Suing the messenger

The French approach to autism was discussed a couple of months ago, too.

A controversial new film by French documentary filmmaker Sophie Robert, screened  last week at an autism  conference here in Philadelphia, reminds the world that in France these  thoroughly discredited and dangerous ideas still hold considerable sway. The film, Le  Mur or The Wall, already viewed  tens of thousands of times on YouTube, is calling attention to the ongoing  stranglehold that psychoanalytic theories still have over autism treatment in  France.

The film’s interviews with prominent French psychiatrists leaves the viewer  wondering whether in France treatments for pediatric developmental disorders are  stuck in some sort of bizarre Freudian time warp. These ideas have been so  thoroughly debunked in the rest of the world (not that in the U.S. we don’t have  our equally controversial theories of autism—Exhibit  A: the rise of vaccine related hypotheses) that its persistence from a  non-French perspective seems farcical. Listening to the talking heads in  Robert’s film reinforces that feeling.

But here’s the kicker – Robert has been sued by three of the people she interviewed, and the film has been withdrawn.

The film is under attack in France and three of its subjects—Esthela Solano  Suárez, Éric Laurent and Alexandre Stevens—sued  the filmmaker, claiming that they were misrepresented in the film. Last week  a court  in Lille ordered Robert to remove from her film the likenesses of the  three plaintiffs and pay them significant damages. At issue in the case is  whether Robert edited the film to manipulate her subjects. Robert will be filing  an appeal and told me that the plaintiffs signed a detailed release prior to  appearing on camera.

Despite the intense pressure on her following the court’s decision—she is  financially liable and is likely to shutter her company while she appeals—Robert  is committed to her film and believes it is drawing a spotlight on the  stranglehold psychoanalysis has in France. To Robert, who herself once wanted to  be an analyst, “psychoanalysis has an hypnotic effect” and is a “cult  antithetical to science.”

Shades of Simon Singh, and critics of Burzynski, and victims of SLAPP suits.

To be continued.


  1. Shatterface says

    Psychoanalysis is a particular bugbear of mine and it really pisses me off that psychologists are often portrayed as phallus obssessed Europeans.

    Psychoanalysis is little more than a footnote in the history of psychology but its believers are not harmless cranks. The belief in repressed memory was central to the ‘recovered memory’ movement which devestated hundreds of families and lead the victims of therapy to confabulate the most extraordinary claims, which were believed by pseudo-feminists like Bea Campbell in the UK; to question whether thousands of women really were being raped by family members to produce babies for satanic sacrifice and ritual cannibalism was to be treated as abhorent as the alleged acts themselves.

    In the past women who ‘failed’ to achieve ‘vaginal orgasms’ were made to feel ashamed, and some underwent cliterodectomies as brutal as any other genital mutilation.

    At best psychoanalysis diverted resources from genuine psychological research.

    When psychoanalysis was laughed out of the psychology departments in the ’60s it latched onto the other humanities, corrupting literaterary studies, film studies, cultural studies, etc. with unsupportable claims; just to watch a film or read a book was to be a ‘voyeur’.

    And apart from its claims about mystical psychosexual forces at work behind even the most innocent or loving behaviour it introduced logic-busting concepts such as ‘reaction formation’ which made any evidence that seamed to contradict the claims of psychoanalysis proof that the psychoanalyst was right.

    So, pseudoscientific bullshit that destroys lives and oppresses women; that denounces skeptics as unsympathetic to the sick; that drains resources from genuine research and corrupts other disciplines; that undermines the very notion of logic and evidence. Even without this current scandal psychoanalysis is nothing more than a religion, with its own concept of original sin (the Id), its own redeaming saviour (the superego) and its own, wealthy, abusing priesthood.

  2. says

    I saw the three-part documentary before it was banned. Numerous psychoanalysts were interviewed and allowed to present their theories. Their lawyer says the film was edited to make them look absurd, but it is the analysts’ own words that do that. Dorothy Bishop, professor of developmental neuropsychology at Oxford University, describes her reaction to the film on this BBC World Service clip (first 8 mins.):

    An English translation of part of the dialogue is available here:

    One of the Comments:
    “I studied Psychology for 4 years in France and ALL that you transcribed was actually TAUGHT to us exactly the way you posted it on your BLOG. … What I learned were all the theories of Bettelheim, Lacan and so forth. ..”

    Filmaker Sophie Robert explains her approach to making the documentary here:

  3. Musical Atheist says

    I’m horrified that Bettelheim’s ‘refrigerator mothers’ hypothesis is still being given any credence in the treatment of children on the autistic spectrum. I hate to imagine the appalling and totally unjustified self-blame experienced by terrified parents when they are told that the reason their child won’t respond to them is that they aren’t being sufficiently loving.

    Like the vaccines hypothesis, this viewpoint is only made possible by the fact that autistic spectrum conditions frequently manifest or become fully established around age 2. However, it totally ignores the fact that in some cases ASD manifests immediately, in early infancy. Think of the distress experienced by a parent whose child has never displayed the usual response or development patterns, being told by someone with the full weight of medical authority behind them that this was in fact a preventable deterioration, and being powerless to contradict them.

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