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Freud developed the technique as an alternative to hypnosis, because he perceived the latter as subjected to more fallibility, and because patients could recover and comprehend crucial memories while fully conscious. There can be no exact date for the discovery of the ‘free association’ method it evolved very gradually between 1892 and 1895, becoming steadily refined and purified from the adjutants — hypnosis, suggestion, pressing, and questioning — that accompanied it at its inception». Subsequently, in The Interpretation of Dreams, Freud cites as a precursor of free association a letter from Schiller, the letter maintaining that, «where there is a creative mind, Reason — so it seems to me — relaxes its watch upon the gates, and the ideas rush in pell-mell». Other potential influences in the development of this technique include Husserl’s version of epoche and the work of Sir Francis Galton. Freud called free association «this fundamental technical rule of analysis We instruct the patient to put himself into a state of quiet, unreflecting self-observation, and to report to us whatever internal observations he is able to make» — taking care not to «exclude any of them, whether on the ground that it is too disagreeable or too indiscreet to say, or that it is too unimportant or irrelevant, or that it is nonsensical and need not be said».
In free association, psychoanalytic patients are invited to relate whatever comes into their minds during the analytic session, and not to censor their thoughts. This technique is intended to help the patient learn more about what he or she thinks and feels, in an atmosphere of non-judgmental curiosity and acceptance. When used in this spirit, free association is a technique in which neither therapist nor patient knows in advance exactly where the conversation will lead, but it tends to lead to material that matters very much to the patient. In spite of the seeming confusion and lack of connectionmeanings and connections begin to appear out of the disordered skein of thoughtssome central themes’. The goal of free association is not to unearth specific answers or memories, but to instigate a journey of co-discovery which can enhance the patient’s integration of thought, feeling, agency, and selfhood. Free association is contrasted with Freud’s «Fundamental Rule» of psychoanalysis.