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Lauro, L. (2005). Rivista Di Psicoanalisi. Psychoanal Q., 74(2):617-631.
Psychoanalytic Electronic Publishing: Rivista Di Psicoanalisi

(2005). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 74(2):617-631


Rivista Di Psicoanalisi

Louis Lauro, Ph.D.

XLVIII, 2 April – June, 2002

“Free Associations/Associative Links”

This issue of the Italian journal Rivista di Psicoanalisi is devoted to the general subject of free association. In discussing various meanings and aspects of free association, many of this issue's authors refer to the psychoanalytic field, a concept that has been developed and widely used by Italian psychoanalytic writers. The field concept is reminiscent of Kurt Lewin's field theory, a cornerstone of American social psychology. However, the psychoanalytic field differs from the Lewinian concept in its emphasis upon the interpersonal, the intrapsychic, and the interplay among interpersonal and intrapsychic forces. Among Italian psychoanalytic writers, the concept of the psychoanalytic field influences the view of psychoanalytic process. Thus, for them, other therapies, including group therapy and certain types of family therapy, are readily included under the psychoanalytic rubric.

Bion's theories occupy a special place in Italian psychoanalysis and easily dovetail with the concept of the psychoanalytic field. As Grotstein notes in an article written for this issue of the Rivista (see p. 626 of these abstracts), Bion approached the subject of free association from the standpoints of both the analyst and the analysand; thus, both these viewpoints are part of the psychoanalytic field.

As Editor of this issue of the Rivista, Claudio Neri has written an introduction defining the issue's aim of proposing a view of

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free association that conserves the original qualities identified by Freud and Jung, while adding interesting new elements. He notes that the contributing authors employ notions of the alpha function and the reverie of Bion, the potential space of Winnicott, and the selfobject relations of Kohut. But they also utilize concepts developed in Italy: the idea of the psychoanalytic field and that of psychoanalytic rapport as conversation. In analytic treatments derived from the employment of new conceptual instruments, novel elements emerge, revealing that the authors, during analytic sessions, have discovered something truly different from what the first psychoanalysts encountered.

Creating a situation in which factor F (faith in the sense of trust and confidence) is sufficiently high, and of such quality as to guarantee the development of therapeutic progress, is a considerable part of the initial work in a psychoanalysis. As the patient becomes involved in the relationship, believing that perhaps he or she has found an important listening person, and begins to have some hope of positive changes in the self and in his or her life, there is often a crisis: The patient fears that the analysis may drag him or her into a new world that—while more vast and rich—is also less predictable and controllable. The patient does not know whether to trust either the analysis or the analyst.

Later in the treatment, factor F reenters in a new role, which goes beyond the rapport between patient and analyst to constructive optimism: faith in the right to, and the real possibility of, being oneself and participating in the fullness of life. In that sense, factor F will play a large part in determining whether and how the patient employs free association in psychoanalytic sessions.

In psychoanalytic work, we often observe the effects of a blocking process that operates in areas beyond sexuality upon the means of expression, rather than upon the contents. This is different from Freud's clinical approach. A second difference from Freud is that what is anticipated to be dangerous beyond the content of what one is thinking is precisely the very fact of having a personal, individual fantasy. The risk that a wish that is not organized—an idea or project that is truly personal—might peek out is

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anticipated with intolerable anxiety by the patient. The wish could be opposed, or, worse yet, ignored, and therefore would not find reciprocity. The disillusionment would be terrible and the wound painful. Free association is a modality through which a wish may most readily present itself. And for this reason, free association is feared.

From a complementary sociological viewpoint, David Reisman identified the emergence of a particular type: the outer-directed person, who does not find in society a collective space in which to experience his or her desires and aspirations in a cultural/political context. This outer-directed person is not part of a group or crowd, but rather of a multitude. He or she seeks the approval of and wants to be like others; this is a person beset by a sense of loneliness and anxiety, not because of shame or guilt, but because of fear of nonacceptance based upon not being enough like others.

In his introduction, Neri provides “headlines” for the subsequent articles:

ο    Kaës employs the concept of interdiscoursivity, referring to the capacity of an image or dream to activate images and thoughts in other persons within a group. Even the analyst's interventions may be viewed from the standpoint of interdiscoursivity.

ο    Vallino reports a child analysis consultation in which the mother's free association to the analyst's exchange with the child revealed previously hidden elements essential to the analysis.

ο    Gaburri advises that the analyst must adopt an attitude that promotes the fluid and dynamic quality of the elements out of which free associations arise. He warns against premature interpretations that could have the effect of putting a cap on authentic participatory communication.

ο    For Grotstein, Bion's “wild thoughts” correspond to free associations. However, Grotstein maintains that free associations have an inner coherence.

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ο    Ferro writes that associations are free when they are expressions of oneiric thought and not overly formalized.

ο    Pines relates free association to mirroring, bringing to light certain dynamic relationships specific to the psychoanalytic conversation and exchange.

ο    Correale describes the borderline patient, for whom free association is a danger because it may bring the patient into contact with uncontrolled areas of the mind and with dreaded traumatic memories.

ο    Vacheret, along the same lines as Kaës and Pines, maintains that an inner image uncannily passes through from one member of the dyad or group to the other(s).

ο    Fabozzi affirms that free association is a goal of analytic work, rather than a point of departure.

Polyphony and Interdiscoursivity in the Associative Process. Rene Kaës, pp. 301-323.

The author presents some theoretical and clinical approaches to demonstrate the application of the concepts of polyphony and interdiscoursivity in the analysis of associative processes.1 He states that these categories cut across many diverse psychoanalytic situations and have ample application in the field of psychoanalysis, noting that they constitute the basis of what he calls the psychic work of intersubjectivity.

Analyzing the hypothesis that the dream and the associations aroused by it in a group are organized by the polyphony of the discourses, Kaës begins with the supposition that the dream is elaborated at the junction of many sources: emotions, thoughts, and discourses; and even the associations that are consciously disclosed are affected by interdiscoursivity. He focuses particular attention


1 The terms polyphony and interdiscoursivity reflect the author's interest in the intersection of various structural percepts: the author, his or her characters, sociocultural and historical contexts, and so on.

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upon the emergence of the dreamer within the group, and upon the articulation between the dreamer's dream-space and the group's dream-space. An example follows in which the dream of a participant appears as interior to the group.

In the first sessions, several participants—one named Marc, in particular—lament that, by coming to the group, they have lost their own inner references. Marc declares he has come to the group “for my own name.” In the subsequent session, he “confesses” that the event that motivated him—the shock he endured—occurred in a therapy group similar to the present one. In that group, the psychoanalyst/group leader made an interpretation fifteen minutes before the end of the last session. We do not know the content of the interpretation, but only the affect revealed in the aggression and intonation of Marc's voice. The absence of content increases the confusion and difficulty in thinking.

Fifteen minutes before the end of the next session, a patient named Solange becomes the mouthpiece for a secret confided by another patient, Anne-Marie, during a break: Anne-Marie's daughter has just been recovering from a tumor, and she (AnneMarie) feels guilty for coming to the group. Through the words that she speaks on Anne-Marie's behalf, Solange recovers the memory of an event that occurred when she was the same age as Anne-Marie's daughter: her own mother uttered a threat during a confrontation that she, Solange herself, would experience a tumor.

A shared reference to traumatic events left unspoken becomes organized on the basis of fantasies of loss of reference, of the pain of depersonalization, and of identity confusion. Recollections of violence between child and parent, and the place of those recollections in the interplay of life and death, are captured in movements of the transference to analyst and group.

The choice of Solange as mouthpiece is seen as a model of the group's psychic apparatus. That apparatus may be condensed in the following formula: a parent threatens, and the child consequently takes shelter. This proposition has many voices and many meanings; it is reversible in terms of subject, object, and

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action. The structure of the interior of the group is deconstructed, and each subject is placed in a singular position according to his or her fantasy. The author suggests that the proposed formula accounts for the dual function—intrapsychic and intrasubjective—of the group's mouthpiece.

Consultation with the Child and His Parents. Dina Vallino, pp. 325-343.

The nuclear family group constitutes the basis of every succeeding group, since its internal representation is necessary in all mental life. In that group lies the source that generates healthy mental development or psychic disturbance and suffering in each of us. The author's initial extended consultation with the child, together with his parents, sought to activate in the work of that group a communication between child and parents that enabled an improved rapport among them. It was a unique opportunity for the child to speak about himself and for the parents to speak with him, facilitated by psychoanalytically informed interventions, though not serving as either a family therapy or a therapy for the parents.

The parents were requested to concentrate their attention, along with that of the therapist, upon the behavior and play of their child, so that they might discuss it with the therapist later in a manner that did not disturb the child. Convinced of the importance of the adult's helping the child carry out his play, the therapist asked the parents to do as they normally did at home, participating in the play of the child and helping him. However, the therapist found that the parents “violated” the “pure” setting that he had attempted to establish for the observation of their child, by interrupting to add various comments—sometimes distressing, sometimes illuminating, but in any case inevitable. The author found himself obligated to accept the parents' “free wheeling” comments and came to consider them as free associations within the small (family) group. The associative connection in the consultation produced images and fantasies that were expressions of

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the (unconscious) family fantasy in which child and parents were bound.

The author has developed a technique in child analysis of exploring with the child an “Imaginary Place,” wherein the child's terrors “live,” in order to reach another Imaginary Place of joy and tranquility. This technique was expanded to include the participation of the parents during the preliminary consultation, and was applied in the author's clinical example, following:

Five-year-old Lucina's fears have kept her from attending nursery school and from forming relationships with peers. I meet Lucina with her mother and we begin a little conversation about the reasons why Lucina was brought to me. The intertwining of the thoughts of mother and child is sustained by my questions.

Mother recounts many fears—of a neighborhood dog, of children in the nursery school. Lucina is also afraid to go into dark rooms; she must rush through or call for her mother, as she does when she goes to the bathroom at night. Let us speak of the fear of the dark, I suggest. I ask Lucina what she sees in the dark rooms. The child, who up until that moment has remained in her mother's arms, begins to take part in talking about the fears, elaborating them in great detail.

Lucina says that she sees phantoms. I ask her to draw them. A figure emerges in her drawing with certain particular qualities: only Lucina understands the danger. The mother participates with free associations to my questions. We define a new imaginary scenario, which has new characteristics in regard to the aforementioned fears.

Lucina draws a phantom with pointed ears, a green mouth, and wings. She says that she can see it well because she has magic to enable her to see phantoms. She sees them when it is dark, but she can also see them in the morning. She draws a child who is not so frightened, “because she is bigger than me.” The child in the drawing meets the phantom and runs away. But the phantom runs after her … she goes behind a clump of bushes, and

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then up a tree, and then to a nest that is her home. Mother asks what the phantom would do if he caught her; Lucina answers that the phantom wants to eat her. She adds that he is an angry phantom because no one gives him food. The mother asks, “And what if one gave him something to eat?” Lucina replies that he would remain angry because he is bad, and therefore no matter how much they give him, it's never enough. No one succeeds in placating him because he is a phantom who has poison.

The drawing and the story all take place while Lucina is in her mother's arms—in the “nest.” Thus, mother and child together develop a dialogue about Lucina's various fears as a little story about the behavior of the threatening phantom. An Imaginary Place, a meadow outside the house where there are trees, bushes, and little nests, gives refuge where the child/character may hide from the threat of the phantom, and provides a context for the free associations that run through the session. The phantom throws poison on the child, who runs away to the safety of a nest in the trunk of a tree, where the parents are.

By asking the child many questions, the mother tries to understand whether the fear of the phantom may be diminished. But the child's response is that it is not possible to escape the phantom. This impediment to the resolution of her fright lets me understand that the phantom is an expression of the “fantasmic” life of the family. What finally emerges, unexpectedly, is an unconscious family communication identifying the source of Lucina's disturbance: The phantom-that-throws-poison is a reality of the family group, in which there is conflict between the parents, between the maternal extended family and the father, and between the paternal extended family and the mother. In the nests in the trees, there are numerous symbols of family figures—aunts, grandparents, and so on. The child runs, but has a foreboding (expressed in her drawings and her words) of experiences of poison and intrafamilial strife.

The problem of Lucina's separating from her mother derives from these poisonous familial sentiments. In fact,

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she remains in her mother's arms even in front of me, and she cannot be soothed because there are always new images of danger that appear. It becomes clear during the session, even to her mother, that Lucina's fears are tied to the need for the parents to find a rapport with each other that would enable the child to mentally metabolize the “poison” in the family atmosphere.

The first result of this author's modality of extended consultation is that, through free association, the parents are brought to see the connections among seemingly diverse episodes in their child's life—connections that permit them to clarify problems in the present and to modify their attitudes in the service of helping the child.

Associative Thought and Mourning. Eugenio Gaburri, pp. 345-364.

Gaburri takes into account the mental structure one has to adopt if one wants to promote the free, fluid, and dynamic elements of free association. He cautions against premature interpretation, which may have the effect of blocking the development of authentic communication.

The author disagrees with the traditional assumption that free associations are born spontaneously in the mind of the patient as a result of the fundamental rule. He maintains that associative thought emerges in the formation of a common emotional field and can then be metabolized in the psychoanalytic encounter through the listening function of the analyst, as well as in the group.

Associative thought, just like waking oneiric thought, becomes blocked by (1) the pathological areas in the patient's psyche, and (2) the unconscious countertransferential repetition when the analyst offers an “oversaturated” interpretation. Associative thought opens up within a functional unity of analyst–patient, or, in the group, develops via a course of listening-associationinterpretation and nonverbal communication. The way to realize

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this functional unity is principally tied to the (negative) capacity of the analyst to share the mourning of the loss of omnipotent positions that complement almost all kinds of resistance to change.

This work of mourning assumes an essential function, even in reflecting on the theory of technique. In the absence of this transitional work of mourning, even the best technique risks blocking associative thought and numbing empathic resonance.

Bion and Free Associations. James S. Grotstein, pp. 365-373.

The author offers several hypotheses that differentiate his mode of considering the origin and significance of free associations from that of Bion.

It is no exaggeration to say that psychoanalysis in large measure represents a reciprocal involvement between analyst and analysand via the right hemisphere. Thus, when at the beginning of an analysis, the analyst asks the analysand to lie on the couch and associate freely—suspending judgment of what he or she is expressing—the analytic process is activated. The process attempts to access the thought of the right hemisphere, suspending the critical judgment of the left.

Differing from Bion, the author maintains that there is a coherence in the free associations of the analysand because they are organized initially by the alpha function of the analysand's self. Free association may be an inappropriate descriptive term, since these associations may only appear to be “free” in relation to the conscious thought of the left hemisphere, in that they lack structure, syntax, and the sequential and contextual nature of normal discourse. And, just as in the dreams of which they are a counterpart, there seems to be a hidden order, an order that Freud attributed to dream work and/or primary process, which includes displacement, condensation, symbolism, absence of the negative, and predominance of psychic reality.2


2 Abstracter's Note: For a fuller presentation of Grotstein's position, see Grotstein, J. (2000). Who Is the Dreamer Who Dreams the Dream? A Study of Psychic Presence. Hillsdale, NJ/London: Analytic Press. Also, a clinical example elaborated by the author may be found in Psychoanal. Q. (2004), 73: 787-792.

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Free Associations and Waking Oneiric Thought. Antonio Ferro, pp. 375-385.

The author, inspired by Bion's conceptualizations of mental functioning, considers free association as a narrative derivative of waking oneiric thought, and views reverie as a moment of direct access to images stemming from that oneiric thought. The author offers clinical material to show how these narrative derivatives may be used by the analyst as signals that the patient continuously emits regarding his or her mental functioning within the analytic field, signals that permit the analyst to modulate interpretive activities in such a manner that they make for transformations rather than “persecutions.”

The author describes a patient named Rossella, who, at a certain point in the last session of the week, tells the analyst that she has received a strange telephone call during the night. Someone told her he was an old boyfriend, and asked her how many feet she had! Then she relates a dream: An intruder, at whom her guard dog did not bark, took apart the handle of her front door and forced his way into the house. Finding this “stranger in bed,” Rossella was terrified.

The dream comes at about the time that the patient's treatment has been converted to analysis; however, she is still sitting up because she has to keep her eyes open and remain vigilant. Interpretations in regard to this resistance would be of little value; but by the end of the week, a new emotional climate emerges based on the following material: unexpected telephone calls; an interest in morbid themes (or Prince Charming); she is no longer so vigilant (the guard dog does not bark); someone dismantles her defenses and she finds herself approaching an unanticipated situation that terrifies her—the idea of lying on the (analytic) couch. Both the elaboration of these themes and the actuality of the relational climate may be observed. The dream is a narrative derivative of waking oneiric thought, and, from another viewpoint, it is also a free association to the waking oneiric thought to which it gives expression.

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The following Monday, it is very difficult for Rossella to speak; there are long silences. The analyst's attempts to interpret her detachment meet with no response. In fact, she manifests an oppositional attitude. At this point, the analyst asks whether she has dreamed, as if to say, “Do you want to continue the communication with me?” Rossella answers, “Yes,” and recounts her dream: she separates from her fiancé after a time spent together, and then enters her own house, where her father is watching TV. She goes out again, perhaps with the intention of harming herself. She returns home because she has forgotten something, and at that moment, her mother returns and enters the kitchen with her shopping things, and is very affectionate toward her. Rossella adds that the dream brings nothing to mind. The analyst finds that, of course, he could interpret some obviously significant elements (separation, desperation, a reencounter), but to do so seems intrusive and as though he were intellectualizing.

After looking around the room, Rossella asks, “Did you paint this room yourself? It is full of smudges, as if you did it hurriedly.” Here is the “warm” association to the dream! The association is, in turn, a narrative derived from waking oneiric thought.

The analyst asks the patient if the analysis seems somewhat unprofessional—as though the analyst were meddling, and above all, were impatient, in that he asked her if she had dreamed. She answers affirmatively and adds that she now remembers another dream: she met a person who had a dog, which reminded her of her own Labrador and the difficulties she had when she decided to care for it; the puppy had been abandoned, beaten, and maltreated, and therefore trusted no one. It was impossible to even approach her. Rossella had to work very hard to bring her home and gradually make it possible for the dog to trust her.

While the first dream, which was “forced” into the analysis, referred back to the oneiric thought and opened the door to renewed communication, the second, “spontaneous” dream revealed that new alpha elements from oneiric waking thought have now formed, and their further production continues in the derivatives

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that are the analyst's associations/interpretations and the responses of the patient.3

Free Associations, Associative Links. Claudio Neri, pp. 387-401.

Free associations in the group psychoanalysis setting are determined by the unconsciouses of the many individuals involved and of the group as a whole. Through nondirected discussion, associative chains are formed, which reveal—both in content and in method of structuralization—the existence of common group thought and of shared fantasies.

It is up to the analyst to collect the latent ramifications, often returning to points of division, in order to formulate a “hypothetical comprehension” about what is happening in the group. But there is also another level of listening: that which makes images with the eyes of the mind—whether these be images around a central nucleus that can be elaborated through transformation into K, or whether they represent an unknown nucleus approachable in terms of the evolution of O.

The Contribution of Mirroring and of Resonance to the Psychoanalytic Dialogue and to the Analytic Group. Malcolm Pines, pp. 403-411.

The author discusses the processes of mirroring and resonance in individual and group psychoanalytic settings. First of all, the evolutionary lines of these processes are described. Recent neurophysiological research has demonstrated the existence of multimodal cortical neurons that can be activated by diverse sensory modalities. Their function is such that the actions of one animal imitate those of another, a phenomenon preceding the development


3 Abstracter's Note: The reader is referred to others of this author's works for more information. Particularly pertinent to the above discussion is a section on metabolizing transference in the following article: Ferro, A. & Basile, R. (2004). The psychoanalyst as individual: self-analysis and gradients of functioning. Psychoanal. Q., 73: 659-682 (relevant section on pp. 674-679). See also the author's article in this issue, pp. 421-442.

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of language. The presence or absence of resonance is examined in relation to very early experiences of attunement between mother and child.

The Associative Flux in a Small Group of Chronic Psychotics. Antonello Correale, pp. 413-423.

The author wishes to demonstrate that groups of chronic psychotics are characterized by a rigid style, concrete and crystallized, which responds to the need to dramatically avoid the traumatic area and its devastatingly depersonalizing effects. This style of the group is not considered a resistance, but rather a mode of functioning that should be oriented and channeled, not confronted. Attention must be directed to fundamental, unsaturated emotions—not to their explication, but to their presentation in the group in a viable form, so that the group may reappropriate them.

Photolangage—Mediating Object and Free Association. Claudine Vacheret, pp. 425-434.

Various contexts bring the author to ask herself what factors in a psychoanalytic group setting generate the double support of the group and of the mediating object. Like the transitional object, the mediating object is endowed with a dual polarity. On the one hand, it has a materiality in that it is concrete. The mediating object is real, whether construed by one member of the group or collectively by all the members or by the facilitator, who selects the mediating object and offers it as a support to the group process.

However, the mediating object has its own symbolism—that is, the capacity to represent something other than what it is, combining both internal and external realities. The mediating object is invested with affect by all: by the one who chooses it, by the one who interprets it, and by the whole group, which collectively assigns multiple and varied representations that are capable of undergoing further evolution and transformation.

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Free Associations, Potential Space and Evocative Methods. Paolo Fabozzi, pp. 437-446.

In this brief note, the author describes patients who are not readily able to free-associate and focuses attention upon the nonverbal qualities of the psychoanalytic situation. In particular, under certain conditions, freely associating within the protected environment of potential space allows the patient to experience a con-fusion between me and not-me. This con-fusion is not subsumed under narcissistic object relations or symbiosis; rather, it is the outcome of the overlapping of two areas of play, within which creative exchanges and transformative potentials may be generated. Out of these very moments of de-differentiation, the patient may emerge in a new state of distinction located between me and not-me, a state in which there is more not-me in the me and more me in the not-me.

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Article Citation

Lauro, L. (2005). Rivista Di Psicoanalisi. Psychoanal. Q., 74(2):617-631

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