5 Steps of the Exploration Stage of Hill’s Cognitive-Experiential Dream Model

The steps of the exploration stage of Hill’s cognitive-experiential dream model are the following:

  1. Have the client retell dreams in the first-person present tense.
  2. Have the client explore feelings in dreams and upon waking.
  3. Explore major images sequentially using DRAW.
    1. Describe
    2. Reexperience feelings
    3. Associate
    4. Waking life triggers
  4. Summarize the exploration process by replacing images with descriptions, feelings, associations, and waking life triggers (optional).

In the first step, the client retells the dream to the therapist in first-person, using the present tense, and the therapist takes notes about thoughts and feelings from the dream. It is ideal if the dream is told from memory. As long as the dream is vivid, any dream can be told.

At first, when the dream is being told by the client, the therapist usually is not aware of what the dream might mean for the client. In the next step, the therapist has the client explore feelings in dreams and upon waking. This could mean the major images, like objects, people, actions, thoughts, or feelings, which come sequentially in the dream.

Next, the therapist makes the client explore major images sequentially using DRAW (Describe, Reexperience feelings, Associate, Waking life triggers). The therapist goes through each of the DRAW steps for one image and then moves to the next image, with a thorough exploration of an image taking about 3-5 minutes.

  1. Describe-the client is asked to provide a thorough description of the dream image. The client can be asked for all the details that they can remember about the image as it appeared in the dream.
  2. Reexperience feelings – When the client focuses on the feelings, the images become more immediate, natural, and significant.
    Therapists can use reflections of feelings and open questions to help clients focus on their feelings.
    They can also ask clients to stay with the feeling and try to experience it in their bodies.
  3. The associate therapist asks clients to say what comes to mind in thinking about the image or about memories related to the image. When the client gives an association, therapists can ask for more details so that clients can explain what the association means to them.
  4. Waking life triggers-the therapist asks the client to think of waking life events that might be related to the particular dream image.

Lastly, the therapist summarizes the dream for the client. Sometimes, hearing the dream and associations repeated helps the client put it all together and figure out the meaning; however, if the summary takes the flow away from the client or if the exploration process has been long, the therapist can gently move the client into the insight stage.

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