P1. Free association is a technique popularized by Sigmund Freud. It’s integrity is assured in the realm of psychoanalysis because it is the client speaking their own mind rather than following the train of thought of the analyst. Freud used the technique extensively in his groundbreaking book The Interpretation of Dreams.
So whilst dream dictionaries can be helpful to remind us of common Freudian ideas, psychotherapists need to examine dream symbols carefully using the “free association” technique that Freud advocated.
Freud’s Theory of Dreams
This theory says that they are disguised representations of repressed (and often sexual) desires. Their content has, therefore, two aspects:
- The Manifest Part being that part of the dream that the person remembered on waking, and that they would describe to others or write down when recalling the dream. For Freud, this manifest content actually had no real meaning in itself but merely carries the symbols for the Latent Part described below.
- The Latent Part being that part of the dream that is manifest but in a disguised form. However, it can be uncovered by the psychotherapist using various techniques. This interpretation then carries the true meaning of the dream since the repressed desires and forbidden aspects are now available.
Practical Use in Dream Interpretation
The main technique of the psychotherapist for free association required the patient to lie back on a couch so that there was minimal interference by the therapist. Then for each dream symbol the patient is asked to relax and say the first thing that comes into their mind.
The therapist thus teases out the meanings from these dream symbols from the day-dreaming mind of the patient. By this technique, the patient is put in control of directing how the dream should be interpreted.
It is also common that each dream symbol will have multiple associations that are uncovered as above. When they are compatible they reinforce each other, but when they conflict, they need to be prioritized and refocused so that misleading parts can be discarded as going though the layers of an onion.
So by this approach the dreamer will actively guide the discovery of the meaning of their dreams, and that makes a lot of sense to me.
Jung on Dreams
It’s notable that the Jung, the psychotherapist, who split badly with Freud over many issues, took up the idea of free association and continued its development in his own masterly interpretation of dreams.
I think that also gives the technique a lot of additional credibility.
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