Freud’s “evenly suspended attention,” in my opinion, provides the foundation for effective psychodynamic treatment. According to Freud (1912):
Evenly suspended attention consists simply in not directing one’s notice to anything in particular … In this way … we avoid a danger which is inseparable from the exercise of deliberate attention. For as soon as anyone deliberatively concentrates his attention … he begins to select from the material before him; one point will be fixed in his mind … and some other will be disregarded, and in making this selection he will be following his expectations or inclinations. This, however, is precisely what must not be done. In making the selection … he is in danger of never finding anything but what he already knows … It must not be forgotten that the things one hears are for the most part things whose meaning is only recognized later on … He should withhold all conscious influences from his capacity to attend and give himself over completely to his “unconscious memory” … He should simply listen and not bother about whether he is keeping anything in mind … Those elements of the material which already form a connected context will be at the doctor’s conscious disposal; the rest as yet unconnected and in chaotic disorder, seem at first to be submerged but rises readily into recollection as soon as the patient brings up something new to which it can be related and by which it can be continued.(pp. 111–112) Another way of stating what Freud is recommending is that, as listeners, we must wait until we have a bigger picture of what is going on to be able to sort things out. As we are listening and waiting, he recommends we let go of our theories of what is happening and be receptive listeners. We do not want to jump to premature conclusions about what is transpiring and risk leading the patient. Access to the “unconscious memory” is achieved by letting go of the ideas that come into our mind as we listen.