Qualitative research interviewing: application and use of free association
Evidence and practice    

Qualitative research interviewing: application and use of free association

Philip John Archard Mental health practitioner, Leicestershire Partnership NHS Trust, Leicester, England
Michelle O’Reilly Associate professor of communication in mental health, University of Leicester, Leicester, England

Why you should read this article:
  • To gain insight into the concept of free association and its role in clinical psychoanalysis and psychoanalytically oriented psychotherapy

  • To consider the application of free association in the context of qualitative research interviewing

  • To critically assess differences and similarities between qualitative research interviewing and psychoanalytic therapy

Background Free association is a core concept of the free association narrative interview method, an approach that is well-known among researchers in the UK who are interested in using psychoanalytic ideas in qualitative psycho-social research.

Aim To examine the relationship between the framing of the psychoanalytic concept of free association in the contexts of qualitative research interviewing, clinical psychoanalysis and psychoanalytically oriented psychotherapy.

Discussion This article considers the definition of free association in psychology and psychoanalysis. It then explores free association’s role in the free association narrative method, in terms of interview technique and the analysis of interview material.

Conclusion Researchers should carefully consider differences in the contexts of research, clinical psychoanalysis and psychotherapy to avoid makeshift integrations of clinical concepts.

Implications for practice The free association narrative interview method is an attractive approach for researchers interested in applying psychoanalytic ideas in their studies. However, researchers should carefully reflect on the meanings of the clinical ideas and terminology they use.

Nurse Researcher. doi: 10.7748/nr.2023.e1875

Peer review

This article has been subject to external double-blind peer review and checked for plagiarism using automated software



Conflict of interest

None declared

Archard PJ, O’Reilly M (2023) Qualitative research interviewing: application and use of free association. Nurse Researcher. doi: 10.7748/nr.2023.e1875

Published online: 27 July 2023

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