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February 1970

Limitations of Free Association

Arch Gen Psychiatry. 1970;22(2):160-165. doi:10.1001/archpsyc.1970.01740260064009

ONE of the most sacred tenets in the psychoanalytic tradition—one to which I subscribed unquestioningly during most of my professional life—is that regardless of what other limitations might exist in the method of psychoanalysis, the technique of free association was without a doubt the best and most dependable avenue that had yet been devised for bringing into consciousness the unconscious sources of the patient's neurotic difficulties. This conviction rested on certain fundamental cornerstones of psychoanalytic thought—the concepts of psychic determinism, repression, and resistance. The basic assumptions involved were that psychic processes are not capricious in nature and are subject to the fundamental laws of cause and effect. Therefore, bypassing the defensive resistances of the patient by having him say everything that went through his mind meant that whatever he was unwittingly repressing would sooner or later come into consciousness like a cork bobbing