Free Association and the Archeology of Mind

Philip Kelley
Free Association and the Archeology of Mind

"The unconscious is only pathological because we live in disharmony with it and, in doing so, we live against our instincts. If a transcendental functioning is put into practice, the lack of unity is resolved, and in this way we can take advantage of the useful aspects of the unconscious with their unique subliminal psychic contents, can put at our disposal something that we had forgotten and can give us access to wisdom ”. Carl G. Jung

The differentiation between the psychic in the conscious and the unconscious is the first fundamental premise of psychoanalysis, it allows the individual to reach the intelligence of the pathological processes of psychic life, as frequent as they are important. A psychic element like a perception, for example, is generally not purely conscious. On the contrary, consciousness is a state of transience, it can be said that it is latent.

The conflict between the three psychic instances: I, it and superego, generate anguish. The self tries to protect itself, through defense mechanisms. Freud observed that there is an expectant anguish, freely floating and ready to link itself temporarily to any emerging possibility, as in typical neuroses..

Sigmund Freud at first thought that the hypnotic method offered him an excellent vehicle to unearth buried unconscious material. Later, as he progressed in his practice, he felt dissatisfied with these processes, as the main means to that end..


  • What is the "free association" method within psychoanalysis??
  • Archeology of the mind through free association
  • Management of associations, according to Sigmund Freud
  • What are failed acts?
  • Jokes, humor and the unconscious
    • Conclution
    • Bibliographic references

What is the method of "free association" within psychoanalysis?

In this way, he proposes the method of free association, by which the patient expresses everything that occurs to him "without filters", his ideas, thoughts, images and emotions can be exposed as they are presented, without selecting them, make up or censor them in any way, regardless of whether they seem impertinent, incoherent, lacking in interest or are not socially accepted, unlike logical thinking; thus conscious prejudices can be released through discourse, which is why it represents the analytical rule par excellence.

Carl Jung also affirmed that the neurotic eludes consciousness and reduces it by the fragmentation of the self, a process that he said is unfair to the potentialities of the individual:

“Only a unified personality can experience life; not the one that is hidden in partial aspects ".

Carl Rogers said in this regard, that the patient who makes "insight", develops aspects alien to consciousness that enter it through "the free expression of the patient".

The term "free", within the psychoanalytic context, highlights the following observations:

  1. The development of associations can be considered free to the extent that it is not guided and controlled by a selective intention or even some starting point.
  2. The word "freedom" should not be taken in the sense of an indeterminacy, the rule of free association tends above all to suppress the voluntary selection of thoughts, that is to say, in the terminology of the first Freudian cliché, to eliminate the intervention of the second censorship, situated between the conscious and the preconscious, in this way the unconscious defenses are revealed.
  3. The method of free associations aims to bring out a certain order of the unconscious, when unconscious representations are abandoned, their course becomes governed by previously hidden manifestations, often pathogenic reminiscences from which are unexpectedly emanate. spontaneously discharges the person through words or speech.

Archeology of the mind through free association

Free association represents a constituent of psychoanalytic technique. Such links can be induced by a word, an element of a dream, or any other spontaneous thought object. The person who is being psychoanalyzed has to be induced to remember something that he has experienced, which is repressed, generally, the patient can be asked to remember or refer to both recent and past events.

The job of the psychoanalyst is to bring out what has been forgotten from the "traces" left behind by the event or its reminiscences, to "reconstruct" it. Reconstruction work is very much like an archaeological excavation of a house or an old building that has been destroyed.

"Just as the archaeologist reconstructs the walls of the building through the foundations that have remained, the psychoanalyst does the same when he draws his conclusions from the fragments of memories, the associations and the behavior of the subject." Sigmund Freud

The technique of free association helps to bring to light what is hidden in order to work on it, thus acting as “archaeologists of the mind” psychoanalysts. Although in these works: the reconstruction only represents a preliminary work.

Freud denounced the pernicious effects of self-censorship on intellectual productions, he said that to be an original writer, for example, it was necessary to write everything that comes to mind without any qualms, alluding to the method of free association in writing.

For this reason, many times, in psychotherapy, the patient is asked to write about their dreams, since associative links can be discovered and they serve as an important reference for the discovery of associative chains that will lead to other thoughts and the interpretation of the dream. per se.

It is common that within a psychotherapeutic process the person is asked to write about some other event, since in the writing they can be reflected, both the associative links of aspects that need to be treated, such as graphology, through the features writing, psychological characteristics of people can be revealed.

Management of associations, according to Sigmund Freud

In a sense, these associations are not free at all, but are the result of unconscious forces that determine the direction of the associations:

  1. Oral mistake and its subgroups: false hearing, mistake in reading or writing.
  2. Oblivion with its subdivisions corresponding to the forgotten object: proper names, foreign words, purposes or impressions.
  3. Acts of wrong termination, the inability to find an object that is believed to have been left in a place and cases of definitive loss.

What are failed acts?

Failed acts are psychic acts that owe their origin to the joint action, or perhaps, to the opposition of two different intentions. They occur when a person says one word for another, writes something different than what he intended, reads a text differently from how it is written, when he hears something unequal to what is said, without any auditory disorder.

Although the failed acts are presented in many circumstances as "correct", they are simply called that way because they replace what the person proposed or expected to say or do. In this way, the technique opens the doors to the unconscious so that the psychotherapist can learn more about motivations, fantasies and what conflicts the patient.

Jokes, humor and the unconscious

Hidden or hidden aspects of the unconscious emerge from the joke, it is a playful judgment as Fischer called it. On the other hand, Sigmund Freud already spoke of the importance of humor to achieve triumph over real circumstances, he said that:

“The humor is not resigned, but rebellious; which not only means triumph of the self, but also of the pleasure principle ".


Free association is a therapeutic method and a pillar within psychoanalysis; where, the patient can express himself freely and without qualms, which can be somewhat complex, since both logical and rational thought, as well as the superego and the ego mainly, will try to put obstacles to this process. Therefore, the psychoanalyst has to create an environment of trust and containment, so that the patient can feel more comfortable and present a greater willingness to make their free associations, leaving behind schematics and paradigms to which they are accustomed, when the patient succeeds in doing it, psychotherapy progresses.

The psychotherapist as an "archaeologist of the mind", through free association, can find reminiscences on which he can help to "rebuild" the individual and the latter in turn can generate changes in his own person.

Bibliographic references

  • Freud, Sigmund (1981). Complete works of Sigmund Freud. Volume I, II and III. 4th. Edition. Spain: Editorial Biblioteca Nueva.
  • Bleichmar, N. M .; Lieberman, C. and Cols. (1989). Psychoanalysis after Freud. Mexico: Eleia Editores.
  • Singer, Erwin. (1979). Fundamental concepts of Psychotherapy. Mexico: Economic Culture Fund.

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