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Free association and qualitative research interviewing: perspectives and applications

Philip John Archard (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service, Leicestershire Partnership NHS Trust, Leicester, UK) (Department of Education and Training, Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust, London, UK)
Michelle O'Reilly (University of Leicester, Leicester, UK)
Massimiliano Sommantico (Universita degli Studi di Napoli Federico II, Napoli, Italy)

Qualitative Research Journal

ISSN: 1443-9883

Article publication date: 14 March 2024




This paper contributes to a dialogue about the psychoanalytic concept of free association and its application in the context of qualitative research interviewing. In doing so, it also adds to wider discussion regarding the relationship between clinical psychoanalysis, psychoanalytic psychotherapy and qualitative research.


Critical consideration of different perspectives on the application of free association in the qualitative research interview, extending earlier work addressing this issue. Differences and similarities in the way the concept of free association is articulated are examined regarding its framing in psychoanalysis and psychoanalytically oriented psychotherapy.


Whether researchers see themselves as borrowing, applying or drawing inspiration from free association, there is scope for muddling distinct ways of viewing it as it is conceived in psychoanalysis.


Considerations are outlined for researchers interested in psychoanalytically informed methods to be mindful of.



The doctoral research undertaken by the first author that is discussed in this article was supported by a UK Economic and Social Research Council studentship.


Archard, P.J., O'Reilly, M. and Sommantico, M. (2024), "Free association and qualitative research interviewing: perspectives and applications", Qualitative Research Journal, Vol. ahead-of-print No. ahead-of-print.



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