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Hoffer, A. Youngren, V.R. (2004). Is free association still at the core of psychoanalysis?. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 85(6):1489-1492.

(2004). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 85(6):1489-1492

Is free association still at the core of psychoanalysis?

Reported by:
Moderator Axel Hoffer and Virginia R. Youngren

Axel Hoffer (PINE, Psychoanalytic Institute of New England, East) opened the discussion by posing the question whether, in the rapidly changing field of psychoanalysis, ‘free association’ remains ‘a basic tool of data gathering’ for analyst and patient. The concept of ‘free association’, at once deceptively simple and infinitely complex, consists of an invitation for the patient to say all that ‘freely falls’ (freier Einfall) into the mind, while the analyst listens with ‘evenly hovering attention’ (in Freud's term gleichschwebende Aufmerksamkeit). From the beginning Freud held that the value of free association lies in the fact that the associations are not free but determined by unconscious factors which analysis seeks to uncover. Thus the freedom of free association is both theoretically and clinically relative.

Contemporary critics, continuing the long-standing debate about the relative importance for the therapeutic action of psychoanalysis of the patient's insight and the relationship with the analyst, question the extent to which ‘free association’ is ‘free’ rather than subject to the ‘demand’ of the analyst. Does the focus on the patient's associations interfere with the development of a genuine relationship between patient and analyst and foster an unengaged, abstinent or even artificial relationship? To Irwin Z. Hoffman (2003), for example, the method as traditionally used promotes a relationship in which the patient, called upon to suspend conscious judgment, actually loses personal agency in the process, while the analyst is empowered to be the ‘voice of wisdom’.

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