Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Defending Psychoanalysis in France

The dispute in France over the role of psychoanalysis in treating autism brought a defense of analysis in the Nouvelle Observateur [NO] from Elisabeth Roudinesco [ER] and Alain Badiou [AB].  I found one section of their comments of particular interest, not because it related to the issue of autism, but rather because it offered a social psychological interpretation of the plight of psychoanalysis. Here is my effort at a translation:
[ER]The dissatisfaction [of the relatives of autistic children] does not come from nowhere. However, all the critiques are not acceptable. For example, we are witnessing a new phenomenon: patients want to decide their treatments and consider in particular that their symptoms belong to their identity. [she uses the term boufées délirantes. I would paraphrase the CNRTL dictionary definition of this term as a sudden, short lived mental disturbance manifesting itself through hallucinations, sensory illusions and accompanied by mental confusion.] They do not see why they should be numbed by medication on the pretext that they hear voices. In which case one must listen to them. But we are going towards the patient as master of his destiny, and this is not desirable. Here again, psychoanalysts bear part of the responsibility, because by enclosing themselves in chapels they lose their authority. At bottom what has been lost in psychoanalytic societies is the position of master to the benefit of that of little chiefs [petit chefs].
[NO] What do you mean by “master?”
[ER] The position of master permits the transference: the psychoanalyst is “supposed to know” what the analysand is going to discover. Without that, trying to discover the origin of the suffering is almost impossible.
[NO] Is it really necessary to go through the restoration of the master?
[AB] The master is what helps the individual become a subject. Because if one admits that the subject emerges in the tension between the individual and universality, then it is evident that there is a need for mediation to advance on this road. And therefore the need for an authority. The crisis of the master is the logical consequence of the crisis of the subject, and psychoanalysis is no escape  from it. It is necessary to restore the position  of the master, but it is not true that one can do without it, even and especially from the perspective of emancipation.
[ER] When the master disappears, he is replaced by the chief, authoritarianism, and that ends always, sooner or later, in fascism- history has, alas, proved this.

I found this part of the interview interesting because it suggests that for psychoanalysis to be successful as an individual therapy and as a therapeutic institution the analyst must be accepted as a ‘master,. that is as one who is ‘supposed to know.’  While the priestly role of the doctor is an important part of many, if not most, areas of medicine, these remarks indicate that for psychoanalysis this role is the critical ingredient. Indeed, they seem to say that without the analyst being able to assume the role of master the process cannot occur. In a patriarchal society, such as the one Freud lived in, the doctor as a ‘master’ could be assumed. What the authors seem to be suggesting is that the challenge to psychoanalysis posed by such people as the relatives of ‘autistes’ is part of a larger challenge to patriarchal norms that may be occurring in France somewhat later that it did in the United States. This raises the question of what  role of the challenge to patriarchal norms in the United States has played in the decline in the fortunes of psychoanalysis.

1 comment:

  1. Now more than ever, patients in need of psychiatric care are given a fair chance. As modern medicine evolves and as more people are educated about mental disorders and addictions, the stigmas attached to psychiatry are starting to dissipate and the quality of treatments available are improving..... psychiatry