Summary and Critique by Evan Garfield
Free association is a psycho analysis method of exploring a person's unconscious by eliciting words, thoughts, and memories. Patients are invited to relate whatever comes into their minds during
the analytic session, and not to censor their thoughts. This is known as the "fundamental rule." 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. The method has no planned
agenda and seeks to draw out linkages which may lead to new
personal insights and meanings. Its goal 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 self-hood.
According to the author, some analysts question whether the fundamental rule currently reflects the evolving nature of psychoanalysis or if it is still essential to the psychoanalytic process. The author examines and discusses the Scientific Meetings presentation by Shierry Nicholson, PhD. Nicholson reviewed "the sometimes polemical pluralism of the contemporary psychoanalytic landscape and discovered how different psychoanalysts thought about the patient's associate activity." According to Nicholson, Freud elaborated on what interfered with the patient's associate activity, such as transference, resistance, the repetition compulsion, and the death instinct. Busch highlights the rule's emphasis on overcoming patient resistances, rather than analyzing them. Furthermore, Bush points to how the rule promotes passivity rather than strengthening the ego for future analysis.
Shierry claims the concept of "free" in free association requires further reexamination. Of course the patient's thoughts may roam freely, but the unconscious selects what is spoken and thus, revealed. Furthermore, while the analyst's reverie is experienced as free, "an interpretation may be constrained by tact, timing, ambiguity, and not-knowing."Andre Green claims a breaking off of free association is actually a psychic impulse that often occurs in patients when ego is threatened with traumatic effect.When conflict arises between representation and the impulse of avoidance, the analyst must become more receptive to a complex network of connections. Shierry concludes that the fundamental rule may be less direct than Freud imagined. However, she still sees its benefit in helping analysts understand and handle the difficulties that patients and the analytic process may present. I
The author does a good job discussing the fundamental rule of free association and the evolving nature of the psychoanalytic process. I agree with her point that the concept of free in free association is not actually entirely free. Patients may roam through their thoughts freely, but it is their unconscious that selects what is spoken. Analysts must understand their interpretation of patients may be constrained or influenced by tact, timing, or ambiguity of the process. Furthermore, analysts must recognize that a breaking off of free association within the patient is a psychic impulse to be expected when patients feel their ego is threatened. Analysts, thus, must be prepared to be more receptive.
I personally think analysts must take a balanced approach with the free association method. It is not as direct or straightforward as Freud may have initially seen. I share Jean-Luc Donnet's opinion:
"The fundamental rule is a safeguard between theory and clinical practice:to ensure that theory does not subordinate what is actually happening in the room; but also to ensure that there is indeed a game that is being played, a game that has rules."