Modern Psychoanalysis

Modern Psychoanalysis is a treatment for relieving mental and emotional distress. Its simple technique heals through the talking interaction between patient and therapist. Join us to learn more or post your own thoughts.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Free Association and Resistance

Free Association and Resistance

Professor Freud (1913, p. 147) insisted that there was one “fundamental rule” the analyst needed to tell the patient “…at the very beginning:

‘Your talk with me must differ in one respect from ordinary conversation. Whereas usually you rightly try to keep the threads of your story together… here you must proceed differently… You will be tempted to say to yourself: ‘This or that has no connection here, or it is quite unimportant, or it is nonsensical, so it cannot be necessary to mention it.‘ Never give in to these objections… say whatever goes through your mind. Act as if you were sitting at the window of a railway train and describing… the changing views you see outside.’”
This fundamental rule of “saying everything” has since been referred to as “free association.” How do modern psychoanalysts implement this rule?

First, we can say that modern analysts accept that “(e)ven the analytic directive to talk must be viewed as resistance-provoking.” (Spotnitz, 1976b, p. 169).

Spotnitz (1976b, p. 159) commented that one of Freud’s first followers,
“Ferenczi had noted many devices used by patients to resist cure. He observed how difficult it was for the patient to follow the first rule of free flow of ideas until the close of the analysis, and that patients could not understand that free association did not demand complete thinking out of ideas, but complete utterance of what was actually thought.”
Dr. Spotnitz (1976a, p. 78) also recounts that attempting:
"… to overcome the resistance to free association by ‘making use of psychical compulsion’… got Freud into various difficulties. Although time-saving, his approach proved traumatizing to the patient, giving rise to feelings of disturbance, strangeness, withdrawal and the like which inhibited or even blocked communication.”
This classical approach to resistance undoubtedly also caused many patients to be labeled from the very beginning as “unanalyzable” or ‘not suitable for treatment.”

I think it could be said that most modern analysts recognize and respect the patient’s need for the “insulation” (or defenses) that result in resistances. They do not try to “smash through” the defenses and may even help reinforce some defenses until the patient is ready to give them up. This same respectful approach is taken with the question of free association.

Spotnitz (1976a, p. 141, emphasis added) indicates that cooperative behavior would be:
“…that the patient lie on the couch and talk. He is not instructed to free-associate. As the opening move in educating him to do so, he may be asked to tell his ‘ life story’ or simply to talk of his experiences; a severely disturbed individual may begin by recounting how he traveled to the office, what he ate for breakfast, and the like.”
In modern psychoanalysis, the patient’s job is to talk, while the analyst bears the responsibility of helping the patient do so.
In most cases, modern analysts rely on the contact function of the patient’s ego in deciding when and how to help in the patient’s attempts to satisfy this fundamental rule of “saying everything.” This approach helps to safeguard the patient’s developing ego from unwarranted intrusion by the analyst. (See e.g., Fennessy, 2008)

The modern psychoanalytic approach to resistance and free association has had the added benefit of expanding the number of people who may be helped by our methods to the point where “… (w)ith our increasing understanding of the psychological reversibility of the narcissistic disorders, the phrase ‘not suitable for treatment’ has been dropped from the vocabulary of the modern psychoanalyst.” (Spotnitz, 1976b, p. xi).

Fennessy, J. (2008). Narcissism and the Contact Function, in PRACTICE MATTERS, A Journal of Modern Psychoanalytic Treatment Technique (Vol. 2), Philadelphia, PSP.

Freud, S. (1913). Further Recommendations in the Technique of Psychoanalysis (On Beginning the Treatment) in Freud; Therapy and Technique, (Philip Rieff, Ed., 1978), NY, Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc.
Spotnitz, H. (1976a). Psychotherapy of Preoedipal Conditions, N.Y., Jason Aronson.
Spotnitz, H. and Meadow, P. (1976b). Treatment of the Narcissistic Neuroses, NY, Man. Center For Advanced Psychoanalytic Studies.

© 2006, James G. Fennessy, M.A., J.D.
Matawan, New Jersey 07747

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