals are tacitly indicated: improved financial security, improved love relationships, and improved work relationships. The assumption is that if a student receives help in attaining life goals important to them that their investment in Integral Deep Listening is worthwhile.

Help in setting treatment goals does not stop there, however. Does the interviewed emerging potential, in this case the Meadow, agree with these goals or does it recommend others? It recommended that Lorna focus on balancing her need to be with others and her need to be autonomous, separate, independent, and alone. Notice that this is a sophisticated formulation; it is not simply the overcoming of dependency; it is not simply the mastering of independence, Because most therapists are trying to do one or the other it is easy for them to move into counter-transference and to make the process about the vicarious working through of their own issues with dependency/independence. Instead, the Meadow is encouraging interdependence: the ability to balance both dependency needs and healthy autonomy. If a therapist hasn’t learned interdependence themselves they may miss this recommendation entirely, even when it is communicated to them directly and clearly in an interview such as this one.

Strengthening of the Self

Freud emphasizes cure as a return to “normalcy,” meaning appropriate “ego strength” for a particular age or, at best, Freud’s own mid-personal level of development. The assumption is that the ego is rational and, if strengthened, will act in the best interest of growth. However, “normalcy” is a culturally-determined state which is seen by successive generations, and with the objectivity of time, as itself dysfunctional. Rather than attempting to return patients to a mythical state of “normalcy,” Integral Deep Listening teaches students to access, listen to, and become one with the priorities of their inner compass. “Normalcy” is defined by Integral Deep Listening as a state of acting on the priorities of your inner compass, and has nothing to do with the norms of society or the expectations of waking identity for health or happiness.

“Ego strength” is a psychodynamic measure of competency in the world. It is the ability of the ego to deal with the demands of id, superego, and reality. The assumption is that a weak ego means invasion and control by uncontrolled unconscious impulses. Consequently, some therapists view the sort of role playing used by Integral Deep Listening as superficial on the one hand, and dangerous on the other, in that it supports the voicing of uncontrolled unconscious impulses, which can in turn lead to dissociation and the dissolution of ego control and even decompensation. If your goal is increased control by the ego, why in the world would you encourage it to give it up?

Integral Deep Listening demonstrates that a more controlling, stronger sense of self is a primary task of childhood and youth, and then begins to obstruct growth, because its need for control blocks the development of a non-localized, transparent, and objectified self-sense. Role playing is the primary means by which children develop a sense of self; it leads not to fragmenting or decompensation but to increased adaptive flexibility and a broadening of one’s identity. By emphasizing the development of multiperspectival transparency, identity is strengthened. This is indicated by reductions in drama, cognitive distortions, use of defense mechanisms, disruptive dreams, addictive self-rescuing behaviors, and higher, more balanced self-scorings in the six core qualities.

Unlike psychoanalysis, Integral Deep Listening does not break the psyche into three parts. Instead, it assumes that your experience creates who you think you are right now, which Integral Deep Listening calls your “waking identity.” You are free to define yourself as narrowly or as inclusively as you desire, and indeed, how you do so is a mark of your level of development. Anything that is not part of your sense of self is considered to be a non-interviewed emerging potential that is best assumed to function as a wake-up call. Wake-up calls are to be listened to so that they can be incorporated into a more inclusive, integrated, stable, and healthy sense of who you are. Doing so keeps dream wake-up calls from getting louder, first manifesting as nightmares and then, if not heard, externalizing as waking nightmares of various types: accidents, physical health problems, or relationship issues.

Broader Understandings of Childhood Development

Freudian insights are largely a mid-personal evaluation of prepersonal developmental processes. Because “normalcy” for Freud was rational and humanistic, all higher levels had to in fact be lower, mid-personal at best. Consequently, psychoanalysis, as many other approaches that do not attain to vision-logic or above, historically has not honored the entire spectrum of development, but instead tended to be reductionistic or, as in the case of Steiner’s Anthroposophy, and the systems devised by Jung, Assagioli, Sorokin, and de Chardin, elevationistic. This occurs when pre-personal non-rational experience, like shamanism, is interpreted as trans-rational and transcendent.

IDL thinks that the earlier that a child is exposed to their inner compass the better. This is because it grounds them in an authentic sense of life priorities which in turn generates balance and improved problem-solving. This is most easily done by interviewing dream characters, because children get into role quite easily and naturally and are also often either curious about dreams or else want bad ones to go away. Therefore, nightmares and dreams serve as convenient and readily available “wake-up calls” that provide an age-appropriate introduction to Integral Deep Listening. An added advantage is that parents and other care-givers gain understanding of the inner compass of the child as well as conceptual framings of life issues that are important to the child. This allows those issues to be addressed, in parent-child communication, using metaphors that reflect the child’s own level and style of cognitive and emotional processing, which in turn increases the clarity and depth of communication.

Broadening of Definition of “Normalcy”

For psychoanalysis, as for most patients, a successful outcome to treatment is adequate social and personal functioning. Most people just want the pain to go away so they can get on with their lives. The problem with this goal is that it is short-sighted. It tends to ignore the issues of prevention and possible relapse.

Normalcy is a socially and culturally defined moving target; what is normal for one family, workplace, spiritual path, nation, or culture is abnormal for another. The multiperspectivalism provided by Integral Deep Listening generates definitions of normalcy that change as you evolve and as your external circumstances change. Integral Deep Listening focuses on cultivating six core qualities of wakefulness, on the assumption that these innately produce heath, balance and ongoing life transformation. These are confidence, compassion, wisdom, acceptance, inner peace, and witnessing. Different emerging potentials recommend different combinations of these qualities to deal with life issues and improve balance and growth. Their recommendations generally balance and expand these qualities without reference to ego, ego strength, enlightenment, spirituality, or the balancing of body, mind, and spirit.

Treatment is Interpretive

“Working through” was introduced by Freud in 1914 as a way of repeating, elaborating, and amplifying interpretations made by the patient. The assumption is that the partiality of the patient’s interpretations keep him stuck and sick. The exploration and elaboration of unconscious content by “working through” is a way of breaking up his fixation on inaccurate, harmful, and partial interpretations. The process of working through the transference, or the projection of needs and resistances onto others, particularly the therapist, plays a central role in psychoanalysis, objects relations theory, self psychology, and group therapy.

Freud’s preferred way of eliciting unconscious information from patients was through having them share what this or that word reminded them of, in a train of uncensored associations, leading to interpretations by the analyst of whatever associations he or she deems important. Integral Deep Listening uses structured interviewing, but interviewed dream characters or personifications of life issues are free to make whatever associations they want to them. One could say that subjects are encouraged to “free associate” in response to the questions they are asked, but this is not entirely accurate. Interviewed emerging potentials are elaborating or expressing their point of view, worldview, or perspective, sometimes as recommendations.

Integral Deep Listening attempts to minimize interpretative projection by deferring to the interpretations of interviewed dream characters and the personifications of life issues. If the interviewer has an interpretation, they may pose it as a question to the interviewed character. For example, “Skulls, do you represent a repressed fear of death?” In this case, the skulls answered: “We represent older, wiser, forgotten, ignored knowledge, experience, and potentials.” Such an answer demonstrates the relative autonomy of the majority of interviewed emerging potentials. They tend not to want or need to please the interviewer by supplying “right” answers the way clients do. Their answers are often unexpected by the interviewed as well. For example, the interviewer may have wanted to associate the skulls with a death wish, or depression. If they had gone ahead and made such an interpretation, it may or may not have been helpful to the client, but it would have been their interpretation, rather than a reflection of some level of understanding from the perspective of the skulls themselves.

Freudian psychoanalysis also emphasizes psychic archaeology, or uncovering the “roots” of dysfunction in early childhood, in the belief that first awareness and then emotional catharsis will allow the development of a healthy “ego.” Integral Deep Listening may or may not deal with early childhood; content is determined largely by the life issues addressed and the priorities of the character interviewed. However, it does encourage students to identify fundamental script injunctions that serve as permissions and threats of punishment, in the belief that as long as these exist out of awareness they cannot be questioned, challenged, or changed.

Improve the Interpretations of the Practitioner

While dreams can indeed be interpreted by trained psychotherapists, among others, dreamers need a way by which they can evaluate the accuracy of those interpretations. By developing internal and subjective sources of objectivity, Integral Deep Listening provides such a way. Interpretations by books, professionals, and one’s waking identity are subjected to the interpretations of various emerging potentials, who know you better than any trained psychotherapist ever can. Integral Deep Listening does not dismiss the usefulness of interpretations by others, but only points out they are one aspect of the triangulation process. The other two involve the interpretations of interviewed emerging potentials, including their opinions of the interpretations of external authorities, and your common sense.

Freud developed most of his theory of defense mechanisms based on his observation of dreams. Regression is a defense mechanism and Freud considered dreams to be regressive. Most defense mechanisms we observe in dreams are projections of our waking minds onto dreams; they are not intrinsic to the dream state. The reason this can be said is because anyone can do interviews with dream characters and test that statement. Do the perspectives of interviewed dream characters manifest defense mechanisms or not? Most people will conclude on their own, if they do such experiments, that most do not, most of the time, although there definitely are exceptions.

Integral Deep Listening also considers dreams to be regressive, when viewed from the perspective of waking identity, both awake and while dreaming. In distinction from Freud, this is not because of anything intrinsic about the dream state, but because your dreaming self, that sense of who you are while you are dreaming, tends to use early problem solving and early emotional preferences and reactions until new, improved adaptational strategies are learned and applied to perception while dreaming. For example, most dream themes involve the Drama Triangle. Look at your dreams and you will generally find that there are victims, persecutors, and rescuers, both as characters and events. The Drama Triangle is a regressive, emotionally-based structuring of experience. As people learn to objectify their emotions, they find themselves in the Drama Triangle both less often and at less depth, and both these changes are reflected by less involvement in the Drama Triangle in dreams.

Freud believed dreams reveal repressed motivations, such as sexual desires. While it is normal in our waking life to ignore, discount, or dismiss dreams, Integral Deep Listening does not find anything repressed or repressing about dreams themselves. To use the above example, the Drama Triangle is not intrinsic to dreams, but an artifact of the level of development of waking self. A much simpler, effective formulation than repression is to assess our willingness to listen to whatever is wanting to be heard in a dream. Dream characters want to be heard not because they are repressed, but because like you and I, they want to be heard. They desire respect and acknowledgment.

One young man experienced his fear of career failure as the color grey. The grey color turned into a strong, locked wooden wardrobe containing the skulls mentioned above. If such an image were in a dream it would probably be interpreted by Freud as a classic depiction of thanatos – psychic forces leading to death and one’s fear of them. The wardrobe would represent repression of this young man’s fear of death.

The same can be said of interpretation. Freud believed dreams can be interpreted by psychoanalytically trained psychotherapists. Such interpretations are easily shown to be arbitrary projections that reveal more about the interpreter, his or her beliefs, and culture, than about dreams themselves. Integral Deep Listening sees interpretation as inevitable and unavoidable, but invites the interpretations of interviewed emerging potentials, including dream characters, and gives those interpretations priority because of two factors. The first is their relative objectivity, since they personify perspectives that often demonstrate autonomy. The second is that because they are enmeshed in the dream or life issue at hand, their perspective generally is demonstrated to have a relevance that far surpasses the interpretations of either the student or the therapist. This does not mean that the views of students or therapists are not to be taken into account. Indeed, in Integral Deep Listening dream interviewing, the associations and interpretations of the student are always collected. Subsequent to the interview the therapist is also encouraged to make their own interpretations, generally as follow-up questions addressed to the interviewed emerging potential. The interpretations made by the therapist or teacher of Integral Deep Listening are important. For example, what are the implications for treatment of this quote from Freud? “I have found little that is good about human beings on the whole. In my experience most of them are trash, no matter whether they publicly subscribe to this or that ethical doctrine or to one at all. That is something that you cannot say aloud, or perhaps even think.”

Integral Deep Listening finds that trained therapists are often its most problematic students, because they have to learn to temporarily park or set aside years of training in history taking, diagnosis, and interpretation in order to learn to be practitioners of deep listening. While interpretive skills are considered valuable by Integral Deep Listening, they are secondary to listening to the interviewed perspective. This means learning a phenomenological approach, including the ability to suspend one’ assumptions, is essential to Integral Deep Listening.

In Integral Deep Listening, such assumptions are suspended in favor of the phenomenological process of deep listening. It is not that Integral Deep Listening practitioners disagree or agree with this theory; they simply suspend such interpretations out of a preference of a Socratic type questioning, but not of the dreamer, patient, client, or student, but of the Wardrobe and Skulls themselves. When this was done with this dream a conflict became clear. The Wardrobe wanted to get rid of the Skulls, but its job had been to keep them locked away, where no one would be able to see them or know they were there. The Skulls think the Wardrobe is over-reacting and do not experience themselves as a threat to anyone. They score themselves high on core qualities of wakefulness. They are high in confidence because they have each other; in compassion because they have been through a lot and understand pain; wisdom, because they are old and have had many experiences; acceptance because they understand the Wardrobe’s fear of them and they accept that they are dead; inner peace because they can’t die; and witnessing because they can witness the world without getting into drama. Instead of being repressed fears, the skulls say that they are able to see more clearly and better decide where to go than the dreamer can. “Now he is stuck; we’re not stuck because we are more able to see what can be and what could be; we aren’t afraid of going down the wrong path.”

This raises interesting questions. If the Wardrobe is an agent of repression, how is it that the Skulls can speak? If the Skulls are repressed psychic elements, are they still repressed when they speak? How about the interpretations of the Skulls? Are they less reliable than those of a therapist? Why? If you have to choose, whose interpretations should you listen to, those of the Skulls or the therapist? Why?

Freud saw dreaming as an expression of unconscious conflict. We certainly see conflict in the different perspectives of the Wardrobe and the Skulls, but is it unconscious? Does calling the conflict unconscious have any usefulness whatsoever? Integral Deep Listening does not rely on the concept of “unconscious,” but instead views awareness more as a searchlight, bringing into awareness what it illuminates. For Freud, unconscious influences need to be understood and neutralized. For Integral Deep Listening there are social and “intrasocial“ influences, dependent on whether an exterior or interior other is being disowned at the moment. Integral Deep Listening does not give conflict the central role in psychological dysfunction that psychoanalysis does. Conflict is one of three positions of the developmental dialectic and is necessary for development; there is nothing inherently dysfunctional about intrapsychic conflict. Lack of conflict, for instance, the validation of cultural and social delusions, can be and often is far more dysfunctional than intrapsychic conflict.

Who is Best Qualified to Interpret Your Experience?

Most approaches to dreamwork use the dreamer or some dream interpreting source, such as an authoritative book on dreaming or someone who specializes in dream interpretation, such as a Freudian analyst. Sometimes groups get together and everyone chips in their interpretations, with the dreamer left to choose those ideas that best “fit” for them. This is reminiscent of going into a clothing store and trying on things that your friends or the salesperson think would look good on you until you find something you like. The result is that you may come away with something that is perfect, or you may come away with something that fits and looks good on you, but doesn’t stand up over time. It goes out of fashion. Similarly, when you take such an approach to understanding a dream, you are likely to arrive at an interpretation of your dream that “fits” and that you like, yet is not helpful, is misguided, or plain dangerous. For instance, what if you interpret a dream to indicate that someone is your soul mate, you marry them, and it turns into a disaster? Are you going to trust your dreams in the future? Are you going to trust dream interpretation? Most of the time dream interpretation is not so disastrous, only insipid and inconclusive, rather like reading your astrology forecast for the day. You can generally pick out something that fits, but how do you know if the information is in the planetary alignments or merely in the mind of the astrologer? Who can you trust?

To the extent that life is like a dream, this is a question not simply about dreaming, but about experience in general. Who is best qualified to interpret your experience? As children, you learned that authority figures are best qualified, that you should trust them, because they have been alive a lot longer and have specialized knowledge that you lack. This is not so different from trusting your dreams to a dream interpreter. The results are similar. Some of the advice that you get fits and is useful; you take it, make it your own, and that’s who you grow into. You became the person your parents named; you behave either in congruence or reaction to the way they treated you; you take on the language, beliefs, and preferences of those who raised you and the particular culture in which you grew up. Important adults “interpreted” your life for you and you became those interpretations. You became their dream, or you became the product of the combined dreams of a number of people; or you rebelled against their interpretations and became a reactionary dream. In both cases, isn’t your life largely an out-picturing of your particular culture’s dream?

This is not to ignore genetic contributions or to say that is all you are. You are much more than the internalized interpretations of your family and culture. For example, when you internalize the interpretations of others you combine them in unique ways to create interpretations that are partially theirs, partially your own. The common conceit is for you and I to think our identity and our interpretations are our own. Are they?

Most people ignore or actively fight against the realization that their current identity is largely not their own, but rather an internalization of those of their family and culture. The idea that our names, language, and preferences, as well as our beliefs are the result of the parents we were born to and have little to do with “us” threatens our autonomy and independence. While we are certainly more than our names, social identity, language, the patterns of our thinking, emotions and preferences, do they not make up most of who we are and most of what we identify with as self? Doesn’t that mean that most of who we think we are is someone else’s dream? Doesn’t that mean that most of our lives are likely to be an expression of one or another accepted and appropriate dream theme within our culture?

If this is so, what does it say about our autonomy and independence? What does it imply about where we need to look to find ourselves and how to go about doing so? Most people deprive themselves of growth by not confronting this central issue. Instead, they generate metaphysical belief systems to reassure them that they were “meant” to be who they are. They may call it predestination, destiny, reincarnation, soul choice, God’s will, or something else; it boils down to an unwillingness to recognize that their life is essentially the out-picturing of someone else’s cultural dream; it only has to do with them so much as they internalized those values.

Integral Deep Listening assumes that just as beings from other dimensions did not create your nighttime dreams, that you can learn to dream your own life instead of living out the cultural script that you internalized and called your own. You automatically, habitually over-rely on both the interpretations of others for meaning in your life and on your own interpretations, which are largely the internalized interpretations of others. If you look closely at your thoughts, feelings, and preferences you can usually trace their origins to the thoughts, feelings, and preferences of others; you will discover that your “conscience” is internalized “shoulds” and wants, and that “intuition,” “God’s will,” “spirit,” and your “inner voice” are other names for the internalized dreams of others.

How would you know if this were true or not? Wouldn’t you first have to have a method by which you could differentiate a culturally-induced dream from your own? Most people answer with the classical adolescent response to this dilemma: “I know I am independent, autonomous, thinking my own thoughts, feeling my own feelings, and listening to my intuition, because my parents and teachers disagree with me.” But observation of typical expressions of adolescent “independence,” such as smoking, drinking, drugs, sex, dress, tattoos, music, and choice of friends, reveals opposition that simply proclaims the reality of their dependency upon those cultural dreams that they are reacting to. Could you not be doing some version of the same thing?

Consider the possibility that you are probably far too reliant upon both the interpretations of others and your own internalized cultural scripting for interpreting both your night-time dreams and the meaning and direction of your life. Neither external nor internalized authority likely represent the perspectives and interpretations of your own inner compass. Both provide helpful and necessary objectivity and perspectives about your dreams and about your life that you have not considered, but these should be viewed as their ideas, not the dream’s ideas. Therefore, the thoughts, feelings, preferences and perspectives both of others and that you have yourself, are less likely than your inner compass to know what a dream means or what the dream of your life “means.” Similarly, you may have your own ideas about the meaning of a dream, but you did not create it. We know this, because if you did, you would know what it meant, wouldn’t you? If you cannot trust others or yourself to know the meaning of a dream, who or what can be a trustworthy source of information about it?

This leads to a second assumption Integral Deep Listening makes about interpreting your dreams and your life. The characters, places, and objects in your waking experience represent perspectives on your life that are authentic, just as do the characters in your night-time dreams, in that they are indigenous to the dream itself. They are in a better position to interpret your experience than are you or anyone else. This is because they are primarily an expression of the consciousness that created the dream, and are only secondarily an expression of the interpretations of both others and your internalized scripted, cultural identity. This is a major reason why Integral Deep Listening encourages you to interview both the characters in your dreams and the personifications of the life issues that matter most to you. This is how you escape from the interpretation echo-chamber of your culture and its values that you have internalized. This is how you access intepretations by perspectives that are authentic, yet not rooted in the culture of your birth.

Dreams are Symbolic

Freud considered dreams symbolic. Following ancient historical precedent, Freud saw dream images as symbols that require interpretation. A symbol, by definition, stands for something else. Symbols, therefore, are projections of waking assumptions. The purpose of interpretation is to find out what that something else is. You dream of a bird; interpretation says the bird symbolizes something else, a desire to fly, for freedom, a fear you are “bird-brained…”

Because Integral Deep Listening is rooted in a phenomenological perspective, it suspends the assumption that a dream character or event is symbolic. The sources of this approach can be traced not only to Husserl, Wundt, Medard Boss, and the existentialist philosophers Heidigger, Kierkegaard, and Sartre, but also to the Socratic dialectical method of elenchus, in which questioning is given priority over pronouncements of truth.

IDL does not assume a dream character like a bird represents anything else. Instead it suspends such assumptions in favor of asking the image, “…what aspect of this person do you represent or most closely personify?” The image is free to say that it is not an aspect of the person and does not represent or personify anything. Generally, however, images consider themselves to be autonomous first and representational second. The bird will generally say, among other things, that it represents this or that aspect of the dreamer, and its interpretations are generally found to be more accurate and appropriate than those of other interpreters. Integral Deep Listening encourages interpretations, but first and foremost by interviewed emerging potentials. It also emphasizes what a dream character itself says it symbolizes rather than what someone who wasn’t in the dream may think. For example, the bird might say, “I represent your thoughts in meditation and the way you see them flying wherever they want.” The autonomy and independence of interviewed characters is first respected and listened to, and any interpretations are secondary to that singular beingness of the bird.

Dreams are Regressive

For Freud, dreams are defenses to keep libidinal, primal urges beneath conscious awareness. Consequently, content needs to be disguised symbolically. Dreams are secretive attempts to hide truth from dreamers, creating an assumption of internal conflict that does not exist if dream elements are not assumed to be symbolic. Integral Deep Listening does not assume that dreams are regressive, only that dreamer perceptions and reactions to dreams, both while dreaming and later while awake, tend to be regressive. Dreams are indeed regressive in the perception of most dreamers, most of the time, with the exception of those deemed “spiritual.” For example, when a dreamer sees a monster they tend to react with fear, which is a primal, regressive response. If dramatic events are occurring dreamers tend to put themselves in the Drama Triangle, under the assumption they really are being victimized or persecuted. Instead of asking questions, they simply trust their assumptions. This typically occurs because waking identity misperceives the intentions of dream images, as you can easily verify yourself by conducting your own interviews on your own dreams. This trust in the assumptions of a waking consciousness that perceives dream events as a dream self creates the division of dreams into “true,” “real,” “healing,” and “spiritual” dreams and the vast majority, which are taken to be regressions into confusion, irrationality, victimization, and fear. However, IDL interviewing persuasively demonstrates that this view does not reflect either the intentions or the perspectives of the vast majority of interviewed dream characters.

Dreams Reveal Repressed Motivations

Freud believed that all dream content represented repressed, and therefore disowned, libidinal urges. One sixteen year old dreamt that he was in the bathroom of his school and found a dead body, which horrified him. When he touched it, it screamed, which scared him awake. But upon falling asleep he found himself back in the same nightmare. A psychoanalytic or psychodynamic interpretation of this dream might say that it represents the young man’s fear of death, or that when he seeks refuge from the responsibilities of life (metaphorically, in the bathroom of his school), that he finds himself confronted by his worst fears.

All of this is so general as to be true for just about anyone, and is certainly applicable to this young man. How deep does such an explanation go? How personally applicable is it? How useful is it? Judged by these standards, we can say that such interpretations may be thought-provoking for some people, leading them to consider their fears of death, how they may take refugee from their responsibilities, only to find that those strategies provide no consolation. This is why these therapies can broadly be called “insight-centered” therapies. The goal is generally to re-frame problems in different, more helpful ways, if possible through the instigation of cathartic, “breakthrough” emotional experiences.

Interpretive, insight-centered, and cathartic approaches such as Freudian-derived psychodynamic methods, seek to provoke internal change from outside associations. Integral Deep Listening, emphasizes accessing facets of one’s inner compass, seeking to provoke outer change from interior associations, and then adds to that external interpretations and insights, which are evaluated against interior interpretations and one’s own common sense. When this is done, different, often deeper opportunities for change arise. For example, in the case of this young man, when he became the corpse, he discovered he no longer had his waking fears or concerns. He no longer was obsessed with what other people thought of him and his acne; he no longer was afraid of failure or death; he no longer personalized what his mother said, thereby avoiding arguments that destroyed his self-esteem. These awarenesses were spontaneous from this young man; they weren’t the products of interpretations by a therapist. So what?

He was telling himself truths that are authentic for him but that he had not yet grown into. This is why interviewed perspectives such as this corpse are called “emerging potentials.” Realization and acknowledgement is a first stage of waking up into a broader identity in which such truths are an accepted, ongoing part of the substructure of one’s world view. At this point, this young man was far from such an outcome, but he was defining for himself what his goals need to be while educating the therapist as to what are important foci for therapy.

While those emerging potentials that self-score themselves low in the six core qualities tend to be prepersonal, there are any number of instances of either mixed lines of development or of higher functioning emerging potentials that score low in a quality, such as compassion, not because it lacks it, but because it either does not relate to the quality or does not relate to the student’s definition of compassion. In addition, interviewers regularly make the acquaintance of emerging potentials that have never been owned and therefore have never been disowned; they have never been in consciousness and therefore have never been repressed.

Dreams Depict Psychological Defenses

Dreams demonstrate for Freud not only repression but regression, projection, avoidance, compensation, denial, suppression, displacement, identification, undoing, intellectualization, rationalization, reaction formation, resistance, and sublimation. These are processes generated by waking identity based on its fears. When you switch your perspective from that of a scared, defensive, vulnerable self to that of this or that emerging potential that is none of these things, such as the corpse in the previous example, it becomes obvious that defense mechanisms are not intrinsic to dreams but are a function of some ways of looking at dreams, but not others. Defense mechanisms are problems of waking identity that are projected onto dreams; they are not intrinsic to the vast majority of dream characters. This claim can and should be tested by readers through work with their own dreams and those of others.

Dreams Can be Interpreted by Trained Psychotherapists

People like to be parented and people need to be parented. However, as people become more mature and reach psychological adolescence, they often begin to resent parent figures, who they see alternately as prying rescuers and interfering persecutors. As people become psychologically mature and spiritually available, they don’t want people interpreting their experiences. They want to be surrounded by people who help them to awaken to their own inner compass. Traditional therapy can foster dependency in many ways. Teaching clients to expect and depend on the interpretations of the therapist instead of teaching them how to access and test their own interpretations is one way of doing so.

Dreams Reveal Repressed Motivations

While the Id, as the driver of desire, need, and energy expenditures by the ego, is considered by psychoanalysis the major source of motivating forces and conflicts in patients, Integral Deep Listening does not frame life issues or therapeutic dilemmas in terms of the conscious or unconscious or emphasize defense mechanisms. This is because these structures are not the preferred frameworks of most interviewed emerging potentials, even when they are aware of them, for instance, in the interviews of trained psychoanalysts. If you do one or more IDL interviews on dreams or life issues of one or several psychoanalysts what you will find is that motivations are not clear because they are repressed, but because they are given a lower priority. Other motivations are presumed to be more important than relatively unrecognized or underappreciated emerging ones.

Dreams Depict Psychological Defenses

While Integral Deep Listening recognizes the reality of psychological defenses, it does not typically frame the motivations, either of waking identity or of interviewed emerging potentials, in terms of them, although one certainly could. It is not the job of an Integral Deep Listening practitioner to conclude that an interviewed subject is repressing, projecting, introjecting, rationalizing, intellectualizing, or sublimating. Such labels are projections that put students in a spot, in that such conclusions are difficult to deny, and therefore tend to be disempowering. Your experience is defined by my interpretation of it. Defense mechanisms are difficult to deny because they are by definition unconscious. If you agree with an interpretation, you are also accepting my framing of your problem and its solution. It may make good sense to you, but what does my framing have to do with the interpretations of interviewed emerging potentials or your own inner compass? In Integral Deep Listening, your experience is defined not by your interviewer, but by the interpretations of the various emerging potentials that are interviewed. These are then checked against the interpretations of external sources of objectivity, such as thetherapist, and your own common sense.

Reducing Transference

In a therapy context, transference refers to redirection of a patient’s feelings for a significant person to the therapist. Transference is often manifested as an erotic attraction towards a therapist, but can be seen in many other forms such as rage, hatred, mistrust, parentification, extreme dependence, or even placing the therapist in a god-like or guru status. When Freud initially encountered transference in his therapy with patients, he thought he was encountering patient resistance, as he recognized the phenomenon when a patient refused to participate in a session of free association. But what he learned was that the analysis of the transference was actually the work that needed to be done: “the transference, which, whether affectionate or hostile, seemed in every case to constitute the greatest threat to the treatment, becomes its best tool”.[9] The focus in psychodynamic psychotherapy is, in large part, the therapist and patient recognizing the transference relationship and exploring the relationship’s meaning. Since the transference between patient and therapist happens on an unconscious level, psychodynamic therapists who are largely concerned with a patient’s unconscious material use the transference to reveal unresolved conflicts patients have with childhood figures.

Transference is defined as unconscious, which brings up the interesting question of how therapists and patients who are trained to look for transference and counter-transference might still do them, Is something that looks like transference, like the statement, “You remind me of my father,” be transference, when this is clearly a conscious relationship? The answer would be “no.”

The reduction of transference was considered by Freud to be central to the work of psychoanalysis.

Freud emphasized transference, or the projection of characteristics and qualities by the patient onto the therapist, and counter-transference, or the projection of characteristics and qualities by the therapist onto the patient. This is how he described transference: “The patient is not satisfied with regarding the analyst in the light of reality as a helper and adviser who, moreover, is remunerated for the trouble he takes and who would himself be content with some such role as that of a guide on a difficult mountain climb. On the contrary, the patient sees in him the return, the reincarnation, of some important figure out of his childhood or past, and consequently transfers on to him feelings and reactions which undoubtedly applied to this prototype. This fact of transference soon proves to be a factor of undreamt-of importance, on the one hand an instrument of irreplaceable value and on the other hand a source of serious dangers. This transference is ambivalent: it comprises positive (affectionate) as well as negative (hostile) attitudes towards the analyst, who as a rule is put in the place of one or other of the patient’s parents, his father or mother.”

Both transference and counter-transference are major issues to this day for psychoanalysis and some forms of psychodynamic psychotherapy. This is because this model of therapy sets up a parent-child reparenting model, in which many of the resistances, projections, displacements, and other defense mechanisms in operation in the relationship between the patient and his parents (and parent surrogates) are surfaced by therapy. Here is Freud’s explanation for how that occurs: “So long as (transference) is positive it serves us admirably. It alters the whole analytic situation; it pushes to one side the patient’s rational aim of becoming healthy and free from his ailments. Instead of it there emerges the aim of pleasing the analyst and of winning his applause and love. It becomes the true motive force of the patient’s collaboration; his weak ego becomes strong; under its influence he achieves things that would ordinarily be beyond his power; he leaves off his symptoms and seems apparently to have recovered – merely for the sake of the analyst. The analyst may shamefacedly admit to himself that he set out on a difficult undertaking without any suspicion of the extraordinary powers that would be at his command.
 Moreover, the relation of transference brings with it two further advantages. If the patient puts the analyst in the place of his father (or mother), he is also giving him the power which his super-ego exercises over his ego, since his parents were, as we know, the origin of his super-ego.
[…] Another advantage of transference, too, is that in it the patient produces before us with plastic clarity an important part of his life-story, of which he would otherwise have probably given us only an insufficient account. He acts it before us, as it were, instead of reporting it to us.”

Transference is an important concept for psychoanalysis because of its intrinsic parent-child relationship. Because the patient expects parenting and the therapist is inevitably in the role of therapist, he inevitably projects his good/bad parent expectations and interpretations onto the therapist, causing many opportunities for treatment, confusion, and delusion. Transference is minimized in Integral Deep Listening due to a relative lack of interpretation by the therapist, and a constant redirection of patient expectations of parenting onto their own interviewed emerging potentials.

Freud believed transference is unavoidable. IDL would agree that projection, misperception, and interpretations are unavoidable, but some methods reduce it more than others. The skill with which the therapist deals with these has a great impact on the success of therapy. Integral Deep Listening addresses these concerns by minimizing the traditional parent/child relationship between healer and patient. This is done by minimizing interpretations and direction by the therapist and maximizing interpretations and direction by interviewed emerging potentials.

Reducing Countertransference

Countertransference is a therapist’s emotional entanglement with a patient. Understanding countertransference allows a therapist to understand what responses patients are attempting to elicit in them. For example, a therapist who is sexually attracted to a patient must consider whether countertransference is involved and if so to look at how the patient might be eliciting this attraction. Once any countertransference aspect has been identified, the therapist can ask the patient what his or her feelings are toward the therapist, and can explore how those feelings relate to unconscious motivations, desires, or fears. Countertransference implies that the therapist is requiring additional training analysis to overcome these tendencies.

To reduce countertransference it is important for a therapist to be aware of what benefits he is wanting or expecting out of the relationship. In addition to financial gain, he is likely to want compliance, or submission to the recommendations that he or she makes. The implication is a tacit agreement that, “I am the doctor/ healer/parent surrogate/authority figure/teacher; you must obey me if you are to get well/learn/grow.”

Psychological language can easily be used as a method of control and intimidation in therapy. For example, if you say someone is using a defense mechanism, such as repression or denial, they are in a lose-lose situation. If they say they are not, it is proof of the defense mechanism or some other defense mechanism in operation. If they say they are, then they validate that you are the one capable of therapeutic interpretations; they are not. Either way, the client is disempowered. This is not a trifling matter. The entire sordid process of implanting false memories which are then used to attack others and validate a life script, has risen to the level of legal suits and jail time.

Psychodynamic psychotherapy assumes that countertransference is unavoidable, because it includes tasks like the assessment of patient history, making an accurate diagnosis, and prescibing treatment. All these tasks involve making interpretations, and interpretations are therapist projections and, as such, are instances of counter-transference. Integral Deep Listening assumes that what we see in others are the aspects of ourselves that they represent or personify; we are always shadow boxing with our own projected assumptions and meanings, whether in our waking or dream state. The solution to this is not to stop interpreting, which is impossible, but to base our interpretations primarily on the interpretations of those that know us best – our interviewed emerging potentials. None of their interpretations are perfect; they are themselves forms of transference. However, when you interview a number of them it is possible to arrive at a consensual framework, worldview, or interpretation that is both powerful and that resonates in a deep and valid way with the core of who you are. Integral Deep Listening practitioners are taught to pose their interpretations in the form of questions directed to interviewed emerging potentials. The result is that the practitioner gets to express their own opinions about the resistances and needs of their client, but to do so to another authority figure, as well as to the client. The result is that interviewers quickly learn that their interpretations are often challenged in ways that clients usually do not challenge therapists. This both educates the interviewer about authentic intrinsic perspectives and the limitations of their own assumptions. This also answers the double-bind of the client, since defense mechanisms are unconscious. Because the interpretations are directed to interviewed emerging potentials, which mostly operate out of awareness, they can claim to be better authorities on the internal workings of the student than the interpreter.

Turning Catharsis Into Permanent Stage Development

Psychoanalysis often is designed to provoke a catharsis or deep emotional expression and purging, on the assumption that the reincorporation of suppressed, denied, or disowned feelings from childhood trauma is an important and fundamental goal of the therapeutic process. Catharsis is access to states of heightened emotion, a flooding of insight, or recognition and release of the roots of conflict. All of these involve changes in state, not stage, meaning that while they can be profoundly transformational and impressive, they are rarely permanent. The general strategy is to provide patients with sufficient cathartic experiences of enough intensity to keep them coming back for more, in the hope, shared by both therapist and client, that enough state catharsis will generate lasting stage development.

Is this a realistic expectation? Most psychological studies do not support that conclusion. The reason is probably because of the amount of time that a person spends in their ongoing mental, emotional, and interpersonal cultures. After catharsis they soon regress back into the inertia of that ongoing reality. In addition, the nature of perception in dreams is driven by waking identity, which uses its habitual scripting to deal with dream situations. This reinforces the ongoing, habitual cultures out of awareness, meaning that even therapeutic immersion, such as in in-patient settings is soon undone.

While Integral Deep Listening interviews involve catharis, in that the perceptual frame of reference of this or that interviewed dream character or personification of a life issue is more or less a different state, it emphasizes relatively permanent stage development over relatively temporary changes of state. It is not that there is a problem with catharsis and insight or that it does not have its uses; it is that an Integral Deep Listening interview is not primarily for the purpose of evoking and then interpreting state changes, emotional identifications, or insights. Instead, the emphasis is on incorporating the state of an interviewed emerging potential into ongoing waking awareness as a perceptual broadening and form of waking up into a higher order of lucidity. One important way of doing this is by taking their recommendations seriously enough to test them in one’s waking life.

Sometimes interviews do provoke catharsis; when they do, the interviewer responds differently, based on what type of catharsis that occurs. If there is a clear and strong shift in awareness while in role, this is normally taken as an indication of strong role identification and the interview continues without interruptions. This demonstrates the priority of role identification over insight while stopping and interpreting the insight through discussion with waking identity makes it the center of the process rather than the interviewed emerging potential. If the cathartic reaction is tearful, the interviewer keeps the interviewed subject in role, asking the character, “____(the name of the client/student/patient) is tearing up. What is going on with them now?” What this does is keep the process from collapsing back to the stuck emotional reality of the student and instead keeps them in the relatively expanded and detached witnessing perspective of this or that interviewed emerging potential.

What Explains the Continuing Popularity of Psychodynamic Psychotherapy?

As a practicing psychotherapist who was trained with the psychodynamic model and who uses some of its assumptions with students of Integral Deep Listening, it is important to recognize its many strengths. Most of these boil down to its effectiveness in satisfying the expectations students, patients, and clients. If that is the case, then the effectiveness of psychodynamics is mostly about the cultural expectations and level of development of its patients. Most people know that they need authority figures, be they doctors, therapists, priests, gurus, or teachers. The flip side of this proposition, generally ignored, is that most doctors, therapists, priests, gurus, and teachers need patients, clients, or students to validate their own world view and self-worth. Patients provide income, status, professional experience, and self-justification. Therefore, it is important to note that therapists need patients as much as patients need therapists. In fact, patients provide many therapeutic functions for therapists and doctors, most of which are unacknowledged and none of which are compensated. Patients and clients pay doctors and therapists for their services; doctors and therapists do not pay patients and clients for theirs. It is a barter arrangement: “I will give you treatment and you will give me money.” This is only one example of the unequal relationship within most healing models.

This inequality is obviously very popular. It can only last as long as the patient, clients, or student perceives the teacher as having more of some desired skill, knowledge, or characteristic than they do. It breaks down when a client either loses that desire, gains a similar competency, or finds someone that they value more.

The centrality of the self means that the needs, emotions, priorities, expectations, and desires of the client are the center of attention. The more needy that a person is, the more effective such a focus is likely to be. Therefore, the more that a person outgrows their identification with their needs, the less likely they are to search for someone to help them fulfill them. This is one reason why psychotherapy never developed outside the reach of Western culture and worldview. Either people are pre-rational and invested in some mythological belief system for their therapy and salvation, or they are so focused on making a living that they have little time or energy to devote to developing objectivity in self-awareness.

When any methodology gains adherents, placebo alone produces a 33% positive result. This means that there are people who provide testimonies to the success of the approach. Once it becomes established, practitioners form professional associations whose major purpose is to validate their work so that it gains adherents, respectability, and referrals. All of this has nothing to do with efficacy and everything to do with vested interests promoting placebo benefits. Genuine efficacy is based on empirical, falsifiable studies that are duplicatible by peers in the field.

Metaphysics and Phenomenology

The metaphysical nature of belief is relatively easy to spot in other religions, “mythologies,” and other people, but much less easy to objectify within ourselves and our own belief systems. Those therapists who have been brought up to practice within a conceptual context of the unconscious, psyche, transference, counter-transference, psychic structures, psychic energy, and other basic aspects of the psychodynamic model, have a very hard time seeing any of these as metaphysical constructs, just as a theist can’t fathom “God” as a metaphysical construct.

Some psychodynamic assumptions, like the unconscious and subconscious, are metaphysically based. This means that they are mental abstractions that attempt to explain experience. Examples of other common metaphysical abstractions, found in religion and philosophy, are “God,” “soul,” “spirit,” and Plato’s Forms. While mental abstractions are not only helpful but, as Kant showed, essential, they need to be recognized for what they are if they are not to have an undue influence on decisions in therapy. For example, the idea of the unconscious implies that aspects of identity are out of awareness or lack awareness, or consciousness. This assumes that awareness and consciousness is centered in waking identity, yet it is clear that what is termed unconscious is conscious, in that it demonstrates intention and capability to act in meaningful ways that are yet disowned by waking identity. Examples range from breaking a diet to dissociation.

Waking identity, called the ego in psychodynamic therapies, becomes the center of reality, and its support and evolution becomes the central task of psychotherapy. Many therapists would ask, “So what?” “Isn’t that correct?” The reason why making waking awareness, or waking identity, the center of consciousness, and therefore reality, is a problem is that it is psychological geocentrism, one of several legitimate and useful perspectives. The self is the natural focus of development into mid-personal levels. Beyond that, the sense of self thins, expands, and becomes increasingly capable of taking the perspectives of others, as indicated by measurements of improved altruism and empathy. Eventually, the “self” becomes increasingly multi-perspectival, while retaining psychological geocentrism as a practical tool for work in the world. The difference is that ego is no longer who you are, who or what defines your identity. Integral Deep Listening finds a multiperspectival framework more effective because it both includes, yet transcends the traditional self-centered approach of psychodynamics. It is much closer to the way the world looks from the perspective of life, which does not identify with any one perspective.

As a result of this important difference in emphasis, Integral Deep Listening helps to evolve self-identity beyond “ego” into more flexible, adaptable, varied, and mature ways of looking at the world. When the assumption of psychological geocentrism is suspended, much of the descriptive language derived from psychodynamics loses its functional foundation. Terms like the “unconscious,” the “subconscious,” the “psyche,” and “psychic energy,” are seen to imply a model of consciousness that not only explains internal conflict, but sustains them by supposing a model of the self in which they are intrinsic. The idea of the centrality of humanity to creation follows from the experience that the sun, moon, planets, and stars circle around the earth and around human observers. However, when these bodies are no longer understood to circle around the earth, the idea of the centrality of humanity to creation becomes a marooned metaphysical abstraction, a cultural throwback and a psychological transitional object.

Integral Deep Listening does not recommend that metaphysical terminology assumed by psychodynamics not be used so much as be suspended in favor of listening to the terminology and conceptualizations used by interviewed emerging potentials. When a number of emerging potentials are interviewed, a consensus language that expresses shared perspectives that more closely approximate that of one’s own inner compass is discovered. The idea is then for the therapist to use that innate language and consensus perspective with that particular individual, because it is innate rather than imposed. While psychodynamic therapists may provide superior framings, conceptualizations, perspectives, and terminology, how is this known unless the therapist first suspends his or her assumptions and considers the appropriateness of the consensus perspective of interviewed emerging potentials?

This involves suspending temporarily the psychodynamic model in favor of listening to the perspective of interviewed emerging potentials. Whatever model you use to help others, it is an interpretation. Integral Deep Listening has a place for therapist interpretations; it comes after listening to the interpretations of one or more emerging potentials and then listening to the students’ interpretations of what they have heard. This therapeutic model gives precedence to discovering the priorities of the student’s inner compass by listening to the interpretations of interviewed emerging potentials. The interpretations of the student are next given priority. The interpretations of the teacher or therapist, along with other external sources of advice, come next.

Is the concept of “inner compass” itself a metaphysical construct? Yes. Integral Deep Listening uses it as a place-holder for continually evolving and expanding processes, rather than as an ontological identity. There is no such “thing” as an “inner compass,” only a shifting center of gravity, organization, and life. It is a metaphysical construct in the way that they eye of a hurricane is a metaphysical construct. Does the eye of a hurricane exist or not? Is it a “thing?” Most would agree that it is a process that embodies a perspective, but this does not make it a “thing.” Its “thingness” is only created by language and its differentiation from the surrounding winds. Without these two elements the eye of a hurricane does not exist. Similarly, the notion of “inner compass” does not exist without language and its differentiation from other perspectives. Therefore, while it is a metaphysical construct, it lacks the ontological character of “self” or “soul.”

How Psychodynamic psychotherapies can benefit from Integral Deep Listening

IDL views healing as the province of life, not the self. The self is the beneficiary of health when it moves into harmony with life. It does so as it aligns with the priorities of one’s inner compass. Therefore, instead of therapy centered on the interpretations of therapists, or therapy centered on the patient and their interpretations, IDL encourages therapy that is first centered on the interpretations and recommendations of interviewed emerging potentials and then on the interpretations of the student and then on the interpretations of the therapist.

Moving away from a “self” centered model of treatment to a life-centered model is a profoundly transformational way of understanding growth and healing. A second way IDL can benefit psychodynamic therapies is by shifting therapist role definition from healing interpreter to facilitating teacher. The facilitation is done in conducting interviews and facilitating the application of their recommendations. The teaching is in teaching tools for the minimization of self-filtering, including the Drama Triangle, cognitive distortions, and meditation.

[1] Kohlberg, Maslow, Jung, and others do indeed recognize post-rational developmental stages, but these confuse states and stages and pre-personal belief with trans-rational experience.

[2] For example, the terms “adolescent” and “adolescence” did not exist until the early 1900’s because it was only with the movement from an agrarian to an industrial-based society that the phenomena of extended puberty and education created an intermediate period resulting in a cultural differentiation between childhood and adulthood. Similarly, syndromes now widely accepted as bona-fide psychological disorders, such as Attention Deficit Disorder and Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder were probably rendered largely invisible by a life of physical labor starting at a young age.

[3] Hoiberg, D. (Senior Editor) (2002). Helmholtz, Hermann von  (biography). Encyclopedia Britannica Deluxe Edition, CD-ROM.

[4] Ritvo, L. (1990). Darwin’s influence on Freud. New Haven: Yale University Press.

[5] Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy: “The Life and Theory of Sigmund Freud”


Psychoanalysis as it is taught and practiced today is a very broad-based methodology that differs in important respects from the type of psychoanalysis that Freud taught.  Modern practitioners have the benefit of over a century of subsequent development to integrate the state of contemporary knowledge into Freud’s monumental contributions.

What is a basic difference in the approach to dreams of psychoanalysis and IDL? Freud considered dreams symbolic. IDL, on the other hand, is phenomenological, which means that it suspends as many assumptions as possible, including the assumption that a dream character or event is symbolic. The sources of this approach can be traced not only to Husserl, Wundt, Medard Boss, and the existentialist philosophers Heidigger, Kierkegaard, and Sartre, but to the Socratic dialectical method of elenchus. It therefore does not emphasize the symbolic nature of experience, although it utilizes that perspective as a secondary, supportive resource.

How do psychoanalysis and IDL view interpretation of dreams? The same can be said of interpretation. Freud believed dreams can be interpreted by psychoanalytically trained psychotherapists. Freud’s interpretations are easily shown to be arbitrary projections that reveal more about the interpreter, his or her beliefs and culture, than about dreams themselves. IDL sees interpretation as inevitable and unavoidable, but invites the interpretations of interviewed emerging potentials and gives those interpretations priority because of two factors. The first is their relative objectivity, since they personify perspectives that often prove to be in significant ways autonomous. The second is that because they are enmeshed in the dream or life issue at hand, their perspective has a relevance that far surpasses that of either the client or the therapist. This does not mean that the views of clients or therapists are not to be taken into account. Indeed, in IDL dream interviewing, the associations/interpretations of the client are always collected. Subsequent to the interview the therapist is encouraged to make their own interpretations, generally as follow-up questions addressed to the interviewed emerging potential.

Who makes the best interpreters of dreams? IDL finds that trained therapists are often the most problematic students, because they have to unlearn years of training in history taking, diagnosis, and interpretation in order to learn to be practitioners of deep listening. While these skills are considered valuable by IDL, they are secondary to listening to the interviewed perspective. This means learning a phenomenological approach, including the ability to suspend one’ assumptions, is essential to Integral Deep Listening.

Are dreams regressive? Freud considered dreams to be regressive. Regression is a defense  mechanism. Freud developed most of his theory of defense mechanisms based on his observation of dreams. Most defense mechanisms Freud found in dreams are projections by Freud of his waking mind onto dreams; they are not intrinsic to the dream state. IDL also considers dreams to be regressive, under normal circumstances. But in distinction from Freud, this is not because of anything intrinsic about the dream state, but because your dreaming self, that sense of who you are while you are dreaming, tends to use early problem solving and early emotional preferences and reactions until new, improved adaptational strategies are learned and applied to perception while dreaming.

Do dreams reveal repressed motivations? Freud believed dreams reveal repressed motivations, such as sexual desires. While in relationship to waking, most of what dreams deal with is ignored, discounted, or dismissed, IDL does not find anything repressed or repressing about dreams themselves. A much simpler, effective formulation is to assess our willingness to listen to whatever is wanting to be heard in a dream or involving a life issue. It is not wanting to be heard because it is repressed; it is wanting to be heard because, like you and I, it wants to be heard, respected, acknowledged, and listened to.

Are dreams an expression of unconscious conflict? Freud saw dreaming as an expression of unconscious conflict. IDL does not rely on the concept of “unconscious,” finding it neither necessary nor useful. For Freud, unconscious influences need to be understood and neutralized. For IDL there are social and “intrasocial“ influences, dependent on whether an exterior or interior other is being disowned at the moment. IDL does not give conflict the central role in psychological dysfunction that psychoanalysis does. Conflict is one of three positions of the developmental dialectic and is necessary for development; there is nothing inherently dysfunctional about intrapsychic conflict. Lack of conflict, for instance, the validation of cultural and social delusions, can be and often is far more dysfunctional than intrapsychic conflict.

Does IDL use free association? The major treatment strategy of psychoanalysis is “free association,” leading to interpretations by the analyst of whatever associations he or she deems important. IDL does not use free association. It uses highly structured questioning and resists the urge to provide interpretations to the responses to these questions.

How important is it to focus on the childhood sources of current problems? Freudian psychoanalysis also emphasizes psychic archaeology, or uncovering the “roots” of dysfunction in early childhood, in the belief that first awareness and then emotional catharsis will allow the development of a healthy “ego.” IDL may or may not deal with early childhood; content is directed largely by the dream character interviewed or the life issue addressed. However, in general, IDL does not focus on the past or future; it focuses on the experience of emerging potentials in the here and now and what needs to be done to make their presence more real, vital, and effective in daily life to more effectively address the real life concerns of the patient.

How important is transference? Freud emphasized the concept of transference, or the projection of characteristics and qualities by the patient onto the therapist, and counter-transference, or the projection of characteristics and qualities by the therapist onto the patient. In either case, both are often thought of as the repetition in the present of childhood relationships, such as that with one’s parent, onto someone in the present. IDL addresses these concerns by minimizing the traditional parent/child relationship between healer and patient. It does so by minimizing interpretations and direction by the therapist and maximizing interpretations and direction by interviewed emerging potentials.

Does IDL use the concept of “resistance?” “Resistance” plays a big role in Freudian psychoanalysis. The idea is that the self, called the “ego,” fights the impulses of the id or the conscience of the superego. This concept makes conflict central to Freud’s understanding of both therapy and dysfunction. Much of therapy, then, is about uncovering the sources of resistance and neutralizing them, generally through catharsis and proper interpretation. IDL recognizes the importance of resistance but sees it as an expression of an organism’s need to maintain stability, even if dysfunctional. It does not see resistance as a problem to be eliminated, but something to be listened to, understood, respected, and taken seriously. Therefore, IDL will often ask clients to describe their resistance, name the associated feelings, give those feelings colors, surround themselves with those feelings, and watch the color or colors condense into some object, animal, or person which is then interviewed. The assumption is that a personification of the resistance itself is much more likely to provide helpful recommendations for addressing it than either the patient or the therapist.

Why doesn’t IDL use Freud’s structure of Id, Ego and Superego? Psychoanalysis relies on a tripartite psychic structure of id, ego, and superconscious. IDL does not use these concepts, nor does it break the psyche into three parts. Instead, it assumes that your experience entails who you think you are right now, which IDL calls your “waking identity.” You are free to define yourself as narrowly or as inclusively as you desire, and indeed, how you do so is a mark of your level of development. Anything that is not part of your sense of self is considered to be a non-interviewed emerging potential which is best assumed to function as a wake-up call. Wake-up calls are to be listened to so that they can be incorporated into a more inclusive, integrated, stable, and healthy sense of who you are. Doing so keeps dream wake-up calls from getting louder, first manifesting as nightmares and then, if not heard, externalizing as waking nightmares of various types: accidents, physical health problems,  or relationship issues.

Does IDL use the concepts of transference and counter-transference?  Psychology makes the mistake of assuming that because professional diagnosis works in medicine that it will work in talking therapy. dBecause the problem is by definition unconscious, it is unknown and unknowable by the client except by another, to whom it is conscious and who has the expertise to deal with various defenses to it becoming conscious to the client. The client is thereby placed in a disempowering child-parent relationship, dependent upon the interpretations of expert external sources of objectivity called therapists. Even if this role is successfully internalized, there is no reason to believe that the results are in harmony with the priorities of one’s life compass.

IDL addresses these issues by encouraging the support of expert external sources of objectivity who act primarily in support of internal sources of objectivity. These expert external interpretations either defer to or work to support the interpretations of internal sources of objectivity – interviewed emerging potentials, particularly those which score higher than the client/student in one or more of the six core qualities of confidence, empathy, wisdom, acceptance, inner peace, and witnessing. The goal is to make the client dependent on their own life compass, not on a therapist, healer or dream interpreter. In such a model issues of transference and counter-transference are minimized because the therapist/teacher is not the primary source of interpretation; interviewed emerging potentials are. When resistances arise they are interviewed so that interpretations and solutions come primarily from interviewed emerging potentials, not the therapist or subject. The therapist consistently defers to the collective wisdom of internal sources of objectivity because they recognize that such perspectives know the client/student better than the therapist possibly can and because they innately represent possibilities and potentials that are both more creative and more to the heart of the life issue of the moment.

During the interviewing process, in contrast to most therapy, the focus is not placed on the interviewer-subject relationship, but on listening to what the interviewed emerging potential has to say. The major considerations during the interviewing process are, “Is the subject in role?” “How can I help them to become more thoroughly in role, yet remaining present, aware, observant and witnessing?” Emphasis is placed on the suspension of assumptions, expectations and interpretations in order to practice deep listening to the interviewed character. Consequently, interpretations that occur are primarily made by the emerging potential. While interpretations by the interviewed and the interviewer are unavoidable, they are addressed later, in deference to what the emerging potential has to say. This structure reduces opportunities for both transference and countertransference in IDL.

The question then might arise, “Is there transference or counter-transference between the subject and the element that is being interviewed?” From the perspective of IDL, this is a ridiculous question. One could always read such possibilities in; one could argue that just because the focus of the interview is between the subject and the interviewed element, that does not mean that transference or counter-transference are not happening. What would be the source and intent of such arguments? Clearly it would be to maintain interpretive, projective control in the interpretations of the therapist by presenting an irrefutable possibility. But IDL is not about staying in control, nor is waking up contingent on the interviewer maintaining the final say regarding interpretations or what is projection and what is not. For IDL all this is disrespectful to the interviewed emerging potential and disempowering to the subject of the interview.

Outside of the interviews themselves, during the creation of action plans or the teaching of concepts such as the Drama Triangle, scripting, cognitive distortions, and meditative techniques, the focus of IDL is on teaching rather than therapeutic dialogue. Consequently, the focus is on information relevant to finding measurable solutions to specific, ongoing life concerns rather than a delving into childhood traumas or deep emotional resistances. Therefore, to the extent that transference and countertransference arise, they are more likely to be benign and not interfere with learning and practicing IDL, just as occurs in other teaching situations.

Does IDL focus on building ego strength? Psychoanalysis focuses on building “ego strength.” The assumption is that the ego is rational and will act in the best interest of growth if strengthened. The problem with this approach, from the perspective of IDL, is that waking identity is generally best assumed to be asleep, dreaming, delusional, largely pre-rational, and acting in its own limited and misinformed interpretations of its own best interests, rather than in the interest of any larger sense of self.  This relationship remains in place regardless of how “healthy” or “integrated” your sense of self becomes.

The most basic difference of Freudian psychoanalysis with IDL is Freud’s emphasis on cure as a return to “normalcy,” meaning appropriate “ego strength” for a particular age or, at best, Freud’s level of development. There is no awareness whatsoever of the possibility that “normalcy” is a culturally-determined state which is seen by successive generations and with the objectivity of time, as itself dysfunctional. Rather than attempting to return patients to a mythical state of “normalcy,” IDL teaches clients to access, listen to, and become one with the priorities of their inner compass. “Normalcy” is defined by IDL as a state of acting on the priorities of your inner compass, and has nothing to do with the norms of society or the expectations of waking identity for health or happiness.

Why doesn’t IDL use the scientifically accepted medical model of treatment? Because Freud was a physician, he wanted psychology to have the standing of chemistry, physics, and other “hard” sciences. Therefore, his model attempts to imitate the medical model by collecting a history, generating a diagnosis, and prescribing treatment. IDL does not rely on collecting a history because the practitioner is not making a diagnosis. The client already knows their history, as does whatever emerging potential is interviewed. That interviewed emerging potential makes its diagnosis and prescribes treatment. The job of the practitioner is to make sure the client allows it to speak and be heard, and to create an accountability structure so that the diagnosis and prescribed treatment can be tested in the laboratory of the patient’s daily life. Do their symptoms of PTSD diminish or not? Does their anxiety or depression decrease or not? Do their nightmares lessen in frequency and intensity or not?

The empiricism of IDL is based on evaluation by peers in the methodology, similar to the mastery of vocational competencies or meditation. Its criteria for validation are public and repeatable, which are basic criteria for any empirical methodology.

Defense mechanisms

Unconscious strategies for avoiding or reducing threatening feelings, such as fear and anxiety, defense mechanisms are the most lasting and important contribution of Freudian thought to psychology. According to Freud, defense mechanisms protect us from being consciously aware of a thought or feeling which we cannot tolerate. The defense only allows the unconscious thought or feeling to be expressed indirectly in a disguised form. They allow negative feelings to be lessened without an alteration of the situation that is producing them, often by distorting the reality of that situation in some way. While they can help in coping with stress, they pose a danger because the reduction of stress can be so appealing that the defenses are maintained and become habitual. They can also be harmful if they become a person’s primary mode of responding to problems. In children, excessive dependence on defense mechanisms may produce social isolation and distortion of reality and hamper the ability to engage in and learn from new experiences.

Defenses may hide any of a variety of thoughts or feelings: anger, fear, sadness, depression, greed, envy, competitiveness, love, passion, admiration, criticalness, dependency, selfishness, grandiosity, helplessness.

Defense mechanisms include denial, repression, suppression, projection, displacement, reaction formation, regression, fixation, identification, introjection, rationalization, isolation, sublimation, compensation, and humor.

Denial and repression both distort reality by keeping things hidden from consciousness. In the case of denial, an unpleasant reality is ignored, and a realistic interpretation of potentially threatening events is replaced by a benign but inaccurate one.

Let’s say you are angry with a professor because he is very critical of you. Here’s how the various defenses might hide and/or transform that anger:

You completely reject the thought or feeling: “I’m not angry with him!”


Nightmares:  “It’s only a dream.”
Dreams:  “It’s just day residue.”
Dreaming: “S/he’s a dreamer.”

Either feelings or events (or both) may be denied. In very young children, a degree of denial is normal. One way of coping with the relative powerlessness of childhood is for young children to sometimes act as if they can change reality by refusing to acknowledge it, thereby ascribing magical powers to their thoughts and wishes. For example, a child who is told that her parents are divorcing may deny that it is happening or deny that she is upset about it. Denial has been shown to be effective in reducing the arousal caused by a threatening situation. In life-threatening or other extreme situations, denial can temporarily be useful in helping people cope, but in the long term painful feelings and events must be acknowledged in order to avoid further psychological and emotional problems. Related to denial is avoidance, which involves avoiding situations that are expected to elicit unwanted emotions and impulses.

Most people avoid both their dreams and serious dreamwork.

In repression, painful feelings are conscious initially and then forgotten. However, they are stored in the unconscious, from which, under certain circumstances, they can be retrieved (a phenomenon Freud called “the return of the repressed”).

PTSD dreams;
Forgotten but repeated nightmares.

Repression can range from momentary memory lapses to forgetting the details of a catastrophic event, such as a murder or an earthquake. Complete amnesia can even occur in cases where a person has experienced something very painful. The Oedipus complex by which Sigmund Freud explained the acquisition of gender identity relies on a child’s repression of incestuous desires toward the parent of the opposite sex and feelings of rivalry toward the parent of the same sex. Other situations may also occasion the repression of hostile feelings toward a loved one (especially a parent). Possibly the most extreme is child abuse, the memory of which may remain repressed long into adulthood, sometimes being deliberately retrieved in therapy through hypnosis and other techniques.

A third defense mechanism, related to denial and repression, is suppression, by which unpleasant feelings are suppressed through a conscious decision not to think about them. Suppression differs from repression and denial in that the undesirable feelings are available but deliberately ignored (unlike repression and denial, where the person is completely unaware of these feelings). Suppression generally works by replacing unpleasant thoughts with others that do not produce stress. This may be done instinctively, or it may be done deliberately in a therapeutic context.

You are vaguely aware of the thought or feeling, but try to hide it: “I’m going to try to be nice to him.”

Non-recall of dreams.

Cognitive behavior therapy in particular makes use of this technique to help people combat negative thought patterns that produce maladaptive emotions and behavior. For example, a child may be instructed to block feelings of fear by thinking about a pleasant experience, such as a party, an academic achievement, or a victory in a sporting event. Suppression is considered one of the more mature and healthy defense mechanisms.

Projection and displacement allow a person to acknowledge anxiety-producing feelings but transfer them to either another source or another object.

In projection, the undesirable feelings are attributed to another person or persons. An angry person believes others are angry at her; a person who is critical of others believes they are critical of him. Very young children are especially prone to projection because of their egocentric orientation, which blurs the boundary between themselves and others, making it easier to also blur the distinction between their feelings and those of others.

You think someone else has your thought or feeling:  “That professor hates me.” “That student hates the prof.”

Dream group members are the bad guys; I am the helpless victim.

Displacement is a defense by which an impulse perceived as dangerous is displaced, either through redirection toward a different object or replacement by another impulse. In the first type, known as object displacement, anger or another emotion is initially felt toward a person against whom it is unsafe to express it (in children, for example, toward a parent).

You redirect your feelings to another target: “I hate that secretary.”

I am afraid I am not in control of my life; I will displace my fear onto my dreams, because not being in control of my dreams is not as big a threat.

Displacement functions as a means by which the impulse can still be expressed-allowing a catharsis of the original emotion-but toward a safer target, such as a sibling, peer, or even a toy. In the second type of displacement, known as drive displacement, the object of the emotion remains the same but the emotion itself is replaced by a less threatening one.

My dreams threaten me but I experience myself as angry at them for disrupting my sleep.

Reaction formation, another defense mechanism, involves behavior that is diametrically opposed to the impulses or feelings that one is repressing.

You turn the feeling into its opposite: “I think he’s really great!”

For example, a parent who is repressing feelings of resentment or rejection toward a child may overcompensate by appearing to be lavishly generous and solicitous of the child’s welfare. In this type of situation, the child generally senses the true hostility underlying the parent’s behavior. A child who is being toilet trained may show an exaggerated sense of fastidiousness to counter conflicts over controlling elimination. The Freudian stage of sexual latency in middle childhood is yet another example of reaction formation: in order to repress their sexual feelings, children at this age evince a strong sense of indifference or even hostility toward the opposite sex. Sometimes a distinction is drawn between feelings that are diametrically opposed to a repressed impulse and the actual behavior that expresses them, with the former called reaction formation and the latter referred to as undoing.

Undoing: You try to reverse or undo your feeling by DOING something that indicates the opposite feeling. It may be an “apology” for the feeling you find unacceptable within yourself:  “I think I’ll give that professor an apple.”

I am afraid of what I will learn about myself if I go to a therapist, so I study to become a therapist.

I am afraid of my dreams so I pretend that I am not by talking a good game.

Two defense mechanisms-regression and fixation -are associated with developmental disturbances in children. In regression, a child, confronted with a situation that produces conflict, anxiety, or frustration, reverts to the behavior of an earlier stage of development, such as thumb-sucking or bed-wetting, in an attempt to regain the lost sense of safety that characterized the earlier period.

You revert to an old, usually immature behavior to ventilate your feeling:  “Let’s shoot spitballs at people!”

Melt-down to tantrums & blaming when stressed.

In fixation, the child doesn’t lose any previously gained developmental ground but refuses to move ahead because developmental progress has come to be associated with anxiety in some way.

It is safer to not look at my dreams.  Dream Yoga is too anxiety provoking.

Identification, which is basic to human development and an essential part of the learning process, can also serve as a defense mechanism. Taking on the characteristics of someone else can enable a person to engage in impulses or behavior that she sees as forbidden to her but acceptable for the person with whom she is identifying.

“I will imagine I am the murderer in this dream so that I can be violent and abusive.”

Another motive for identification is a fear of losing the person with whom one identifies.

“If I become more like my teacher he’ll give me a good grade.”

One particularly well-known variety of identification is identification with the aggressor, where someone who is victimized in some way takes on the traits of the victimizer to combat feelings of powerlessness. This type of projection occurs when a child who is abused by his parents abuses others in turn. In some cases, however, this type of projection may occur in response to aggression that is imagined rather than real and create a self-perpetuating cycle by actually eliciting in others the aggression that was only imaginary initially.

In introjection, which is related to identification, only a particular aspect of someone else’s personality is internalized.
(perfectionism, dependency, addiction, etc.)

Rationalization, another type of defense mechanism, is an attempt to deny one’s true motives (to oneself or others) by using a reason (or rationale) that is more logical or socially acceptable than one’s own impulses. Typical rationalizations include such statements as “I don’t care if I wasn’t chosen for the team; I didn’t really want to play soccer anyway” and “I couldn’t get my homework done because I had too many other things to do.” Adolescents, caught between their own unruly impulses and adult expectations that seem unreasonable, are especially prone to rationalizing their behavior. Their advanced cognitive development makes many adolescents adept at this strategy.

“It doesn’t matter that I don’t recall my dreams.  They aren’t important anyway.”

“It doesn’t matter that I don’t understand my dreams.  They’re meaningless anyway.”

You come up with various explanations to justify the situation (while denying your feelings):  “He’s so critical because he’s trying to help us do our best.”

Intellectualization: A type of rationalization, only more intellectualized:  “This situation reminds me of how Nietzsche said that anger is ontological despair.”

Like rationalization, isolation is a rather complicated defense. It involves compartmentalizing one’s experience so that an event becomes separated from the feelings that accompanied it, allowing it to be consciously available without the threat of painful feelings. Isolation can take on aspects of a dissociative disorder, with children separating parts of their lives to the point that they think of themselves as more than one person (for example, a good child and a bad one who only appears under certain circumstances). By compartmentalizing they can be relieved of feeling responsible for the actions of the “bad child.”

Isolation of affect: You “think” the feeling but don’t really feel it: “I guess I’m angry with him, sort of.”

Sublimation, one of the healthiest defense mechanisms, involves rechanneling the energy connected with an unacceptable impulse into one that is more socially acceptable. In this way, inappropriate sexual or aggressive impulses can be released in sports, creative pursuits, or other activities. Undesired feelings can also be sublimated into altruistic impulses, from which one may derive the vicarious pleasure of helping others. Other defense mechanisms generally viewed in a positive light include compensation -devoting unusual efforts to achievement in order to overcome feelings of inferiority-and the use of humor as a coping device.

You redirect the feeling into a socially productive activity:  “I’m going to write a poem about anger.”

We must know our limits and never stop trying to exceed them

Defense Mechanisms

A number of phenomena are used to aid in the maintenance of repression.  These are termed Ego Defense Mechanisms (the terms “Mental Mechanisms” and “Defense Mechanisms” are essentially synonymous with this).

The primary functions of these mechanisms are:

1 to minimize anxiety

2 to protect the ego

3 to maintain repression

Repression is useful to the individual since:

1 it prevents discomfort

2 it leads to some economy of time and effort

Ego Defense Mechanisms include:

Acting Out:

The individual deals with emotional conflict or internal or external stressors by actions rather than reflections or feelings.  This definition is broader than the original concept of the acting out of transference feelings or wishes during psychotherapy and is intended to include behavior arising both within and outside the transference relationship.  Defensive acting out is not synonymous with “bad behavior” because it requires evidence that the behavior is related to emotional conflicts.


The individual deals with emotional conflict or internal or external stressors by turning to others for help or support.  This involves sharing problems with others but does not imply trying to make someone else responsible for them.

Aim inhibition:

Placing a limitation upon instinctual demands; accepting partial or modified fulfillment of desires.  Examples:  (1) a person is conscious of sexual desire but if finding it frustrating, “decides” that all that is really wanted in the relationship is companionship. (2) a student who originally wanted to be a physician decides to become a physician’s assistant.

Aim inhibition, like the other mechanisms, is neither healthful nor pathological, desirable nor undesirable, in itself.  It may be better to have half a loaf than no bread, but an unnecessary aim inhibition may rob one of otherwise attainable satisfactions.

Note that the first example could include the mechanism of displacement, and the second, rationalization.  Up to a point, mutual idealization can make for a happy relationship; however, unrealistic expectations of another person based upon this mechanism can lead to serious disappointment.


The individual deals with emotional conflict or internal or external stressors by dedication to meeting the needs of others.  Unlike the self-sacrifice sometimes characteristic of reaction formation, the individual receives gratification either vicariously or from the response of others.


The individual deals with emotional conflict or internal or external stressors by experiencing emotional reactions in advance of, or anticipating consequences of, possible future events and considering realistic, alternative responses or solutions.

Autistic Fantasy:

The individual deals with emotional conflict or internal or external stressors by excessive daydreaming as a substitute for human relationships, more effective action, or problem solving.


A defense mechanism consisting of refusal to encounter situations, objects, or activities because they represent unconscious sexual or aggressive impulses and/or punishment for those impulses; avoidance, according to the dynamic theory, is a major defense mechanism in phobias.


Encountering failure or frustration in some sphere of activity, one overemphasizes another.  The term is also applied to the process of over-correcting for a handicap or limitation.  Examples:  (1) a physically unattractive adolescent becomes an expert dancer.  (2) a youth with residual muscle damage from poliomyelitis becomes an athlete.  (3) Demosthenes.


Conflicts are presented by physical symptoms involving portions of the body innervated by sensory or motor nerves.  This mechanism and somatization are the only ones that are always pathological.  Examples:  a man’s arm becomes paralyzed after impulses to strike another  (2) regular heavy drinking limited to weekends; (3) long periods of sobriety interspersed with binges of daily heavy drinking lasting for weeks or months.


Also detected when the individual is in group therapy and consists of redirecting attention to another group member.


Failing to recognize obvious implications or consequences of a thought, act, or situation.  Examples: (1) a person having an extramarital affair gives no thought to the possibility of pregnancy. (2) persons living near a volcano disregard the dangers involved. (3) a disabled person plans to return to former activities without planning a realistic program of rehabilitation.


The individual deals with emotional conflict or internal or external stressors by attributing exaggerated negative qualities to self or others.


A change in the object by which an instinctual drive is to be satisfied; shifting the emotional component from one object or idea to another.  Examples: (1) a woman is abandoned by her fiance’; she quickly finds another man about whom she develops the same feelings; (2) a salesman is angered by his superior but suppresses his anger; later, on return to his home, he punishes one of his children for misbehavior that would usually be tolerated or ignored.

Displacements are often quite satisfactory and workable mechanisms; if one cannot have steak, it is comforting to like hamburger equally well.  As the March Hare observed, “I like what I have is the same as I have what I like.” However, the example of displaced anger illustrates a situation which, if often repeated, could cause serious complications in the person’s life.  Conscious acceptance of a substitute with full recognition that it is a substitute for something one wants is an analog of displacement.


Splitting-off a group of thoughts or activities from the main portion of consciousness; compartmentalization. Example: a politician works vigorously for integrity in government, but at the same time engages in a business venture involving a conflict of interest without being consciously hypocritical and seeing no connection between the two activities.

Some dissociation is helpful in keeping one portion of one’s life from interfering with another (e.g., not bringing problems home from the office).  However, dissociation is responsible for some symptoms of mental illness; it occurs in “hysteria” (certain somatoform and dissociative disorders) and schizophrenia, The dissociation of hysteria involves a large segment of the consciousness while that in schizophrenia is of numerous small portions.  The apparent splitting of affect from content often noted in schizophrenia is usually spoken of as dissociation of affect, though isolation might be a better term.


The cessation of the process of development of the personality at a stage short of complete and uniform mature independence is known as fixation.

Help-Rejecting Complaining:

The individual deals with emotional conflict or internal or external stressors by complaining or making repetitious requests for help that disguise covert feelings or hostility or reproach toward others, which are then expressed by rejecting the suggestions, advice, or help that others offer.  The complaints or requests may involve physical or psychological symptoms or life problems.


The individual deals with emotional conflict or external stressors by emphasizing the amusing or ironic aspects of the conflict or stressors.


Overestimation of the desirable qualities and underestimation of the limitations of a desired object.  Examples: (1) a lover speaks in glowing terms of the beauty and intelligence of an average-looking woman who is not very bright.  (2) a purchaser, having finally decided between two items, expounds upon the advantages of the one chosen.


Similar to introjection, but of less intensity and completeness. The unconscious modeling of one’s self upon another person.  One may also identify with values and attitudes of a group.  Examples: (1) without being aware that he is copying his teacher, a resident physician assumes a similar mode of dress and manner with patients. (2) a school girl wants her mother to buy her the same kind of shoes her classmates are wearing; she angrily rejects the idea that she is trying to be like the other girls and insists that the shoes are truly the best available and are the style she has always wanted.  Conscious analogs of identification are intentional imitation of others and volitional efforts to conform to a group.


The assimilation of the object into one’s own ego and/or superego.  This is one of the earliest mechanisms utilized.  The parent becomes almost literally a part of the child.  Parental values, preferences, and attitudes are acquired.


The individual deals with emotional conflict or internal or external stressors by the excessive use of abstract thinking or the making of generalizations to control or minimize disturbing feelings.


The process of assimilation of the picture of an object (as the individual conceives the object to be).  For example, when a person becomes depressed due to the loss of a loved one, his feelings are directed to the mental image he possesses of the loved one.


The splitting-off of the emotional components from a thought.  Example: a medical student dissects a cadaver without being disturbed by thoughts of death.  Isolation may be temporary (affect postponement).  Example: a bank teller appears calm and cool while frustrating a robbery but afterward is tearful and tremulous.

The mechanism of isolation is commonly over utilized by obsessive compulsives.


The individual deals with emotional conflict or internal or external stressors by feeling or acting as if he or she possesses special powers or abilities and is superior to others.

Passive Aggression:

The individual deals with emotional conflict or internal or external stressors by indirectly and unassertively expressing aggression toward others.  There is a facade of overt compliance masking covert resistance, resentment, or hostility.  Passive aggression often occurs in response to demands for independent action or performance or the lack of gratification of dependent wishes but may be adaptive for individuals in subordinate positions who have no other way to express assertiveness more avertly.


Attributing one’s thoughts or impulses to another person.  In common use, this is limited to unacceptable or undesirable impulses. Examples: (1) a man, unable to accept that he has competitive or hostile feelings about an acquaintance, says, “He doesn’t like me.” (2) a woman, denying to herself that she has sexual feelings about a co-worker, accuses him, without basis, of flirt and described him as a “wolf.”

This defense mechanism is commonly over utilized by the paranoid.

A broader definition of projection includes certain operations that allow for empathy and understanding of others.  Recognition that another person is lonely or sad may be based not upon having seen other examples of loneliness or sadness and learning the outward manifestations but upon having experienced the feelings and recognizing automatically that another person’s situation would evoke them. [projective identification]

Projective Identification:

As in projection, the individual deals with emotional conflict or internal or external stressors by falsely attributing to another his or her own unacceptable feelings, impulses, or thoughts.  Unlike simple projection, the individual does not fully disavow what is projected.  Instead, the individual remains aware of his or her own affects or impulses but mis-attributes them as justifiable reactions to the other person.  Not infrequently, the individual induces the very feelings in others that were first mistakenly believed to be there, making it difficult to clarify who did what to whom first. [projection]


Offering a socially acceptable and apparently more or less logical explanation for an act or decision actually produced by unconscious impulses.  The person rationalizing is not intentionally inventing a story to fool someone else, but instead is misleading self as well as the listener.  Examples: (1) a man buys a new car, having convinced himself that his older car won’t make it through the winter. (2) a woman with a closet full of dresses buys a new one because she doesn’t have anything to wear.

Reaction Formation:

Going to the opposite extreme; overcompensation for unacceptable impulses.Examples: (1) a man violently dislikes an employee; without being aware of doing so, he “bends overbackwards” to not criticize the employee and gives him special privileges and advances. (2) a person with strong antisocial impulses leads a crusade against vice. (3) a married woman who is disturbed by feeling attracted to one of her husband’s friends treats him rudely.

Intentional efforts to compensate for conscious dislikes and prejudices are sometimes analogous to this mechanism.


By another anxiety-evading mechanism known as regression, the personality may suffer a loss of some of the development already attained and may revert to a lower level of adaptation and expression.


The involuntary exclusion of a painful or conflictual thought, impulse, or memory from awareness.  This is the primary ego defense mechanism; others reinforce it.


This defense mechanism produces a deep-seated opposition to the bringing of repressed (unconscious) data to awareness.  Through its operation, the individual seeks to avoid memories or insights which would arouse anxiety.


The mechanism of relieving the mind of a load of guilt by making up or reparation (paying up with interest).


The individual deals with emotional conflict or stressors by expressing his or her feelings and thoughts directly in a way that is not coercive or manipulative.


Conflicts are represented by physical symptoms involving parts of the body innervated by the sympathetic and parasympathetic system.  Example: a highly competitive and aggressive person, whose life situation requires that such behavior be restricted, develops hypertension.


This term is widely used today to explain the coexistence within the ego of contradictory states, representative of self and others, as well as attitudes to self and others; other individuals or the self is perceived as “All good or all bad.


Attenuating the force of an instinctual drive by using the energy in other, usually constructive activities.  This definition implies acceptance of the Libido Theory; the examples do not require it.  Sublimation is often combined with other mechanisms, among them aim inhibition, displacement, and symbolization.  Examples: (1) a man who is dissatisfied with his sex life but who has not stepped out on his wife becomes very busy repairing his house while his wife is out of town.  Thus, he has no time for social activities. (2) a woman is forced to undertake a restrictive diet; she becomes interested in painting and does a number of still life pictures, most of which include fruit.

The conscious use of work or hobbies to divert one’s thoughts from a problem or from a rejected wish is an analog of this. Sublimation is often a desirable mechanism.  However, the consequences may, in addition to preventing instinctual satisfaction, interfere with the person’s life in other ways if disproportionate time, money, or effort is used in the activity.


Through this defense mechanism, the individual secures alternative or substitutive gratification comparable to those that would have been employed had frustration not occurred.


Usually fisted as an ego defense mechanism but actually the conscious analog of repression; intentional exclusion of material from consciousness.  At times, suppression may lead to subsequent repression.  Examples: (1) a young man at work finds that he is letting thoughts about a date that evening interfere with his duties; he decides not to think about plans for the evening until he leaves work. (2) a student goes on vacation worried that she may be failing; she decides not to spoil her holiday by thinking of school. (3) a woman makes an embarrassing faux pas at a party; she makes an effort to forget all about it.

In the first example, suppression was probably a desirable mechanism since it permitted concentration on work and deferred dealing with plans for the evening until a more appropriate time.  In the second instance, suppression would have been undesirable if failing work could have been corrected during vacation or if a realistic appraisal of probable consequences of the school situation would have permitted battery planning.


An object or act represents a complex group of objects and acts, some of which may be conflictual or unacceptable to the ego; objects or acts stand for a repressed desire.  Examples: (1) a soldier, when asked why he volunteered, he said, “To defend the flag.” He rejects as irrelevant a question about the purpose of the war. (2) a boy asks for a girl’s hand (in marriage).

As in the second illustration, symbolization is often combined with displacement. it is one of the mechanisms usually involved in phobias. [avoidance] [displacement]


An act or communication which partially negates a previous one.  Examples: (1) two close friends have a violent argument; when they next meet, each act as if the disagreement had never occurred. (2) when asked to recommend a friend for a job, a man makes derogatory comments which prevent the friend’s getting the position; a few days later, the man drops in to see his friend and brings him a small gift.

In a conscious analog of this, Napoleon made it a practice after reprimanding any officer to find some words of praise to say at their next meeting.


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