This text was written in response to an article by D. Bishop and J. Swendsen in the BJPsych Bulletin, which slandered Lacan and his students. Addressed in English to the Bulletin, the present text did not catch the attention of the editors. So much for Fair Play! Below is a description of the journal by the journal itself. — Jacques-Alain Miller
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To the Editor-in-Chief of the BJPsych Bulletin,
The readers of the article by Dorothy Bishop and Joel Swendsen “Psychoanalysis in the Treatment of Autism: Why is France a Cultural Outlier”, published in a section called “Cultural reflections” may have felt, as I did, that this need for a special cultural reflection is a symptom of Brexit. In their long history, Britain and France have often needed to question what they have in common. Douglas Jerrod put it well: “The best thing I know between England and France is the sea”.
Brexit underlines all the more the need for renewed interpretations of what may separate us. It is, nonetheless, far from certain that the article in question truly contributes to this endeavour. It is so mired with voluntary omissions, partisan views, ad-hominem attacks, textual and contextual distortions, that it can only contribute to obscure further what remains unclear. I will follow the way the text unfolds to make these appear as I go along. I will leave it to the unbiased reader to carry out the necessary adjustments, if they see fit.
The first omission
The article’s method consists in incriminating a series of psychoanalysts, pillorying each one for reasons that go crescendo – from the reproach that they do not follow scientific guidelines to the point of denouncing them for paedophile sympathies. To speak of a study of cultural context seems a little far-fetched, given the name-dropping that occurs in this black list.
The first to be named is Laurent Danon-Boileau, one of whose books was translated and published by Oxford University Press. He is presented as “France’s most respected child psychoanalyst, with a particular interest in language”. However, the criticism is immediately levelled at him that his book doesn’t show any real interest in the relationship these children have to language. He is only interested in “affective states” or in “psychodynamic factors”, things that have nothing to do with language and the difficulties of its acquisition. The authors might have thought not to conceal from their readers the fact that Laurent Danon-Boileau does not just have a mere “interest in language”. Until his retirement, he was a professor of linguistics in various universities, trained in a form of enunciative linguistics inspired by the teachings of the great linguist Antoine Culioli. As a researcher, he was an active member of the Research Laboratory on the Acquisition and Pathology of Language, attached to the CNRS [national centre for scientific research]. It would have been easy to find some information about his work on language acquisition.
Rather than use academic sources, the authors prefer to refer to a documentary film, resolutely opposed to psychoanalysis, the mention of which in the text’s second paragraph is surprising. It supposedly provides proof that, for the psychoanalysts: “Parents were directly implicated in causing autism”. Perhaps it is in the name of cultural reflections that reference to a non-academic source was deemed necessary. In which case, the authors might have referred to an interview by the psychoanalyst they were taking aim at, where he declares “To put it simply, for autistic children, I think there is a neurocognitive disorder, and that this disorder has a colossal impact on exchanges with the other and with psychical functioning”. This is far from directly implicating parents in the causes of autism.
From omission to conflation
After the omission of academic research and academic works comes a new device, that of the conflation. To give the “flavour of the content” of the interviews in the film that supposedly go in the direction of a direct implication of parents, the authors quote two other psychoanalysts. The first states that “autistic children are sick of language. That autism is a way to defend themselves from language”. We search in vain here for any direct implication of parents.
The authors clearly think the film they quote gives sufficient evidence of the French aberration. It takes the psychodynamic approach into account instead of limiting itself to a behavioural approach. The waywardness of the French is evidenced by the fact this approach is not specified in the 2013 guidelines published by NICE (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence). Maybe the authors could have added that the Belgian Institute with the same function as NICE, the KCE, recommended, in 2015, the interactive play used in the psychodynamic approaches. It states: “The core approach for difficulties of communication and social interaction is, ideally, a psychosocial intervention based on interactive play and involving parents, care-givers, and teachers (as well as the peers in children of school age) so as to augment the level of attention, engagement, and reciprocity in the child”. The psychodynamic approach is clearly not just a French fad. NICE must have its own way of including the interactive play approach and not just the learning-based approach. I will leave it up to specialists to discover how the tireless efforts of applied psychoanalysis by the Tavistock Clinic have found their way into the bureaucratic guidelines.
Psychoanalysis and French Culture
Then comes a second topic, a second psychoanalyst, a second reproach. The authors ask themselves how such differences in practice could arise on each side of the Channel. The language barrier is soon set aside to centre on the status of psychoanalysis in France. It was no doubt wise to set aside the language barrier, as the first two psychoanalysts quoted are perfectly bilingual and the second, Didier Houzel, was trained in English Kleinianism. In an article published in the International Journal of Psychoanalysis, Houzel presents to his anglophone readers the particularities of French cultural identity and why psychoanalysis is part of it. He also testifies to the importance of Lacan’s work. The authors then make use of an argument based on authority, their own. They are, they say, less “credulous” than these French who take a “subservient position” before obscure thought.
Psychoanalysis, psychodynamics and the associative lobby
They insist that Houzel had to give due place to criticisms levelled at the role of psychoanalysis in the treatment of autism by the parents’ associations. They note in no particular order, the tabling of the Fasquelle bill which aimed to ban psychoanalysis, the autism plans which give pride of place to neurodevelopmental methods, developments in research, and the fact that the maker of the film they quote so often has been taken to court. Perhaps we could add that this all-out offensive by the behaviouralist lobby has continued after the article’s date of submission in May 2020 (accepted in November) and that it has come to a significant stopping point in the region of Nouvelle-Aquitaine, which includes Bordeaux, the town in which one the authors, who is very active, teaches. This offensive aimed at nothing less than reserving part of the health system solely for people with autism, to extract them from psychiatry in general, and ensuring that the only treatments accepted in these reserved institutions would be defined by the specifications prescribed by the lobby led by some parents’ associations. The government, consulted on June the 2nd 2020, answered on November the 24th that the health-care system can only be suitable for all children “whatever the pathology or disorder” and the specifications of the regional health agencies “do not constitute an authorization standard”. The offensive by the lobby that the authors support, and which their article is part of, will certainly not stop there, but a limit has been reached.
The offensive is now being pursued in another way. The publication of a decree in the Journal Officiel on March the 10th “concerning the definition of the expertise of psychologists” is unacceptable in many ways. It aims to cut the profession down to size, by subordinating it to the medical field and to the recommendations of the High Authority for Health. The expertise of psychologists is judged by a single reference point: cognitive-behavioural practices. Gatherings of the profession aim at opposing this offensive, in particular the Forum organised on the 27th of May by the École de la Cause freudienne in coordination with other Schools of psychoanalysis, unions of psychologists, the inter-college of hospital psychologists and practitioners already faced with the attempt to implement these authoritarian methods.
Let’s return to the text of Bishop and Swendsen’s article. The accusations against Houzel keep on coming. When he underlines that psychoanalysis does not make any judgements about aetiology, saying that “Its quest is more in the direction of meaning than that of cause”, and thus that psychoanalysis doesn’t blame the parents, especially the mothers, the authors say that he is being “disingenuous”. For the authors, psychoanalysts do nothing but that. Another film, by the same director as the first, clearly called upon a lot, seems a sufficient proof. There then comes, in negative reinforcement, a third psychoanalyst, from a previous generation than Houzel and Danon-Boileau. A text by Françoise Dolto is quoted that speaks of “hospitalism… in a family environment”. Rather than speaking of the mother alone, it evokes “rather the neurotic employee (who) isolates…by exclusive possession…the object of perfect care”. We will later see the function that the name Françoise Dolto has in the text by these authors, as it comes to link two distinct accusations against psychoanalysis, the one as serious the other.
Psychoanalysis and quantification
This section concludes by referring to the supposed indifference of psychoanalysis towards demonstration by objective proof, namely, evidence-based medicine. However, the authors might have noted that the method of specific, peer reviewed cases is not contradictory with the evidence-based approach, as the KCE report has stated. They might also have quoted the works of Bruno Falissard and Jean-Michel Thurin, who have devoted themselves to developing a therapy inspired by psychoanalysis and its psychodynamic standpoint, whose effects could be measurable with quantitative criteria. Let’s quote them: “This article presents the first results of a longitudinal, multicentric, process-outcome study exploring individual psychotherapies, carried out in natural conditions, over a period of one year, with autistic children within the framework of the Inserm network of research based on psychotherapy practices”. In England itself, the efforts of the Tavistock clinic haven’t ceased to show the interest of some psychoanalysts for quantitative evaluation.
Psychoanalysis and Science
The warnings issued by other psychoanalysts against the fascination with the numbers are, according to the authors, only a sign of a more profound rejection of science. They quote Karl Popper’s famous critique who, in the early sixties of last century, condemned psychoanalysis as a false science, since it cannot be falsified by any experiment. We could point out to them that psychoanalysis doesn’t cease to be deemed falsified by those who are not interested in its experience, or who abandon it, or turn themselves against it after having loved it. This experience of rejection, of negative transference, is a mode of falsification specific to the psychoanalytic discourse. Contrary to the discourse of science, psychoanalysis is not a discourse for all. It proceeds one by one, and everyone can vote with their feet.
The authors continue to attack psychoanalysis’s supposedly anti-science stance and recall that Sokal and Bricmont, in their book on “intellectual impostures” in 1998 took aim at Lacan. They did not appreciate a topological development by Lacan on the singularities of the projective plane. They should have also read other passages that would have appeared clearer to them where Lacan situates the formal and empty mode of existence of the subject of the unconscious, irreducible to an ego, as an analogue of the subject of science defined by Descartes. It is important to separate science on one level, and the techniques of quantified evaluation on the other, these two levels that the authors want to confuse. But the purpose of the authors is not epistemic. It is accusatory. They end this part of their attack with an “impression”. It is heavy with consequences. By rejecting science, by thinking of themselves as “revolutionary thinkers”, by rejecting social conventions, psychoanalysts do nothing less than facilitate all the “abuse[s] of adult’s power over children who are defenceless” against biased analytical interpretations.
Psychoanalysis and Paedophilia
To justify the jump towards this second, much darker accusation, according to which psychoanalysts play some part in paedophilia, the authors need only, once again, evoke a second film by the same director they quoted before, making it the arbiter and pivot for all the nuances of French culture. Since Freud had argued that children are sexual beings, filled with desire, the authors don’t hesitate to confuse fantasies and actual behaviour: “incest and paedophilia are seen as natural phenomena”. One could object that Freud was not the first one to see children as filled with desires that can, on occasion, be bad. Saint Augustin was not to be outdone in this regard. Since his Confessions, we have an idea of the power of jealous envy felt by the child on seeing its sibling breastfeeding. We could also underline that Freud broke with his first theory of seduction in order to better separate fantasy and reality. It would no doubt be in vain as our authors don’t shy away from confusion. For them, psychoanalysis “opens the way for abusive relationships between a powerful therapist and vulnerable children”.
The Petitions of the Seventies
The proof will be found, last century, in the 1970s. The authors quote an article in The Atlantic, which gives a good idea of the context. I will summarize the matter as follows.
An open letter, entitled “A propos d’un procés”, signed by sixty French intellectuals, in the context of a debate on the age of sexual majority, was published in Le Monde as a “call for the decriminalisation of sexual relations between minors and adults”. It was drafted by someone who will not be named until 2013, Gabriel Matzneff, now a notorious predator and paedophile. This letter is followed the same year by a “call for the revision of the penal code concerning relations between minors and adults” rallying even more signatories (to the previous names were added those of Françoise Dolto, Louis Althusser, Jacques Derrida, to quote only these, but the open letter counts eighty signatories who were among the most prominent intellectual figures of the time). Another petition was published, this time in Liberation in 1979, in support of a certain Gérard R., who was accused of living with young girls from six to twelve years of age, signed also by important personalities of the literary world. Thirty years later all the newspapers that carried these more than debatable opinion pieces will publish, one after the other, their mea culpa. The media is only the reflection of its time, they argued”.
What Dolto really said
For the authors of our paper, it is the name of Françoise Dolto, signatory of one of these petitions, that functions as the guiding thread that links psychoanalysis and paedophilia, as she comes to deny that it is a question of rape. “There is no rape at all. They are consenting”, she says in the particular context of an interview in 1979. However, if one considers the whole of Dolto’s writings from the period, one comes to a different vision, and one understands better why the Canadian advocate of children’s rights, Andrée Ruffo, agreed to publish posthumously her dialogue with Dolto in 1999, presenting both as defenders of children. One does not have to go far to find a more just vision of Dolto’s statements. For example, in the book by Jean Bérard, not a psychoanalyst, published in the Presses de Sciences Po in 2013, quoted in the Wikipedia entry on “Petitions in France concerning the age of sexual consent”. I quote the footnote 31. “Françoise Dolto states that ‘in her experience…the practical sexual initiation of adolescents and children by an adult… even admitting that they are not incestuous, even more if this partner is confirmed in age and presence, is always a profound psychological trauma’. She defends a position on sexual majority distinct from the existing law and from the will of paedophiles asking that ‘the age of sexual majority should be decreed, the children having been educated, two years after puberty for each citizen (menstruations, spermogenesis)’. She would also like “the law to make it an offence to engage in any act aimed at the pleasure of one individual at the expense of another who does not clearly and deliberately give their consent” in Jean Bérard, Chapter 6: Sexual Majority and Consent of Minors, in La justice en procès: Les mouvements de contestation face au système pénal (1968-1983), Paris, Presses de Sciences Po, 2013.”
A missed opportunity
This affair of the petitions at the end of the seventies could have been an opportunity for the authors, were they not conducting a strictly prosecutorial offensive, to ask why Jacques Lacan did not sign, why he mocked “sexual liberation” that was in full swing, saying that it lead to boredom, and why he mocked sexo-leftism. Lacan’s followers did not sign either. Moreover, when Philippe Sollers asked François Regnault, a prominent Lacanian, for a contribution on the age of sexual majority for his Journal L’Infini, he answered the paedophiles in 1997 with a text with strong theses, reissued under the perfectly clear title: “Let them grow up!”
The authors’ lack of interest in the facts, and their wilful conflation reaches a climax when they say that “The growing unease in French society about the cultish status of psychoanalysis came to a head this year with the publication of a book, entitled Le Consentement, by Vanessa Springora.” If one turns to the book, one sees very clearly that it is not psychoanalysis that is incriminated there, it’s the zeitgeist of the seventies: “In the seventies, in the name of the liberation of mores and the sexual revolution, one had to defend the free enjoyment of all bodies. To put a stop to juvenile sexuality would therefore have been a matter of social oppression and to partition up sexuality between individuals of the same age group would have been to constitute a form of segregation”. As for psychoanalysts, Vanessa met all sorts in the milieu she was in. And then, there were those she could rely on: “So I healed myself as best I could: Years of the ‘talking cure’. First with a psychoanalyst who saved my life. Who saw no problem in my ceasing to take the medications prescribed by the hospital. Who helped me to continue my studies, despite the “blank” year after obtaining my bac [baccalaureate]”.
La famiglia grande
The same opposition between the spirit of the times and psychoanalysis can be found in the latest sexual scandal to shake the Parisian intelligentsia: the incest revealed by Camille Kouchner’s book, published on February the 7th 2021. On the one hand, we find the spirit of the times and the milieu: “Camille Kouchner proceeds like a psychotraumatologist in listening to the mechanisms of sexual predation, she examines the family and friendship environment, sets the scene (the post-68 years, Mitterand’s septennates), and identifies patterns”. On the other, there is psychoanalysis, which allows her to reconstruct herself and to think about being able to give a public testimony: “In any case from that day on [the death of her mother], the book began to mature. Ten years of psychoanalysis and reading the works of a psychiatrist who specialises in treating the trauma of victims did the rest”.
In the case of Vanessa Springora, the authors dare to use her book as an example of a disapprobation of psychoanalysis, when the author underlines its life-saving virtue. But they go further. They end their text with conflation, denegation and threat. Psychoanalysis, they say, may be a haven for paedophiles that think like Françoise Dolto. “Psychoanalysis can provide professional respectability, a good income and access to vulnerable children. We should be clear: we are not saying that these views are common among French child psychoanalysts. Nevertheless, so long as the psychoanalytic movement in France sets no limits as to what can count as psychoanalysis, it runs the risk of causing harm to children, as well as to its profession”. As the authors trace the evil back to its source in the hypothesis of infantile sexuality, it is hard to see what limit would be acceptable to them.
This excursus and its strange conclusion in a call for denunciation is the climax of the article. It ends with a long lament by one of the authors that psychoanalysis is still being taught in too many universities. He encourages further purges within the ranks of clinical psychologists, to rid them of the psychoanalytic orientation he pursues with his “anger”. It is this anger that, for him, seems to justify the urgency of his action and the methods he employs. Why not? But then, to present himself in the course of the paper as a “dispassionate observer” seems at least as “disingenuous” as he reproaches psychoanalysts for being.
I hope that this supplement to the contribution by these authors on the nature and influence of French culture on the status of psychoanalysis may be brought to the attention of the readers of your Bulletin. We could then pursue further the elucidation of the misunderstandings which, in these times of post-Brexit pandemic, will not cease to flourish at the expense of lasting and sustainable relationships that are our common goal on each side of the sea we share.
January the 8th, 2021
Translated from the French by Philip Dravers
*The text presented here is a slightly revised version of the original that appeared in French in Lacan Quotidien No. 930 (https://lacanquotidien.fr/blog/wp-content/uploads/2021/06/LQ-930.pdf), accounting for the developments Laurent refers to concerning the Decree of 10 March 2021 and the fight against it.
 Henceforth referred to as “the authors”. Any unspecified quote comes from this paper.
 Laurent Danon-Boileau, 2018, Grand entretien: archéologie d’un parcours, in E-Rea, Revue électronique d’étude sur le monde anglophone, available online. Consulted in december 2020.
 Report of the KCE, 2015, p. 13. Available on the site.
 Open letter of Pierre Viénot, available on the site of Stop DSM, moderated by Patrick Landman, consulted on december the 29th, 2020.
 Answer published in the Journal officiel, on november the 24th, p. 8487. Question N°30042, Assemblée Nationale, Titre: Missions du CMPP de la Nouvelle-Aquitaine.
 Laurent Dupont, Caroline Leduc, Angèle Terrier and Éric Zuliani, “Arrêté sur l’expertise des psychologues ‘Il y a une volonté de l’assujetir au champ médical’” Opinion Column, Marianne, 11 May 2021.
 KCE report, 2015, op. cit., Synthesis, p. 20
 J.-M. Thurin et al. / Neuropsychiatrie de l’enfance et de l’adolescence 62 (2014) 102–118
 Karl Popper, Conjectures and Refutations, Routledge, 1963.
 Saint Augustin, Les Confessions, Livre Ier, VII, 12, in Pléiade, 1998, Oeuvres, Tome 1, p. 789
 Marie Doezema, France, where the age of consent is up for debate, The Atlantic, 2018, available on the Journal’s site.
 Vanessa Springora, Le consentement, Grasset et Fasquelle 2020, le livre de poche, p. 63 (my translation)
 Ibid, p. 64.
 Françoise Dolto died in 1988.
 Article Wikipedia, disponible on line.
 J. Lacan, Télévision, (1974), in Autres Ecrits, Seuil 2001, pp. 527 et 532.
 François Regnault, Laissez-les grandir! Gallimard, bibl. Pléiade, 1998, p.789.
 Vanessa Springora, op. cit., p. 65
 Ibid., p.183
 Camille Kouchner, La famiglia grande, Seuil, 2021
 Ariane Chemin, “”La Familia grande”, autopsie d’un secret de famille” in Le Monde du 6 janvier 2021
 Ariana Chemin, Olivier Duhamel, l’inceste et les enfants du silence, in Le Monde du 6 janvier 2021.
 The expression is used in the presentation referenced in footnote 22 of the article.