Remarks On The Problem Of Free Association
Free association is a powerful yet deteriorating psychoanalysis technique in need of improvement, argues Fromm in his article “Remarks On The Problem of Free Association”. Prior to a thorough investigation of the technique as applied in psychoanalysis today, the author provides us with an understanding of the methodology as practiced by Freud. According to Fromm, there are two essential components to Freud’s grand discovery of the said method. The first part being the fundamental discovery of the unconscious, and the second being the discovery of a method to recognize the unconscious. To fathom the approach used to discern the unconscious, the author explains that one has to first understand a paramount concept brought forth by Freud, which states that there are two intrinsic and distinct identities in each individual. Namely the official identity or in other words the rational and conventional persona, and on the other hand the dissociated identity or the hidden and unobservable persona. These two identities basically fuse to create the character of an individual. Nonetheless, Fromm contends that the dissociated identity or personality has a more pervasive effect on the way we think and act on a daily basis.
While investigating Freud’s approach to detecting the unconscious, the author points to the brilliancy in the former’s technique. According to Fromm, Freud recognized that a person could reveal his unconscious identity without neither being asleep nor on drugs. The famous neurologist discovered that while conscious, a series of steps could be used to influence a person into engaging in an unconventional thinking process. As mentioned in the article, Freud would tap on his patient’s forehead and instruct them to say what was on their mind at that very moment, thus, ensuring that what they said was spontaneous. From these free and spontaneous mental associations, the neurologist would be able to make sense of the patient’s unconscious identity. Unfortunately according to Fromm, Freud’s technique has become ritualistic and inefficient throughout the years. He disputes that the free association technique as used presently has lost its most essential component spontaneity. Based on the way patients are treated today, whereby the patient sits on couch and is told to state what he is thinking at that time by a therapist sitting silently near him, Fromm contends that it does not ensure spontaneous thinking, even though no thought might be omitted in the process.
The author suggests numerous ways to improve and stimulate the free association methodology. He states that rather than telling a patient “tell me what comes to mind”, one ought to say “tell me what is in your mind right now”. Fromm argues that this is similar to Freud’s tap on the forehead. Furthermore, the author states that to ensure more spontaneous thinking, a patient for example can be given a picture of his father and told to focus on it and say the first thing that comes to his mind, that way the therapist is able to uncover the unconscious identity of the patient. Though Fromm provides multiple example on ways to assure that the free association method doesn’t become a sterile ritual, the essence of his remarks on the subject is that without the element of spontaneity the technique is meaningless.
Fromm does a great job in providing solutions as to how we ought to ensure that the free association methodology remains efficient and relevant. Nonetheless, one flow with his article is that he fails or forgets to demonstrate in a comprehensive manner how a therapist is able to make sense of the spontaneous thoughts of his patients. Put practically, if an individual is shown a picture of his father, and the first thing he says is “car” because his dad is leaning against one instead of perhaps the word “mean”, then how does one discern the profound feelings the individual has towards his father.