New School for Existential Psychoanalysis

New School for
Existential Psychoanalysis

Michael Guy Thompson, PhD, Director


FREE ASSOCIATION, Inc., is a not-for-profit 501(c)3 organization founded in 1988 to provide informal psychoanalytic training in San Francisco from an existential perspective, and to further the legacy of R. D. Laing. It is the only psychoanalytic salon in the U.S. that features a synthesis of existential philosophy and psychoanalysis.

Free Association organizes ongoing lectures, seminars, reading groups, salons and film presentations, virtually and in person, open to all.

Conventional analytic training favors a technical orientation while neglecting the primacy of experience. In our training, we emphasize, after Freud, those who see the clinical relationship as specifically human, who view psychopathology as a personal affair, as a matter of the heart. We believe that all analysts and students alike need to “reinvent the wheel.” Like Freud, Winnicott, Bion, Laing, Lacan, we base our thinking on our experience and resourcefulness as individuals, with unique, perhaps wayward, points of view.

We question whether psychiatry or psychology are desirable foundations for cultivating a psychoanalytic perspective, free of the mind-numbing diagnostic categories that define contemporary clinical practice. Instead, we situate psychoanalysis in philosophy, emphasizing a sceptical sensibility. This foundation may, in turn, help make sense of the ever changing treatment strategies that characterize the dehumanizing bias of the mental health professions.

Candidates are encouraged to seek the basic principles of psychoanalysis and to be flexible when encountering the evidence of those principles in their work. The practice of psychoanalysis, as well as its theory and teaching, cannot be learned from a distance, but evolves out of each clinical encounter. This is why psychoanalysis isn’t simply a technique among others, but a way of coming to terms with the human condition.

Training consists in: Theoretical Seminars; Case Conferences; Individual Supervision; (and Personal Analysis if indicated).

The NEW SCHOOL FOR EXISTENTIAL PSYCHOANALYSIS started its first online training year of 2022-2023 in September 2022 with a cohort of new candidates. We are now taking applications for our next academic year of training that will commence in September 2024. Please refer to the MENU item APPLICATION AND ADMISSION if you wish to inquire further.


Free Association Training in Existential Psychoanalysis offers a philosophical foundation in existential phenomenology, a method of inquiry that was anticipated by the Sceptics (circa: 4th century BC to 3rd century AD), and conceived in its present form at the turn of the twentieth-century by Edmund Husserl. Drawing on the work of Søren Kierkegaard and Fredrich Nietzsche, it was subsequently situated in existentialist philosophy by Martin Heidegger, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Maurice Merleau-Ponty. More recently it has inspired a host of philosophical movements including hermeneutics, deconstructionism, and postmodernism.

Phenomenology is a discipline that seeks to describe our experience of the world instead of explaining it by a pre-conceived scheme. This is why phenomenology isn’t, strictly speaking, a technique, but brings the phenomena of ordinary living into view by exploring our primordial experience of it.

From this angle, we situate Freud as a Classic, locating the origin of his thinking in Greek philosophy, literature, and myth. Themes from our teaching are derived from: 1) the classical texts of existential phenomenology; 2) theory and practice of psychoanalysis; 3) study of the Greeks, especially Plato, Aristotle, and the Hellenistic thinkers; 4) antipsychiatry and a critique of the social sciences. Our curriculum is flexible and ever-changing as candidates are encouraged to find their way through the vicissitudes of clinical practice, in order to make the analytic experience their own.

Instead of creating a formal, by-the-book structure with a fixed curriculum, the psychoanalytic salon approach to training, harking back to Freud’s original Wednesday group, perceives the training experience as elastic and tailored to the needs of each candidate. Because our training is not academic we adopt a laissez-faire, even bohemian, sensibility. Each candidate’s date of completion is arrived at through negotiation, but generally takes two years. The salon is a gathering place where seminars and lectures are unremittingly flexible and determined by what each instructor brings to the table, reflecting their particular expertise and current interests. Candidates also have a say in seminar content.