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Am J Psychoanal. 2006 Mar;66(1):1-23.

What does the analyst want? Free association in relation to the analyst's activity, ambition, and technical innovation.

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  • 1The Psychoanalytic Institute of New England, Harvard Medical School, 14 Welland Road, Brookline, MA 02445, USA.


The author traces the history of free association, the "fundamental rule," through the Freud-Ferenczi relationship and controversy. The use of "activity," first proposed by Freud in 1910 with phobic and compulsive patients, was then championed by Ferenczi in the early twenties. The goal of activity was to enhance-or, more accurately, "to force"--the associations into the analysis. Subsequently, Ferenczi reversed himself, concluding that his analysis was re-creating the traumatic parental environment which originally caused the patient's neurosis. The far-reaching results of Ferenczi's change of heart included a redefinition of countertransference and added the techniques of "indulgence" and "relaxation" to soften Freud's emphasis on "abstinence" and "frustration. A vignette from the analysis of a dangerously self-destructive bulimic patient illustrates the value of free association in helping a patient feel understood by the analyst without pressure to give up her symptoms. Constantly monitoring his therapeutic ambition, the analyst demonstrates the value of free association in enhancing the patient's understanding of herself and of the survival value of her symptoms. This vignette highlights the fact that the analyst's therapeutic ambition makes freedom to associate even more difficult for the patient and inevitably intrudes on the analyst's evenly hovering attention. Of course for the analyst to have a therapeutic wish is necessary and desirable but for the analyst to demand change promotes compliance and hidden rebellion which limits the analysis.

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