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with Heather Gilmore, MSW, LLMSW, BCBA

Free Association: How to be more creative

Different Idea

I was at a loss for coming up with a great idea for this blog post. I desire to be a wonderful, inspiring, great writer, but as I put more and more pressure on myself, I sometimes experience a block to my creativity. This is somewhat representative of my life. In some situations, the more pressure I have, the more locked down I can get. On the other hand, having certain types of pressure such as a deadline (My personal goal that I have to write this post today!) can help me to find ways to get the job done.

So, through this post, I will provide you with how I came up with a topic as well as how you can delve deeper into your own creativity.

I have thought throughout the day that I need to come up with an idea for this post. Typically, an idea sparks and I run with it. However, nothing was sticking. At a certain point, I decided to just sit down and start focusing. I had my hands on the keyboard and was waiting for an idea. Still, nothing was developing.

This is how my thought processes went (in a simplified version, anyway): What am I going to write about? I don’t know what to write. Hmm…Maybe something about play therapy. What did I say this blog was going to be about? Is there a technique I could write about? Maybe I should ask my kids if they have an idea…..Hmm…A play therapy activity that enhances creativity. Google it for inspiration. (I Googled it.) Change the search to how to be more creative since nothing good is coming up. (I came across something that provided some ideas including listening to music.) I wrote an article about music before. I know music changes my mood and I did that one activity with the kids to see how music affected them (an activity for Cub Scouts and for my own experiment). Turn on Pandora. (I turned on Pandora to the “Human” station, one of my favorite songs.) I have a lot of thoughts. I’m free associating. Okay. My blog post title, something about a creativity block or how to be more creative. Free Association: How to be more creative.

Okay, so there you have it. An example of FREE ASSOCIATION, a concept coined by Sigmund Freud and something that I see in kids as I work with them in my play therapy work.

Free association is traditionally a psychoanalytic therapy technique in which a client expresses their thoughts as they come to them without censorship or hesitation. They just simply say whatever comes to mind whether it directly relates to the previous thing they said or not. Melanie Klein believed that children free associate through their play.

Kids are much more open to free association than adults. Adults tend to block their inner experiences and their unconscious from being exposed more than kids do.

For a number of reasons, many adults tend to have difficulty being free to explore the depths of who they are. Some adults have difficulty writing, creating, drawing, and expanding on things that might make them vulnerable or expose their true self.

To enhance your creativity, you can use the concept of free association to allow yourself to increase the ideas you have and to reach more parts of who you are. Here are a few tips on how to increase your own creativity through free association.

Record your thoughts

As I did above, write down your thoughts on paper or on the computer. (I like using the computer better because I can type faster than I hand-write.) Try to let go of any preoccupation you might have with having to be great, perfect, or what others might think of your ideas. Simply, continue to write and write until you either get a sense that you are truly finished (not blocking more information) or until a previously selected amount of time has been reached.

Do something that requires self-expression

Spend time doing things that require you to be creative, such as by drawing pictures, writing a story, painting, doing certain types of crafts, or any other activity that requires your own personal touch. Generally speaking, no one can come up with the exact same product when doing the previously listed activities. Therefore, each person’s uniqueness will be exposed. You can even throw your product away when you’re done, but the more you practice this concept, the more you will be able to reach your creativity when you want to.

Imagine that you are a child

John Lehrer, author of Imagine: How Creativity Works, reported that a psychological study was completed on two groups of college students. One group was instructed to pretend they were a 7 year old child and that school was closed for the day. They were asked to write about what they would spend the day doing. The other group was given the same instructions with the exception that they were not told to pretend to be a child. The results indicated that the people who pretended to be a child were better able to come up with creative ideas regarding the follow-up questions they were asked about how many ways they could use a car tire or a brick. So, when you want to be more creative, allow yourself the freedom to think like a child.



(pic from © designsoliman –

Free Association: How to be more creative

Heather Gilmore, MSW, BCBA

Heather is a freelance writer, Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA), and social worker. Heather takes interest in topics related to parenting, children, families, personal development, health and wellness, applied behavior analysis, as well as Autism, ADHD, Depression and Anxiety. Contact Heather if you would like to inquire about obtaining her freelance writing services. You can view more articles and resources from Heather at and email her at [email protected] You can also advertise your autism services at one of Heather's websites: Heather is the developer of the "One-Year ABA Parent Training Curriculum."


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APA Reference
Gilmore, H. (2019). Free Association: How to be more creative. Psych Central. Retrieved on May 30, 2020, from