Free association

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The free association , and free association or method of free associations called, is a method of psychoanalytic therapy Sigmund Freud . In therapy, the patient should let his ideas ( associations ) about people, events, things or symbols run wild without censoring his utterances, even if they seem inappropriate, uncomfortable, immoral, senseless or unimportant.

Free association is the main rule in Freud's treatment technique and the only indispensable method for exploring the unconscious . With the “ dream interpretation ” and the “analysis of failures ”, it represents the three most important technical means of classical psychoanalysis.


The discovery of free association goes back to an observation Freud made while treating a neurotic patient. He recognized the connections between the patient's fantasies, which at first seemed incomprehensible and confused, and the problem of the disease. Gradually tested and expanded, free association could finally be applied methodically.

Behind the meaning of free association stands Freud's theory that a large part of what a person thinks, says, does and feels is determined by the unconscious . Unconscious impulses, for example repressed or rejected feelings or drives , are usually subject to unconscious "self-censorship" by the ego and the superego in everyday life , which usually has a twofold goal:

The many from the time coming not tolerated impulses, emotions, memories, ideas, thoughts and feelings that could threaten the mental stability, and otherwise "dangerous", for example socially sanctioned emotions (such as aggression and sexual desires), are under lock held. These thoughts and feelings are only partially conscious and are allowed as inner fantasies without being expressed in front of others. A large part of it, on the other hand, remains active in the unconscious and reappears in its formations or compromise formations (such as failures , dreams or neurotic symptoms ) through a process that Freud called the " return of the repressed ".

In free association, this control function is at least tended to be canceled by a conscious counter-decision of the ego, namely the second censorship (between the conscious and the preconscious ) is switched off, whereby access to the revelation of the defense mechanisms ( association resistance ) of the first censorship (between the preconscious and the the unconscious) is to be won. The aim is the knowledge of the unconscious, which is the center of psychoanalytic therapy. Other classic methods of psychoanalysis for gaining access to the unconscious are dream interpretation or the analysis of failures.

Practice in psychoanalysis

At the beginning of every analysis, an “employment contract” in the form of a “basic rule” is agreed - explicitly or tacitly - between the analyst and the analysand, which includes that the analysand should bring his associations up without reservation and without conscious censorship.

In order to be able to associate as freely as possible, it should be ensured that the patient can devote himself to associating as relaxed and unaffected by his surroundings as possible. The psychoanalysis setting , which has meanwhile become classic but is not absolutely necessary, is used for this purpose : the patient lies on a couch without eye contact with the analyst who is usually sitting behind him, which should make the patient feel unobserved. The lying position, which is based on sleeping, also reduces the muscle tension of the body and, through its relaxing effect, can promote the emergence of trance-like states and in particular the emergence of "inner images".

Freud himself describes this setting as follows:

"I stick to the advice to let the patient lie on a couch while you sit behind him, unseen by him."

At the same point, Freud goes on to explain that he finds this more advantageous, although this setting is a leftover from hypnotic treatment and is not absolutely necessary for the new method.

Freud further describes the practice of free association (and the way in which this is initially communicated to the patient) as follows:

“Your story is supposed to differ in one point from an ordinary conversation. While you otherwise rightly try to hold onto the thread of the context in your presentation and reject all disturbing ideas and secondary thoughts in order not to, as they say, come from the hundredth to the thousandth, you should proceed differently here. You will observe that various thoughts come to you during your narration, which you would like to reject with certain critical objections. You will be tempted to say to yourself: This or that does not belong here, or it is completely unimportant, or it is nonsensical, so there is no need to say it. Never give in to this criticism and say it anyway, precisely because you feel an aversion to it. The reason for this rule - actually the only one that you should obey - you will find out later and learn to understand: So say everything that comes through your mind. Behave like a traveler, for example, who sits at the window seat of the railroad car and describes to those housed inside how the view changes in front of his eyes. "

The main condition for free association, which is ultimately always based on a conscious volitional decision of the speaker, is above all a trusting relationship between analyst and analysand within psychoanalytic therapy .

Free association outside of psychoanalysis

The method of free association is also widespread in non-therapeutic contexts: For example, as part of the brainstorming process of brainstorming and thus as an important component of creativity , as an "open question" in interviews , in market research , as a diagnostic tool in psychiatry (cf. Rorschach test ) or as a mere entertainment game (see e.g. tilt picture ).

The French Surrealists , inspired by Freud's writings, developed automatic writing as an artistic technique and used the spontaneous notation of ideas as a means of inspiration and self-knowledge .


  • Sigmund Freud : Writings on treatment technology . Study edition supplementary volume. Fischer, Frankfurt am Main 1975.

Individual evidence

  1. See on this: Jean Laplanche and J. B Pontalis : Vocabulaire de la Psychanalyse, 1967 . From the French by Emma Moersch: The vocabulary of psychoanalysis . Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 1972, Art. Return (or return) of the repressed. ISBN 3-518-27607-7 , pp. 631f.
  2. ^ Sigmund Freud: Writings on treatment technology. To initiate treatment. Further advice on the technique of psychoanalysis I . (1913) Study edition supplementary volume, Fischer, Frankfurt am Main, special edition 2000, ISBN 3-596-50360-4 , p. 193.
  3. ^ Ibid. Pp. 194-195.
  4. See as an example: Archived copy ( memento of the original from September 29, 2007 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. . @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /