The Clinic of Disability: Psychoanalytical Approaches, by Simone Korff Sausse and Regine Scelles

Posted on Oct 27, 2017

How psychoanalysis can be applied to our understanding of disability

The publication of The Clinic of Disability: Psychoanalytical Approaches affords English speaking readers access to what we refer to as “French disability studies”, which are relatively unknown outside France. Our aim is to promote French psychoanalytical thinking in English speaking countries and pave the way for dialogue with our counterparts internationally.

The book brings together eleven articles by French researchers on the clinical treatment of disability while also offering philosophical and anthropological perspectives. All the authors are members of SIICLHA (Seminaire Inter-universitaire International sur la Clinique du Handicap), an academic powerhouse of thought and research into the human and social sciences. These French thinkers and practitioners elaborate theories relating to disability, be it cognitive, motor, sensory or even multiple, adopting an original approach grounded in French intellectual and philosophical culture. In the introduction, Valerie Sinason discusses whether this specific approach may derive from a generational transmission of the principles of the French Revolution.

Most of the authors have practical experience in the field and are therefore sensitive to the need to recognize the subjectivity and intersubjectivity of the disabled person, which are always closely linked to the family and social environment. Two of them are anthropologists and one is a philosopher. Indeed, all the contributors base their work on theories derived from a range of disciplines to analyse the meanings and effects of representations, forms of accompaniment and care that the disabled and their families can benefit from in France. Such analysis opens up perspectives to provide better care at all ages in life. For example, antenatal diagnosis leads to significant improvements in how families and practitioners understand deficiency. Adolescence is also a key stage covered by this publication. Special attention too is devoted to the roles played by peers and siblings, an approach notably absent from much of the literature. But above all, the authors are adamant in referring to what people in a situation of disability themselves have to say about their condition and how they experience it in their subjectivity, during therapy, research interviews and relations of accompaniment. Despite some cultural differences, that approach broadly resembles what is practiced in the Anglo-Saxon world in disability studies.

These various deficiencies (whether acquired or present from birth) have a range of different effects on the subject and those close to them through the different ages in life. So, sections are devoted to infancy, childhood, adolescence, adulthood and aging. Moreover, the authors consider and analyse changes in the field of disability, as with medical progress (especially in genetics), educational and rehabilitational trends and also inclusive practices. Some of the authors provide a demonstration of what clinical situations can contribute to psychoanalytical theory itself. In other words, they do not merely resort to psychoanalytical theory to better understand and explain the impact of deficiencies on the subjects’ intrapsychic and intersubjective lives but take matters further in showing how such sometimes extreme situations can lead to questioning, reviewing and revising that body of theory. This more specifically concerns matters relating to inter-generational transmission, traumas, feelings of shame and guilt, but also narcissism and castration complexes.

These clinicians share a common belief that psychoanalysis can be applied to disability and that children and adults with disabilities can benefit from psychoanalytic treatment.

Simone Korff Sausse is a psychologist and psychoanalyst, a member of the Société Psychanalytique de Paris, and emeritus lecturer at the Psychoanalytical Studies Faculty at the University Denis Diderot, Paris. She has conducted studies into the psychoanalytical approach in care for disabled children and their families, and into the creative process in artists. She is a founding member of Séminaire Universitaire International sur la Clinique du Handicap.

Régine Scelles is Professor of Clinical Psychology and Psychopathology at the Paris West University Nanterre La Défense. She works in a department providing early help to disabled children and has considerable experience working in disabled people’s own domestic environments. She has published works on the family and multiple disabilities and is a founding member of Séminaire Universitaire International sur la Clinique du Handicap.

Their edited collection, The Clinic of Disability: Psychoanalytical Approaches, has recently been published by Karnac.

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