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Free association is about expressing thoughts, feelings, or images as they arise, without censorship or a pre-planned structure. To engage in free association, try to allow your mind to wander without trying to control or filter your thoughts. This activity will provide some prompts and ideas to start the process. What you should try to do is verbalize whatever comes to mind as best you can, to the degree you are comfortable. The goal is to uncover some deeper thoughts and connections between ideas in our minds which then can build self-awareness and insight. Further exploration can help increase awareness in recognizing and understanding patterns and memories that may be influencing our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.
Free Association List – The counselor/group leader should select and read some of the free association phrases from the list below. In between each phrase, pause to allow group members who are willing to openly share what was the first thing that pops into their mind using free association. It could be a thought, a feeling, a memory, an idea, an image or anything. There are no limits (except if it is something that may directly hurt, insult, or offend others, then please do not share out loud). Otherwise, go with the first thing that comes to mind and have some fun* with this exercise and self-awareness discussion. (*Group leader: This activity is designed for positive insight and discussion so be mindful of trauma and triggers when guiding discussion)
What is the first thing that comes to mind when you think of….
A once in a lifetime opportunity
The waves of the ocean
City streets at night
The middle of nowhere
A state of being dazed and confused.
The sound of silence
A starry night sky.
A nice candlelit dinner
Raindrops on the window
Out on the open road
A picture of beauty
A state of true freedom.
Echoes from the corners of my mind
Putting the pieces together
Reaching the top of the mountain
Lost in the maze.
Reflections of my inner mind
What’s in my heart.
The battles I’ve won.
A bitter slice of reality
A ray of light
The calm after the storm
Triumph over adversity
Staying true to myself
Quality human connection
Holding on to hope
Navigating the chaos
Me being me.
Taking care of business
Follow Up Self Awareness Topics and Discussion Questions
Meaning - Of all the free associations that popped into your mind throughout this exercise, were there any that were particularly meaningful or powerful for you? Why?
Emotions - Were there any specific emotions or sensations that emerged strongly during or after the exercise?
Themes - Were there any common themes or connections among your answers. How about common themes among the group as a whole, did you notice any?
Similarities and Differences - How did your individual free associations differ or overlap with others in the group?
Memories - Did any of these associations trigger specific memories or experiences from your past that really stood out to you?
Symbolism - Were there any hidden symbols or deeper meanings behind the associations that you noticed?
Personality - How might these associations reflect aspects of your personality, experiences, or subconscious thoughts?
Perceptions - Did listening to others' associations influence or change your own perceptions? How?
Self-awareness and growth – What did you learn about yourself from this exercise? How can you benefit from continuing to practice open and honest mental and emotional self-exploration for positive growth and awareness, the way the group did today?
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