In the past few days and weeks, a French documentary about the use of psychoanalysis to treat autism, Le Mur, has been raising hackles and consciousness all over France. I was surprised to learn that psychoanalysis is still overwhelmingly the method used to treat autistic children in France. To put it mildly, it is old-fashioned, like phrenology, and not known for impressive results. You could call it the French exception.
In psychoanalytical treatment of autism, the mother is blamed for the child's autism: she was too cold, or possibly too warm (emotionally "incestuous"), and this terrible behavior made her child psychotic. The nicer shrinks say that the mothers didn't severely damage their child on purpose.
Le Mur is a Michael-Moore-style documentary in which well known French psychoanalysts who treat autistic children find themselves hoist by their own petard and are made to look arrogant idiots, or at times well-meaning ones, in their very own words. To be fair, some of them seem like kind people; but the things they are saying do not come off as sensible. Furious at the movie, three of the psychoanalysts who had agreed to be interviewed sued the documentary maker, saying their words were taken out of context. Yesterday the tribunal in Lille agreed and ordered the documentary maker, Sophie Robert, to pay them €30,000 and to remove the incriminating passages from the 52-minute-long film, which as she points out means no movie. She plans to appeal. She also plans to reveal all the footage, including some she said was worse than what she put in the movie.
However, it was a Pyrrhic victory for the shrinks, because the lawsuit itself made the film far better known. Le Mur is making headlines in all the media this week, and is being shown to people involved with autism around the globe (making France look ridiculous). It has now become a cause célèbre, with journalists calling the Lille judgment a dangerous precedent for censorship, and a French lawmaker sponsoring a bill to make psychoanalysis illegal in treating autism. As it should be.
In the meantime, the film will be banned from the sites where it is still available in France, so if you are in France when you read this, and want to see it, check it out now. (There are subtitles, although not by an English speaker.)
If you don't have time, you can get a bit of the flavor of it by these little tidbits. I'm going on and on a bit because the film made me angry. I'm sure you, too, know people with autistic children. Do they strike you as so cold and evil so that they could turn a child psychotic? That is what these shrinks believe. They have forgotten their Hippocratic oath: first, do no harm. Think how many divorces and how much misery they have caused in the families of these children. Psychoanalysis is basically a set of unprovable and undisprovable beliefs: the trademark of a religion, not a science.
The pregnant mother does not think of her child as a person
The child is treated coldly and becomes autistic
The mother does not want the child, and this causes autism
or she wants the child too much, and has an incestuous relationship with him
This shrink declares that all mothers have an incestuous relationship with their child, "whether they are aware of it or not" (well, that's that then, isn't it?)
As Marie-Antoinette famously said when she was accused of incest toward her son, "La nature se refuse à répondre à une pareille inculpation faite à une mère. J'en appelle à toutes celles qui peuvent se trouver ici." [Nature itself refuses to answer to such an accusation against a mother. I call on all the mothers who might be here."] And the women in the room were furious, and for once supported her; the claim of incest was withdrawn from the accusation.
Note that this shrink is talking about emotional incest by the mother, versus actual incest by the father.
They come clean if they talk long enough.
Literally admitting that a shrink can't actually educate or treat a child with autism.
Progress is not expected from the child. According to psychoanalysis, this liberates the child. Or... just leaves it incontinent and speechless as an adult.
Psychoanalysts try to make you happy with your humdrum little lives; it would be unrealistic to have big hopes for a child with autism.