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What is Free Association, Inc.?

Free Association, Inc., is a non-profit organization founded in 1988 by Dr. Michael Guy Thompson and colleagues who were affiliated with R. D. Laing in London to provide an alternative to conventional psychoanalytic training in the San Francisco Bay Area. Its mission is to further the dissemination of psychoanalytic ideas; to integrate the technique of psychoanalytic practice into an existential-phenomenological perspective; to further the use of psychotherapy and psychoanalysis with psychotic process, in particular schizophrenia; to organize lectures, seminars, conferences, symposia, and other educational programs to further these ends. 

Free Association questions whether the medical model, upon which clinical psychology is based, is a desirable foundation for cultivating a genuinely interpersonal perspective, free of the diagnostic conventions that inform contemporary clinical practice. We situate psychoanalysis in a more philosophical frame of reference, emphasizing a predominantly existential sensibility that is free of the prevailing dogmatism that characterizes institutional psychoanalysis. This foundation may, in turn, help students make sense of the ever-changing plethora of treatment strategies that pervade the mental health professions.



Conventional analytic training favors a technical orientation, typically learned by rote, that neglects the primacy of the practitioner’s personal experience. Free Association was conceived in response to the increasing medicalization and technologicalization of the mental health professions, including recent trends in psychoanalysis. 

Our approach favors those analysts who, after Freud, see the clinical relationship as a personal endeavor, who view psychopathology as a matter of the heart. We believe analysts and students alike need to reinvent the wheel so that, like Freud, Ferenczi, Reich, Winnicott, Laing, Lacan, and others, we base our thinking on lessons learned from the personal struggles that have made us who we are, culminating in unique, perhaps wayward, points of view.

Students are encouraged to become familiar with the basic principles of psychoanalysis and to be flexible when encountering the evidence of those principles in their work. The practice of psychoanalysis and, hence, its efficacy cannot be learned from a distance, but evolves out of each analytic encounter. That is why psychoanalysis is not merely a technique among others, but a way of coming to terms with the human condition. 

R. D. Laing


Conventional training schemes are modeled on the academic approach to learning that emphasizes a theoretical orientation. This has its place and has flourished in the university setting. This is not the ideal way to learn psychoanalysis which, due to its intimate nature, derives from what we learn about our relationships with others, in close quarters. The salon model is celebrated for its uncommon sense of informality, and was adopted by Freud and his earliest followers. 

We believe students learn best when not subjected to excessive instruction, when they are free to pursue what moves them. The salon provides a forum where participants are invited to share their understanding of the world, free of the competition that is characteristic of conventional psychoanalytic training. Themes from typical seminars include the classical texts of phenomenology; the existential dimension to psychoanalytic technique; a familiarity with the Greeks and their impact on psychoanalytic thinking; anti-psychiatry and a critique of the social sciences; the basic tenets of Buddhism and kindred practices.


Off-the-grid psychoanalytic training is so-called in a double-sense. First it refers to the concept of training itself. Instead of creating a formal, by-the-book structure with a curriculum, so many hours of instruction, supervision, personal analysis, and time seeing patients, all of which meet some standard or other that culminates in a certificate of some kind, which is in turn accredited by an external body for legitimation, off-the-grid training dispenses with that. It is not formal but informal, with a laissez-faire, even Bohemian sensibility. We see no point in quantifying, or even assessing what you have learned, as is typical in academic settings. The salon is a gathering place where seminars and lectures are, if not exactly spontaneous, unremittingly flexible and informed by what each instructor brings to the table, alive to the needs of each student.

Length of training varies and culminates when the student sees no need to continue. Because there is no certification, there are no requirements as such. Students convene at a time and place and conduct themselves respectfully and attentively, out of consideration for the integrity of the milieu. Students seek analysis with whomever they wish to and are supervised by practitioners of their choice.

The second sense of off-the-grid training refers to our concern to de-medicalize the analytic process. This includes a critique of diagnostic conventions, and how diagnosis may be retained as a metaphor without mistaking it for an illness. Students are encouraged to entertain other ways of considering what the concept of diagnosis might mean when applied to the types of conversing that the therapeutic process entails. Diagnostic categories are explored in order to appreciate how, for all intents and purposes, we are all more similar than we sometimes suspect. We all know what it feels like to be neurotic, psychotic, depressed, bi-polar, paranoid, even schizophrenic, if only in a relative sense, otherwise it would not be possible to empathize with our patients. If there is no such thing as “mental illness,” we question what role medicating psychotic or depressive symptoms properly plays. While there may be some short-term benefit to such strategies, we are not so sure they offer a viable long term solution. Perhaps being a little crazy, under certain conditions, is the best option available?

Despite the convention of clinical licensure in the state of California, we feel obliged to look at the business of psychopathology, diagnosis, and treatment from another angle, and to explore ways of articulating the issues our patients bring us in the most ordinary, non-technical language possible. This can only serve to enhance our capacity to empathize, and in turn connect with them.






Free Association is modeled on the work initiated by R. D. Laing at his experimental treatment center at Kingsley Hall, London, in the 1960s. The principals who founded Free Association trained personally with Laing and are committed to providing relief for those suffering from psychotic process, including schizophrenia, in either outpatient psychotherapy or in a residential but non-institutionalized framework.

Free Association is currently exploring setting up a residential household for those suffering from an acute psychotic break or more chronic conditions. We are also available to consultations to discuss options, either in person at our offices in San Francisco, or via telephone or Skype if you live outside the San Francisco Bay Area.

We believe that medicating psychotic symptoms is a short-term affair and not an ideal long-term solution. 

(See the accompanying articles, Working with Schizophrenia and The Myth of Mental Illness under the MY APPROACH menu elsewhere on the website for more information.)

If you or a family member is suffering from an extreme condition that you cannot cope with satisfactorily we would be happy to talk with you and offer a referral or discuss other options.

For referrals or more information, contact Dr. Michael Guy Thompson by phone or by email by visiting the CONTACT page.

2196 Union Street
San Francisco, CA 94123



Conferences & Symposia Organized by Free Association



R. D. LAING IN THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY" Weekend Symposium, organized in commemoration of the Twenty-Fifth Anniversary of Laing’s death, co-sponsored by Free Association, San Francisco; Wagner College, Staten Island, NY; Saybrook University, San Francisco; and Chicago School of Professional Psychology, October 11-13, Wagner College Conference Center, Wagner College, Staten Island, NY.

In this unprecedented event, Laing’s former students and colleagues from around the world met in New York to commemorate the twenty-fifth anniversary of his death in order to assess his legacy and continuing relevance to contemporary thought and practice. Wagner College on Staten Island generously hosted a weekend symposium for the purpose of exploring Laing’s legacy with those who knew him intimately. Representatives from family therapy, existential therapy, phenomenology, psychoanalysis, Buddhism, the treatment of schizophrenia and psychotic process, LSD therapy, the humanistic-transpersonal and New Age community, and spiritual prac¬titioners convened to discuss Laing’s impact on these disciplines and his continuing relevance to twenty-first century attitudes about psychological suffering and health.

Symposium Chairpersons:

Michael Guy Thompson, PhD (Program)
Steven Gans, PhD (Finance)
Miles Groth, PhD (Site)


Fritjof Capra, PhD,
Betty Cannon, PhD
Darlene Ehrenberg, PhD
Nita Gage, PhD
Steven Gans, PhD
Miles Groth, PhD
Edie Irwin
Theodor Itten
Douglas Kirsner, PhD
Stanley Krippner, PhD
Peter Mezan, PhD
Andrew Pickering, PhD
Kirk Schneider, PhD
Martin A. Schulman, PhD
Michael Guy Thompson, PhD


R. D. Laing


"THE RADICAL EDGE IN PSYCHOANALYSIS" Symposia Lecture Series, co-sponsored by Free Association and California School of Professional Psychology, September 1995 to May 1998.

This ongoing three-year series of monthly symposia was organized by Free Association in order to bring psychoanalysts, philosophers, and historians from all over the world to San Francisco in order to introduce and discuss some cutting-edge and radical perspectives on the intersection of psychoanalysis and philosophy. Some of the featured speakers included Neville Symington, Wilfried Ver Eecke, Marvin Hyman, Donnel Stern, Edgar A. Levenson, Mikkel Borch-Jacobsen, Douglas Kirsner, Anthony A. Long, William J. Richardson, Nathan G. Hale, Stuart Schneiderman, Hazel Barnes, and others.

Following is a synopsis of the lectures presented, the presenters, and their discussants:

Series Chairperson
Michael Guy Thompson, PhD

9/27/95 Speaker: Neville Symington
“The Struggle to Achieve Independence of Mind in the British Psychoanalytical Society”
Discussant: Antonia Bercovici, PhD
Location: California School of Professional Psychology, Alameda, CA
10/27/95 Speaker: Wilfried Ver Eecke, PhD
“Charles Peirce and the Therapeutic Function of Language”
Discussant: Era Loewenstein, PhD
Location: California School of Professional Psychology, Alameda, CA 
12/2/95 Speaker: Daniel Burston, PhD
“The Pathology of Normalcy in the Psychoanalytic Theories of Eric Fromm and R. D. Laing”
Discussants: Murray Bilmes, PhD
Michael Guy Thompson, PhD
Location: California School of Professional Psychology, Alameda, CA
2/16/96 Speaker: Marvin Hyman, PhD
“Solipsism and Psychoanalysis”
Discussants: Philip Cushman, PhD
Location: California School of Professional Psychology, Alameda, CA
3/16/96 Speaker: Donnel B. Stern, PhD
“Courting Surprise: Clinical Hermeneutics”
Location: California School of Professional Psychology, Alameda, CA
5/10/96 Speaker: Edgar A. Levenson, MD
“The Politics of Interpretation”
Discussants: Murray Bilmes, PhD
Location: California School of Professional Psychology, Alameda, CA
4/26/96 Special Feature Film Presentation:"NINETEEN NINETEEN"
(Starring Paul Scofield as 'The Wolf Man')
Moderators: Murray Bilmes, PhD, Philip Cushman, PhD, and
Michael Guy Thompson, PhD
Location: Palace of the Legion of Honor, San Francisco, CA
9/20/96 Speaker: Mikkel Borch-Jacobsen, PhD
“The Birth of Trauma: Charcot, Janet, Freud - and Their Patients”
Discussant: Jeanne Wolff Bernstein, PhD
Location: California School of Professional Psychology, Alameda, CA
11/1/96 Speaker: Douglas Kirsner
“Unfree Associations: The Troubled History of American Psychoanalytic Institutes”
Discussant: Nathan G. Hale, Jr., PhD
12/6/96 Speaker: Betty Cannon, PhD
“Sartre and Psychoanalysis”
Discussant: Michael Guy Thompson, PhD
Location: California School of Professional Psychology, Alameda, CA
2/7/97 Speaker: Anthony A. Long, PhD
“Choosing A Technology of the Self: Stoicism, Epicureanism, or Skepticism?”
Discussant: Julius E. Heuscher, MD
Location: California School of Professional Psychology, Alameda, CA
3/7/97 Speaker: William J. Richardson, PhD
“The Question of ‘Law’ in Lacan, Kafka, and Psychoanalysis”
Discussant: Era Loewenstein, PhD
Location: California School of Professional Psychology, Alameda, CA
4/11/97 Speaker: Nathan G. Hale, Jr., PhD
“Freud Bashers: A Critical Look at Freud’s Critics”
Discussant: Marcia Cavell, PhD
Location: California School of Professional Psychology, Alameda, CA
5/3/97 Speaker: Stuart A. Schneiderman, PhD
“Why I Am No Longer A Lacanian!”
Discussant: Murray Bilmes, PhD
Location: California School of Professional Psychology, Alameda, CA
9/19/97 Speaker: Irvin D. Yalom, MD
“The Lying Animal”
Interlocutor: Murray Bilmes, PhD
Location: Saybrook Graduate Institute, San Francisco, CA
11/8/97 Speaker: J. M. Heaton, M.A., M.B., B.Chir., D.O.
“Skepticism and Psychoanalysis: Toward A Therapeutic Phenomenology”
Discussant: Michael Guy Thompson, PhD
Location: California School of Professional Psychology, Alameda, CA
3/13/98 Speaker: Hazel E. Barnes, PhD
“Subjectivity, Consciousness, and the Self: Sartre’s Contribution to Contemporary Thought”
Discussant: Michael Guy Thompson, PhD
Location: San Francisco Psychoanalytic Institute, San Francisco, CA
5/9/98 Speaker: Joanne Greenberg
“I Never Promised You A Rose Garden”
Discussant: Peter L. Giovacchini, MD
Location: San Francisco Psychoanalytic Institute, San Francisco, CA


R. D. Laing 


"THE LEGACY AND FUTURE OF R. D. LAING’S CONTRIBUTION TO CONTEMPORARY THOUGHT" Weekend Symposium, jointly sponsored by Saybrook Graduate School and Free Association, March 13-14, 1999, Lone Mountain College Conference Center, San Francisco, CA.

Former students of Laing convened in San Francisco to commemorate the tenth anniversary of his death and to assess his legacy and continuing relevance to contemporary thought and clinical practice.


Symposium Chairpersons:

Michael Guy Thompson, PhD
Kirk Schneider, PhD


J. M. Heaton, M.A., M.B., B.Chir., D.O.
Leon Redler, MD
Steven Gans, PhD
Michael Guy Thompson, PhD
Daniel Burston, PhD
Kirk Schneider, PhD


Forthcoming Conferences & Symposia Organized by Free Association


Esalen logo

July 22-27, 2018


Following on the enormously successful R. D. LAING SYMPOSIUM that we organized at Wagner College in October 2013, Free Association is delighted to announce that Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California, has offered to continue hosting our annal LAING SYMPOSIUMS.

The theme for this year's Laing Esalen Symposium Workshop is one of Laing's favorite themes, the nature of intimacy. We will ask, "What is Love," in all the many and varied contexts where we typically find it, including psychotherapy, spirituality, the drug experience, sexuality, and more.

To this end we want to explore a series of relevant questions, including: 

1) What did Freud mean when he suggested that psychoanalysis is a cure through love?  

2) How does love heal, and conversely, how does it drive us mad? 

3) How may a broken heart result in neurotic and even psychotic states?

4) What is the relationship between love and happiness?

5) What are the biological aspects of love?

6) How do we find love… and keep it?


Like the Wagner College symposium, our week-long Esalen Symposium Workshop will feature teachers who worked personally with Laing and who are currently involved with furthering his legacy. Invited speakers include some who presented at the Wagner College Symposium, such as Fritjof Capra, Michael Cornwall, Nita Gage, Edie Irwin, Douglas Kirsner, Michael Guy Thompson, and others, all of whom worked personally with Laing or were profoundly influenced by his work. We will also feature a number of speakers who never met Laing but share similar interests and goals and are actively involved in the Alternative to Psychiatry movement that has been proliferating all over America in recent years. Our principal mission is to provide a forum where we are able to come together and share our views about what it means to be sane, and how to best facilitate its presence in our lives without encroaching on ourselves or each other.

If you want keep abreast of this upcoming event or if you have any questions you wish to ask, contact Dr. Michael Guy Thompson by visiting the CONTACT page.



Free Association Low Fee Psychotherapy Referral Service: 

Psychoanalysis relieves suffering by helping us think through the things that we are usually too anxious or confused to think about. By confiding to another person the things we worry about, we engender a collaboration through which, together, we try to make sense of the conflicts and emotions that lie underneath our symptoms, anguish, unhappiness. By focusing our attention on the everyday problems that concern us, we gradually come to grips with our dilemma and learn to appreciate the depth and significance of what our lives are about.

Free Association offers a low-fee referral service in San Francisco with licensed therapists who are affiliated with and have been trained by us. None of the clinicians that we would refer you to are students, but highly trained and experienced practitioners who have been trained to work from a psychodynamic and existential perspective.

Face to face therapy is available at our offices in San Francisco. Arrangements may be made to conduce therapy over the phone or via Skype for those who live outside of the San Francisco Bay Area. Therapy is available on a sliding scale.

For referrals or more information, contact Dr. Michael Guy Thompson by phone or by email by visiting the CONTACT page.

2196 Union Street
San Francisco, CA 94123

The psychotherapists to whom we refer are:

Steven Gans, PhD 
Mark McKinley, PhD
Matthew Morrissey, LMFT
Michael Guy Thompson, PhD, Director
Andrew Turkington, MFT