Free association (psychology)

Free association (psychology)

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Free association is a technique used in psychoanalysis
Psychoanalysis
Psychoanalysis is a psychological theory developed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries by Austrian neurologist Sigmund Freud. Psychoanalysis has expanded, been criticized and developed in different directions, mostly by some of Freud's former students, such as Alfred Adler and Carl Gustav...

 (and also in psychodynamic theory) which was originally devised by Sigmund Freud
Sigmund Freud
Sigmund Freud , born Sigismund Schlomo Freud , was an Austrian neurologist who founded the discipline of psychoanalysis...

 out of the hypnotic method
Hypnosis
Hypnosis is "a trance state characterized by extreme suggestibility, relaxation and heightened imagination."It is a mental state or imaginative role-enactment . It is usually induced by a procedure known as a hypnotic induction, which is commonly composed of a long series of preliminary...

 of his mentor and coworker, Josef Breuer
Josef Breuer
Josef Breuer was an Austrian physician whose works laid the foundation of psychoanalysis.Born in Vienna, his father, Leopold Breuer, taught religion in Vienna's Jewish community. Breuer's mother died when he was quite young, and he was raised by his maternal grandmother and educated by his father...

.

'The importance of free association is that the patients spoke for themselves, rather than repeating the ideas of the analyst; they work through their own material, rather than parroting another's suggestions'. James Strachey
James Strachey
James Beaumont Strachey was a British psychoanalyst, and, with his wife Alix, a translator of Sigmund Freud into English...

 considered free association as 'the first instrument for the scientific examination of the human mind'.

Origins


'There can be no exact date for the discovery of the "free association" method...it evolved very gradually between 1892 and 1895, becoming steadily refined and purified from the adjuvants - hypnosis, suggestion, pressing, and questioning - that accompanied it at its inception'. Freud was helped towards his discovery, however, when his 'patient, Frl. Elisabeth, reproved him for interrupting her flow of thought by his questions...one of the countless examples of a patient's furthering the physician's work'.

Subsequently, in The Interpretation of Dreams
The Interpretation of Dreams
The Interpretation of Dreams is a book by psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud. The first edition begins:.The book introduces Freud's theory of the unconscious with respect to dream interpretation...

, Freud cites as a precursor of free association a letter from Schiller, the latter maintaining that, 'where there is a creative mind, Reason - so it seems to me - relaxes its watch upon the gates, and the ideas rush in pell-mell'. Freud would later also mention as a possible influence an essay by Ludwig Börne
Ludwig Börne
Karl Ludwig Börne was a German political writer and satirist.-Early life:Karl Ludwig Börne was born Loeb Baruch on May 6, 1786, at Frankfurt am Main, son of Jakob Baruch, a banker. His grandfather had been a government bureaucrat.-Education:Börne and his brothers were privately tutored by Jacob...

, suggesting that to foster creativity you 'write down, without any falsification or hypocrisy, everything that comes into your head'.

Other potential influences in the development of this technique include Husserl's version of epoche
Epoché
Epoché is an ancient Greek term which, in its philosophical usage, describes the theoretical moment where all judgments about the existence of the external world, and consequently all action in the world, is suspended...

 and the work of Sir Francis Galton. It has been argued that Galton is the progenitor of free association, and that Freud adopted the technique from Galton's reports published in the journal Brain
Brain (journal)
Brain is a neurological journal published by Oxford University Press. It was edited by John Newsom-Davis from 1997 to 2004. Under his editorship it became one of the first scientific journals to go online. Since 2004 the journal is edited by Alastair Compston, Professor and Head of Department of...

, of which Freud was a subscriber. Free association also shares some features with the idea of stream of consciousness
Stream of consciousness (psychology)
Stream of consciousness refers to the flow of thoughts in the conscious mind. The full range of thoughts that one can be aware of can form the content of this stream, not just verbal thoughts...

, employed by writers such as Virginia Woolf
Virginia Woolf
Adeline Virginia Woolf was an English author, essayist, publisher, and writer of short stories, regarded as one of the foremost modernist literary figures of the twentieth century....

 and Marcel Proust
Marcel Proust
Valentin Louis Georges Eugène Marcel Proust was a French novelist, critic, and essayist best known for his monumental À la recherche du temps perdu...

: 'all stream-of-consciousness fiction is greatly dependent on the principles of free association'. Freud developed the technique as an alternative to hypnosis
Hypnosis
Hypnosis is "a trance state characterized by extreme suggestibility, relaxation and heightened imagination."It is a mental state or imaginative role-enactment . It is usually induced by a procedure known as a hypnotic induction, which is commonly composed of a long series of preliminary...

, both because of the latter's perceived fallibility, and because he found that patients could recover and comprehend crucial memories while fully conscious. However, Freud felt that despite a subject's effort to remember, a certain resistance
Resistance (psychology)
"Resistance" as initially used by Sigmund Freud, referred to patients blocking memories from conscious memory. This was a key concept, since the primary treatment method of Freud's talk therapy required making these memories available to the patient's consciousness.-"Resistance" expanded:Later,...

kept him or her from the most painful and important memories. He eventually came to the view that certain items were completely repressed, and off-limits, to the conscious realm of the mind.

Freud called free association 'this fundamental technical rule of analysis...We instruct the patient to put himself into a state of quiet, unreflecting self-observation, and to report to us whatever internal observations he is able to make' - taking care not to 'exclude any of them, whether on the ground that it is too disagreeable or too indiscreet to say, or that it is too unimportant or irrelevant, or that it is nonsensical and need not be said'.

Characteristics


In free association, psychoanalytic patients are invited to relate whatever comes into their minds during the analytic session, and not to censor their thoughts. This technique is intended to help the patient learn more about what he or she thinks and feels, in an atmosphere of non-judgmental curiosity and acceptance. Psychoanalysis assumes that people are often conflicted between their need to learn about themselves, and their (conscious or unconscious) fears of and defenses against change and self-exposure. The method of free association has no linear or preplanned agenda, but works by intuitive leaps and linkages which may lead to new personal insights and meanings: 'the logic of association is a form of unconscious thinking'.

When used in this spirit, free association is a technique in which neither therapist nor patient knows in advance exactly where the conversation will lead, but it tends to lead to material that matters very much to the patient. 'In spite of the seeming confusion and lack of connection...meanings and connections begin to appear out of the disordered skein of thoughts...some central themes'.

The goal of free association is not to unearth specific answers or memories, but to instigate a journey of co-discovery which can enhance the patient's integration of thought, feeling, agency, and selfhood.

Freudian approach


Freud's eventual practice of psychoanalysis
Psychoanalysis
Psychoanalysis is a psychological theory developed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries by Austrian neurologist Sigmund Freud. Psychoanalysis has expanded, been criticized and developed in different directions, mostly by some of Freud's former students, such as Alfred Adler and Carl Gustav...

 focused not so much on the recall of these memories as on the internal mental conflicts which kept them buried deep within the mind, though the technique of free association still plays a role today in therapeutic practice and in the study of the mind.

The use of free association was intended to help discover notions that a patient had developed, initially, at an unconscious
Unconscious
Unconscious might refer to:In physiology:* unconsciousness, the lack of consciousness or responsiveness to people and other environmental stimuliIn psychology:...

 level, including:
  • Transference
    Transference
    Transference is a phenomenon in psychoanalysis characterized by unconscious redirection of feelings from one person to another. One definition of transference is "the inappropriate repetition in the present of a relationship that was important in a person's childhood." Another definition is "the...

    - unwittingly transferring feelings about one person to become applied to another person;
  • Projection
    Psychological projection
    Psychological projection or projection bias is a psychological defense mechanism where a person subconsciously denies his or her own attributes, thoughts, and emotions, which are then ascribed to the outside world, usually to other people...

    - projecting internal feelings or motives, instead ascribing them to other things or people;
  • Resistance
    Resistance (psychology)
    "Resistance" as initially used by Sigmund Freud, referred to patients blocking memories from conscious memory. This was a key concept, since the primary treatment method of Freud's talk therapy required making these memories available to the patient's consciousness.-"Resistance" expanded:Later,...

    - holding a mental block against remembering or accepting some events or ideas.


The mental conflicts were analyzed from the viewpoint that the patients, initially, did not understand how such feelings were occurring at a subconscious level, hidden inside their minds. 'It is free association within language that is the key to representing the prohibited and forbidden desire...to access unconscious affective memory'.

Further developments


Jung
Jung
Carl Jung was a Swiss psychiatrist, an influential thinker and the founder of analytical psychology.Jung may also refer to:* Jung * JUNG, Java Universal Network/Graph Framework-See also:...

 and his Zurich colleagues 'devised some ingenious association tests which confirmed Freud's conclusions about the way in which emotional factors may interfere with recollection': they were published in 1906. As Freud himself put it, 'in this manner Bleuler and Jung built the first bridge from experimental psychology to psychoanalysis'.

Freud, at least initially, saw free association as a relatively accessible method for patients. Ferenczi disagreed, with the famous aphorism: 'The patient is not cured by free-associating, he is cured when he can free-associate'. Lacan
Lacan
Lacan is surname of:* Jacques Lacan , French psychoanalyst and psychiatrist** The Seminars of Jacques Lacan** From Bakunin to Lacan: Anti-Authoritarianism and the Dislocation of Power, a book on political philosophy by Saul Newman** Lacan at the Scene* Judith Miller, née Lacan...

 took up the point. 'Free asssociation is really a labour - so much so that some have gone so far as to say that it requires an apprenticeship, even to the point of seeing in such an apprenticeship its true formative value'. By the late twentieth century, 'analysts today don't expect the free-association process to take hold until well into the analysis; in fact, some regard the appearance of true free association as a signal to terminate the analysis'.

Criticism


As object relations theory
Object relations theory
Object relations theory is a psychodynamic theory within psychoanalytic psychology. The theory describes the process of developing a mind as one grows in relation to others in the environment....

 came to place more emphasis on the patient/analysts relationship, and less of the reconstruction of the past, so too the criticism emerged that 'Freud never quite freed himself from some use of pressure: he still advocated the "fundamental rule" of free association...[which] could have the effect of bullying the patient, as if to say: "If you do not associate freely - we have ways of making you"'.

A further problem may be that, 'through overproduction, the freedom it offers sometimes becomes a form of resistance to any form of interpretation'.

Coda


Adam Phillips
Adam Phillips
Adam Phillips may refer to:*Adam Phillips *Adam Phillips *Adam Phillips...

 suggests that 'the radical nature of Freud's project is clear if one imagines what it would be like to live in a world in which everyone was able - had the capacity - to free-associate, to say whatever came into their mind at any given moment...like a collage'.

See also



External links