Associative Therapy: Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy & EMDR

I was trying to describe the way that I work to someone – reluctantly, I have to say. The best psychotherapy seems to be spontaneous, guided by everything I’ve taken in before that point, perhaps similar to how I’d steer a ship in different kinds of weather. You wouldn’t want to go looking for the manual.

‘Associative therapy’ came to me as a way of suggesting what I do, and in the end I have to give other people a good idea of that. So … here are five ways of thinking about what I do:

  1. I’m a trained psychoanalytic psychotherapist and a fully qualified EMDR therapist. Associative therapy involves psychoanalytically induced EMDR.
  2. I am very interested in Derrida’s deconstruction, and my understanding of it comes less from books by other people about his work than from reading his work and being very close to people who worked with him. This gives me a particular, rather unscholarly, appreciation of his work. I’d say I have had more of a Derrida experience, than an education, and from that I have realised:
    • There is no simple presence. ‘I am’ never happens in the way I was taught. My life is complicated by things like ghosts: ones from the past 1 of the kind Freud described in terms of transference; and ones from other places 2.
    • Differentiating myself from what is not me leads to many of the things psychoanalysis has a theory about, for example displacement and repression, but always in a way that problematises relationship without often suggesting how one person might get along with another. Deconstruction has a lot to say about love, friendship and understanding.
  3. I came to working as a psychotherapist out of my experiences in writing, as a writer and a reader, and of working in various kinds of groups at Art Colleges and other creative places. Thinking about what happens to us in groups that doesn’t elsewhere, and whether groups really exist or whether we are all individuals always connecting and disconnecting from  different levels of experiencing others 3 forms the basis of a large part of my work with my clients.
  4. Given all of the above I hope it’s easier to appreciate why I consider association so important. Freud wrote about free-association and his ‘fundamental rule‘ guides all psychoanalytic work. EMDR establishes chains of association by desensitising traumatic memories. Dissociation occurs in many different forms: from ‘zoning out’ or ‘forgetting’ to losing touch with basic needs, a sense of reality, a sense of power, or a broad understanding of consequences (good and bad). It’s the way our bodies deal with overwhelming emotional moments. Psychoanalytically informed EMDR can include different kinds of conscious experience (experiences of transference, for example).
  5. Privileging speech, as ‘talk therapies’ generally do, can be misleading. Noticing things, similarly to the way in which I might read something, can be more important. EMDR suggests a number of different ways in which things might be noticed, or registered. Psychotherapy really needs to be about differentiation, distinction and unentangling. The ‘loosening’ suggest by the word ‘analysis’, if we look at where the word comes from and what it carries with it (the ancient Greek root suggests an ‘unloosening’ or to ‘loosen up’).

We’re all potentially messed up, in other words, and good psychotherapy sorts us out. Something like that. Associative therapy will keep you joined up.



  1. Ways in which I feel, think and behave, having learned the art of this in relation – and that’s important, because it is the relationship which survives, rather than the people, who may be long gone other than in me as registrations or traces that we call memories, instincts and so on.
  2. I wrote about these in a novel, The Eleventh Letter; but perhaps the best way to experience something of what I mean is by watching Ken McMullen’s film Ghost Dance, from 1983, which features Derrida at his sparkling best.
  3. The connection never completely ‘goes’, and what we call presence is never simple … there is no completeness for something to completely empty out of.

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