Psychoanalysis Unit


Free Association Today


In psychoanalysis two people walk into a room and one then sits in a chair while the other lies on a couch. How do we think about what happens?

At one point in his work Freud saw free associations - whatever the patient says - as the product of a dynamic tension or conflict between experienced impulses deriving from the patient's unconscious and some kind of system of censorship or repression which kept their meaning hidden and so kept the patient safe. What the patient says in the analysis can then be understood in the same terms as the Freudian understanding of what happens in the construction of a dream.  Impulses from the unconscious in the form of fantasies and wishes press forward in search of discharge.  Meeting the resistance of the censorship, they find their way through to consciousness by roundabout means, utilising substitute means of representation. The theory is that in both dreaming and free association these substitute representatives are generated more freely than in normal waking life because the censorship can be relaxed to some degree. In dreams this is because of sleep paralysis and in free association (and to a much lesser degree) it is because of the patient's assumption of the recumbent position on the couch and the analyst's injunction to try to report "whatever comes".

Nevertheless, as Freud's work developed and he reformulated his model of mind in terms of his new theory of anxiety and the internal world of conflicting impulses from id, ego and superego, he paid more and more attention and became more and more interested in resistance and the phenomenon that he saw as the chief manifestation of resistance within analysis, that is, transference.  As formulated in his Autobiographical Study (1925), asking the patient to free associate is now an ironical injunction because given transference fantasy and anxiety 'free association is not really free'. "The patient remains under the influence of the analytic situation even though he is not directing his mental activities on to a particular subject. We shall be justified in assuming that nothing will occur to him that has not some reference to that situation." As is well known Melanie Klein, Wilfred Bion, Betty Joseph and others took this approach to mean that whatever is said in a session in some way refers to the patient's phantasy experience of the analyst and perhaps vice versa.

So, what is happening when a patient talks about shopping, a dream, an argument, an incident on the way to the session? Are these "thoughts" brought in to the session from outside like stories or generated inside like the images in a dream as a result of impulses, wishes and feelings? These and other questions will be addressed by the main speakers as well as by others who submit papers in the coming months.

The main speakers will be:

Edna O'Shaughnessy: Connections, Disconnections, Limits

David Tuckett: Free Association Today 

Rudi Vermote: Free Association: Meeting the Patient Halfway

Friday Clinical Workshops:

On Friday afternoon, David Tuckett will be offering a large group clinical workshop. Smaller clinical seminars will be offered on Friday early evening. Seminar leaders include: David Bell, Dana Birksted-Breen, Cathy Bronstein, Claire Cripwell, Michael Diercks, Leon Kleimberg, Chris Mawson, David Millar, Edna O'Shaughnessy, Caroline Polmear, David Taylor and Rudi Vermote.

Saturday Afternoon Parallel Paper Abstracts:

14.10 - 15.25 Parallel Paper Session 1 Abstracts 

15:40 - 16:55 Parallel Paper Session 2 Abstracts

17:40 - 18:55 Parallel Paper Session 3 Abstracts

Conference Programme