The article ‘France is 50 years behind’ appeared recently in the Guardian and describes the distress of parents whose children were denied an autism diagnosis and specialised schooling, or were even taken into care, challenging a psychoanalytic approach to treating autism. ACP member Maria Rhode wrote a letter which was not published but challanges this view, while she acknowledged that:
Anyone must sympathise with this distress, but it should not be blamed on a psychoanalytic approach to autism.
She added: Psychoanalysts are often mistakenly thought to hold parents responsible for their child’s condition. This was true of Bruno Bettelheim in the 60s, who inexcusably generalised from what a very small number of parents had told him. Contemporary psychoanalytic clinicians know – and have frequently written – that these parents work heroically to help their children cope with a world that can feel confusing and frightening. Unfortunately this position has often been ignored.
She argues that, contrary to the picture conveyed in the article, the French psychoanalytic colleagues whom I know, provide emotional support to children with autism in close collaboration with parents and schools. They have researched the outcomes of their practice in partnership with INSERM (the French national institute for health and medical research); and they promote early intervention by informing GPs about warning signs in infants and toddlers.
She concluded by saying that, no one intervention suits every family. Associations of parents (such as La Main à l’Oreille) whose children with autism have benefited from psychoanalytic help, view with dismay the idea of outlawing psychoanalytic approaches by political fiat and interfering with patient choice.
Catalina Bronstein, President of the British Psychoanalytical Society, also responded by saying that the article makes claims about psychoanalytic treatment which are far from true.
She adds that, Psychoanalysis is a modern discipline that continues to expand and provide insight into the origins and treatment of mental illness. It contributes to the wider social good and, in recent years, much based research has shown the enduring effects of psychoanalytically based therapy in patients with complex needs and those suffering from chronic depression. Even though it should not be the sole tool in helping autistic children, its value should not be underestimated.
To read the article and responses see here