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May 18, 1970

The Limitations of Free Association

JAMA. 1970;212(7):1207-1208. doi:10.1001/jama.1970.03170200071015

"The history of psychoanalysis proper," said Freud, "begins with the new technique that dispenses with hypnosis." That new technique was free association, which has continued throughout the years to be the fundamental tool of psychoanalysis as a method of investigation and treatment. Through its use unique and impressive insights have been obtained into the nature and meaning of man's fantasies, motivations, and parapraxic distortions.

Without gainsaying this fact, a psychoanalyst raises a number of issues in a recent issue of the Archives of General Psychiatry, which suggest that there are certain limitations to the method of free association if it is used as an exclusive technique in a one-to-one psychotherapeutic situation.1

For example, he notes that everything a person is unaware of about himself does not necessarily reside in his "unconscious." Free association can only bring into consciousness that which has been repressed. Information about oneself that has never