The myths of free association and the potentials of the analytic relationship

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Abstract

The author challenges the traditional and still prevalent view of ‘free association’, arguing that it entails three forms of denial (also formulated in terms of corresponding myths): 1) denial of the patient's free agency; 2) denial of the patient's and the analyst's interpersonal infl uence; and 3) denial of the patient's share of responsibility for co-constructing the analytic relationship. That responsibility includes some degree of consideration of the analyst's needs. Sometimes, the patient's good judgment to that end may be refl ected in what is automatically and mistakenly reduced to a form of ‘resistance’. Attention to the patient's responsibility must be balanced against the effort to provide a uniquely safe environment for the patient's revealing of shame and anxiety-ridden feelings and attitudes. But the therapeutic action of psychoanalysis, ideally, includes the cultivation, through lived experience, of the dialectical interplay of self-expression, on the one hand, and caring relational engagement, on the other. Recognition of the patient's free agency does not preclude exploration of constraining structures laid down in the past. On the contrary, it deepens such exploration. At the same time, it opens the door to the possibility of explicit recognition, via challenge, criticism, or affi rmation, of the patient's contributions to the analytic work.

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