Dr. Jacqueline B. Sallade offers advice for maintaining your mental health.
A mother and a son riding back from the airport talking, talking, talking. One topic leads to another, from relationships, to politics, to literature, to vidoe games, to robotics, to linguistics and intelligence, to food, etc.. In the old days of psychotherapy, we called this process of going from one topic to another as the will directed, free association. It was the main medium of psychoanalysis. The goal was to let the mind wander free and lead the talker into insight. The analyst simply listened and sometimes commented briefly on a repetitive theme or a connection with family memories, particular feelings, or whatever the analyst thought important to the case. Mostly, it was the act of free association which freed the patient into a sense of competence, meaning and wholeness of self.
In the case of good conversation, free association works great. Unlike the insistence of sticking to a topic, not getting distracted or staying on a "need to know" basis, the intimate family member or friend knows no bounds, doesn't restrict vocabulary or ideas and bounces off the other like a good jazz improvisationist.