Free association is a method used in psychoanalytic treatment in which the analysand (or patient) expresses what comes to mind (in a spontaneous, unconstrained and undirected association of thoughts and feelings).
The analyst listens (with 'evenly suspended or poised attention') to all associations made by the analysand (giving no particular importance to anything but paying attention to everything) in an effort to extract the "pure metal of valuable unconscious thoughts" from the "raw material of the patient's association."
Free association is a method by which the analyst can approach (or even 'uncover') the repressed and unconscious thoughts, ideas and representations repressed of the analysand (from the unconscious mind of the analysand).
This technique is supposed to help bring forth repressed thoughts and feelings that the person can then work through to gain a better sense of self.
The success of the psycho-analysis depends on his noticing and reporting whatever comes into his head and not being misled, for instance, into suppressing an idea because it stikes him as unimportant or irrelevant or because it seems to him meaningless.
Freud describes the method in detail:
You will notice that as you relate things various thoughts will occur to you which you would like to put aside on the ground of certain criticisms and objections. You will be tempted to say to yourself that this or that is irrelevant here, or is quite up important, or nonsensical, so that there is no need to say it. You must never give in to these criticisms, but must say it in spite of them—indeed, you must say it precisely because you feel an aversion to doing so. Later on you will find out and learn to understand the reason for this injunction, which is really the only one you have to follow. So say whatever goes through your mind. Act as though, for instance, you were a traveler sitting next to the window of a railway carriage and describing to someone inside the carriage the changing views which you see outside. Finally, never forget that you have promised to be absolutely honest, and never leave anything out because, for some reason or other, it is unpleasant to tell it."
- 1905e. p. 112
- The Method of Interpreting Dreams. 1900a. p. 101
- "On Beginning the Treatment" (1913c) (p. 135).
- Freud, Sigmund. (1906c). Psycho-analysis and the establishment of facts in legal proceedings. SE, 9: 103-114.
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