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In psychoanalysis, what is free association?

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"Free association" refers to an exercise common in psychoanalysis during which the psychologist repeatedly says words and the patient systematically responds to each word with whatever word comes to his or her mind.  It can also involve encouraging or allowing a patient to mentally wander aloud, as in speaking aloud to oneself.  By allowing patients to speak contemporaneously and without interruption about whatever topic he or she chooses, clues to the patient's subconscious can be revealed.  The psychologist can draw inferences from the comments and responses he or she receives, especially to the degree he or she detects a pattern to the patient's comments or responses. For example, a patient who responds to each word mentioned by the psychologist with words that suggest a particular preoccupation, as with sex or violence, may denote a history on the part of the patient consistent with emotional or sexual abuse.

The concept of "free association" was developed by the "father" of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud.  Freud believed that, by encouraging patients to partake in such verbal exercises, insights could be gleaned regarding any memories or thoughts they may be consciously or subconsciously repressing.

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Free association is a type of psychoanalytic approach to therapy in which the therapist says a certain word or phrase and asks the patient to say anything and everything that comes to the patient's mind. This type of therapy is the psychoanalytic approach, and it encourages the patient to be able to say freely whatever comes to his or her mind without any inhibitions. This type of therapy is helpful in finding any possible repressed memories the patient has had in his or her childhood.