Forum: On Roudinesco’s Article “Psychoanalysts Have Contributed to Their Own Downfall”

The “so-called decline” of psychoanalysis is a “false diagnosis”, assert in a Forum inLe MondeSophie Marret-Maleval and Aurélie Pfauwadel, psychoanalysts and university professors, in response to a text by Elisabeth Roudinesco published on February 9th2019.

When one is a young psychoanalyst or analyst in training, reading the article “Psychoanalysts Have Contributed to Their Own Downfall”, published by Elisabeth Roudinesco in LeMonde on February 9th, must produce a very strange effect.  Given Roudinesco’s pronouncement of the so-called demise of the Freudian discipline, we feel compelled to testify, on the contrary, to the extraordinary vitality we observe in the field.  Each year, psychoanalytic conferences are attended by between 2500 and 3000 people at the Palais des congrès in Paris.  What other human science taught in university can boast of events which attract so many participants?

True, today’s psychoanalysis has changed; it no longer holds the same place in the vast panoply of knowledge and practices as it did in the 1960s and 1970s.  It has found many ways to renew itself.  While Mrs. Roudinesco predicts doom, we would like to present the promising paths we see emerging in the field of Lacanian analysis.

People who are suffering turn to psychoanalysis primarily because it is a unique practice of listening to subjectivity.  Although they do not have a particular preference for it in advance, or are perhaps prejudiced against it, they are not disappointed when they experience the reception given to their particular suffering and the way it is expressed.  This is how many people discover or rediscover psychoanalysis today, regardless of preconceptions.


Living Knowledge

Therefore, when the statement “Clients have become scarce; psychoanalysis attracts fewer and fewer patients” is put forth as an objective fact, it is legitimate to ask what set of data constitutes the basis for this assertion.  Similarly, the so-called decreasing attractiveness of psychoanalytic treatment is presented as contrasting with “interest in its history”, taught in university “as if Freudian culture has become a museum piece, to the detriment of clinical practice.”

And yet, psychoanalysis as living knowledge is one of the things university students are seeking, in Montpellier or Rennes-II, and particularly in the Department of Psychoanalysis of Paris-VIII University – whose existence Mrs. Roudinesco does not even mention, although she claims that she is presenting an exhaustive picture of the present state of French psychoanalysis.

Students from many parts of the world attend these universities to obtain a Masters or doctoral degree; they study classical or more recent psychoanalytic writings.  Their interest in the history of the psychoanalytic movement is not curiosity about knowledge contained in dusty archives, or about the forgotten folklore of some sunken Atlantis, but rather a desire to uncover the layers of knowledge developed by a tradition which constantly questions itself.


 Psychoanalysis in resistance mode

 Moreover, we cannot ignore the vitality of the Navarin publishing house, or of the collection dedicated to psychoanalytic clinical practice at the Presses Universitaires de Rennes, of the books of our colleagues published by the Presses Universitaires de France, by Seuil, by Hermann, by publishers like Cerf, Michèle, etc.  Some journals, like La Cause du désir, have a print run of 2800 copies, and 1800 subscribers.  Above all, the digital era has brought us a variety of editorial support.

We must admit that Mrs. Roudinesco presents rather accurately the alarming situation of psychiatry in France, and of psychology in universities, given that they have fallen under the influence of the scientist ideology advocated by cognitive sciences.  But her regrettable diagnostic error consists of saying that at the heart of this tendency, “psychoanalysis has entered an endless phase of decline.”  Psychoanalysis is definitely not at the heart of this tendency but is, on the contrary, external to it, constituting its stumbling block and its opposition.

In an era when belief in science and capitalist demand for productivity dominate, in both hospitals and universities, there is no doubt: psychoanalysis is in resistance mode!  And we can expect that it is precisely thanks to its “exterior” position that psychoanalysis is able to create the new forms of its reinvention.  When the “public opinion” to which Mrs. Roudinesco refers becomes fed up with the silencing of subjective suffering by the pharmacological monopoly or the overabundance of standard treatment protocols and ready-made answers, this opinion turns and will always turn to social links which make a place for the subject and his particular expression.  Psychoanalysis is one such social link.


Psychoanalysis participating in debates 

For our part, we were strongly opposed to the inappropriate use of psychoanalytic arguments against homosexual marriage, when this debate was dividing the French population.  We did not “desert the public debate”, as is maintained by many political forums of reflection on the present social malaise in France and in Europe, and by many organisers of conferences on the new symptoms of the era (addictions, burn-out, stress, etc.), or on autism.

Yes, psychoanalysts are diverse and, under the name of psychoanalysis, a variety of discourses and procedures can be observed, but Mrs. Roudinesco seems to enjoy undertaking the systematic denial of everything subtle and positive that today’s psychoanalysts can produce.  She sees the chaff, not the wheat.  She transforms psychoanalysis into an obsolete discourse, while mocking certain attempts at “modernisation” that emerge from gender studies or post-colonial studies.  Despite her perspective from “higher ground”, she contributes fully to what she denounces: casting aspersions and suspicion on psychoanalysis.

Publication Date:

December 2, 2018

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European Journal of Psychoanalysis