The Failed Assassination of Psychoanalysis: The Rise and Fall of Cognitivism

Author(s) : Agnes Aflalo, Translator : Adrian Price

The Failed Assassination of Psychoanalysis: The Rise and Fall of Cognitivism

Book Details

  • Publisher : Routledge
  • Published : May 2015
  • Cover : Paperback
  • Pages : 192
  • Category :
    Lacanian Psychoanalysis
  • Category 2 :
  • Catalogue No : 35526
  • ISBN 13 : 9781782201649
  • ISBN 10 : 1782201645
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It can happen that a law incurs the wrath of the very people it set out to protect. This is what happened in France at the end of 2003 with the Accoyer Amendment, a Bill that intended to regulate the exercise of psychotherapies even at the cost of the disappearance of psychoanalysis itself. The public that this law was supposed to protect thus ran the risk of finding themselves stripped of certain freedoms that democracy usually guarantees.

How had it become possible to reach such a point? This is what this book sets out to examine. Evaluation and cognitive-behavioural scientism, which have been progressively infiltrating different forms of knowledge with destructive effect, undoubtedly played a major role. And then, the International Psychoanalytical Association, despite having been founded by Freud to protect his invention, started to endorse the forced cognitivisation of psychoanalysis. Meanwhile, psychiatry slid back into its nineteenth century hygienic obscurantism and its new recruit, epidemiology, began playing host to racialist discourses.

However, the more evaluation steps up the commodification of knowledge and reinforces contemporary discontent, the more psychoanalysis in the Lacanian orientation demonstrates its public benefit. As Agnès Aflalo shows here with great clarity, this form of psychoanalysis is the only one to welcome the singularity of those who desire to find their way in the opacity of their symptoms.

Reviews and Endorsements

‘This is a liberating book. All those who, with their eyes fixed on antique modes of tyranny, run the risk of failing to recognise the decidedly human face that tyranny is putting on today would do well to read it.’
— Bernard-Henri Lévy, writer and philosopher

‘Psychoanalysis used to be in unison with a certain state of science and the world. But being itself a symptom of discontent in civilisation, it was unable to prevent the latter from worsening. It has not, however, said its last word, which is precisely the meaning of this “failed assassination”: to maintain the necessary patience and flexibility for taking stock of the ravaging effects of cognitive-behaviourism.’
— Nathalie Georges-Lambrichs, psychoanalyst, and member of the École de la Cause freudienne

‘They have been trying to palm off on us a behavioural, evaluated, quantified version of mankind that corresponds to a norm. Faced with the rise in power of practices of social control and human “dressage”, The Failed Assassination of Psychoanalysis is a real breath of fresh air. When you get to the end of the book, you tell yourself that once again we have narrowly avoided the worst.’
— Karim Sarroub, novelist and journalist at The Huffington Post

‘If every bungled action calls for interpretation, the “failed assassination” of psychoanalysis is no exception to the rule. With great brilliance, Agnès Aflalo has deciphered this state of affairs, opening a new breach in the shaky edifice of scientism and the imposture of the cognitive-behaviourists. She goes back to the very sources of cognitivism, and demonstrates the vacuity of its theses point by point.’
— Deborah Gutermann-Jacquet, clinical psychologist and author of The Equivocations of Gender

‘With measured passion and carefully thought out argumentation, Agnès Aflalo invites us to discover what psychoanalysis in France recently escaped: nothing less than an assassination. The architect of this act is designated unequivocally: the discourse of evaluation. The author of the book traces this moment in history when the henchmen of cognitive and behavioural therapy, securely fastened to their death drive, attempted to reduce the subject to an object.’
— Stéphane Riand, lawyer and journalist

‘The rapid proliferation and mutation of regulatory and evaluatory bodies have become so much part of the ambient discourse of institutional practice that professionals in the field have not always been able to keep track of these changes or to pause to consider their implications. As a result, the gradual erosion of professional autonomy and patient rights that has accompanied the rise of the discourses of audit and evaluation, evidence-based practice, and payment by results has barely been perceived let alone opposed. It is perhaps here that the contrast and specificity of the circumstances in France, as detailed in Agnès Aflalo’s book, prove enlightening in helping us find our bearings in the situation we currently find ourselves faced with.’
— Roger Litten, psychoanalyst and member of the London Society of the New Lacanian School

About the Author(s)

Agnès Aflalo is a psychoanalyst, member of the École de la Cause freudienne and the World Association of Psychoanalysis. Her articles have appeared in various collections in French, and in Hurly-Burly, The International Lacanian Journal of Psychoanalysis. Since its first publication in French in 2009, The Failed Assassination of Psychoanalysis has been translated into English, Spanish, and Portuguese.

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Celia Goto on 20/01/2016 20:50:33

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The Couch Bites Back
by Celia Goto

I am grateful to the patient who brought to my attention an extraordinary book title that she found rather amusing as it passed through her hands; The Failed Assassination of Psychoanalysis: The Rise and Fall of Cognitivism. This book, written by Agnes Aflalo, was originally published in French (2009) and only recently in English by Karnac Books (2015). It is essential reading for concerned clinicians because it follows the course of a battle with the French government that raged from 2003-2009 over the Accoyer Amendment, a bill that sought, under the guise of regulating psychotherapy, to dismantle psychoanalysis within public services and beyond.

Aflalo identifies the developments in mental health provision that created the opportunity for this to happen, including the "noxious ideology of evaluation" and "cognitive behavioural scientism". With incisive intellect and cutting wit she discusses the "commodification of knowledge", "mental hygienism" and "statistical diagnostics". Her considerations extend to the wider issues of racialist discourse and civil liberties. Aflalo's treatise on the French experience is vehement regarding "the new tyranny" and the need for a vigorous counter offensive. Her attitude has implications for the situation here in the UK. However much one might disagree with her conclusions, and allowing for a very different cultural milieu in France, the issues raised here are deadly serious.

The counter offensive in France was spearheaded by the Lacanian Jacques-Alain Miller. Within days of the Accoyer Amendment (October 2003) being set in motion by the government Miller had made a formal complaint about the absence of consultation with any of the professional disciplines concerned, and had established a movement dedicated to raising both public and professional awareness of the issues at stake. The panel of "experts" originally set up by the government to oversee regulation did not have a single psychoanalytic representative, "only exponents of CBT". The situation was headlined in the media, and eventually over the course of six years the bill was revised to legitimate the inclusion of psychoanalytic psychotherapy as a treatment modality in public provision.

At the very heart of psychoanalysis is the singularity of its discourse and practice. It evokes fear and loathing in others because they can't stand the closed consulting room door and not knowing what's going on between the patient and the therapist, despite the extensive amount of detailed case histories and qualitative research available. It's improvisational form and uncertain outcome make it vulnerable to attack even by other "psych" disciplines. Aflalo's text is littered with specific examples of professional prejudices against psychoanalysis but she is also generous in her acknowledgement of the vital support that does exist within closely allied disciplines. In the market place of audit and evaluation, psychoanalysis is massively disadvantaged. Cognitive behavioural therapies tend to fare better because they are considered to be "transparent, measurable, simpler, faster and cheaper". Aflalo clearly sees CBT and psychoanalysis as fundamentally incompatible both clinically and theoretically. Consequently applying the same measures to both cannot be anything other than an attack on the latter. The situation is further confused by the many different types of therapies that have emerged in the wake of psychoanalysis. She asserts that most contain only a small portion of psychoanalysis but claim otherwise.

Aflalo savagely attacks those who misrepresent cognitive behavioural therapies as a panacea displacing the need for all other forms of treatment. CBT dressed in "scientism" becomes a "utilitarian ogre", which Aflalo warns is critical to withstand. She describes scientism as not a true science but a phenomena "that follows science like a shadow, spreading its harmful effects in its name". It employs the questionnaire, "a pompously named research tool", in an "obsessively ritualized and uncontrollable practice" that masquerades as an empirical scientific method that can calculate symptoms and determine short term preformatted treatments with clear cut targets. It convinces patients that "their symptoms are a result of their thinking being askew" and aims to educate them "to think right".

Manipulative management governed by political and financial imperatives, make highly selective use of database material, including questionnaires, to dictate, distort, and eliminate types of treatment, imposing conformity and control of patients, and indeed clinicians who are stripped of their professional autonomy.

Far more than psychoanalysis is under attack, in fact all the thinking professions are at risk. The disciplines and settings may be different but the language and methodology of dismantlement have much in common. Those who can't escape are under duress, feeling horribly compromised whilst doing their best to preserve their own integrity as well as that of their work. Aflalo highlights the way that the "epidemic" of evaluation has likewise contaminated universities. In the preface to her book, Bernard-Henri Levy describes how French researchers' performance is crudely evaluated by the quantitative weight of citations, which he describes as "the Google method applied to the life of the mind". Marina Warner in her article "Why I Quit" (London Review of Books, 09/2014), concerning her forced resignation from a prestigious British university, comments on the management methods employed. She writes about the "new brutalism" in academia and the way "enforcers rush to carry out the latest orders from their chiefs in an ecstasy of obedience to ideological principles which they do not seem to have examined, let alone discussed with the people they order to follow them, whom they cashier when they won't knuckle under". The sadistic overtones of this kind of regime are strong and powerful, their sham justification data driven. In 2007 I myself quit a child and adolescent post on encountering the new brutalism in the NHS.

Psychoanalysis was until quite recently at the centre of CAMHS multidisciplinary teams, contributing to a productive and creative dialogue with other highly trained colleagues; social workers, family therapists, art therapists, psychologists, and psychiatrists. Psychoanalytic ideas were given much prominence in the collaboration and were understood and used fruitfully across all the disciplines. Through ongoing tutoring and supervision of the next generation of psychoanalytic psychotherapists, I remain close to what's happening in CAMHS teams. From what I can see, Child & Adolescent Psychotherapy seems to have lost its platform amidst the other disciplines. Posts are fewer, therapists (especially trainees) are far more isolated and unsupported, funding for training has been much reduced, generic work takes precedence over analytic work in the consulting room, intrusive monitoring systems interfere with treatment, managerial roles and priorities involve some therapists in the active disassembly of their own profession. Meanwhile, the potentially profitable parts of mental health provision are being softened up for payment-by-results and future privatization.

A lot has changed in the last decade. Psychoanalysis seems to me to be silently disappearing from the NHS. Barely visible in adult services and now seriously endangered in child/adolescent services, it's not a CBT vs Psychoanalysis war, but a fight to preserve psychoanalysis as an entity in itself. The market conditions are against the deep and slow treatment that it provides but it's the political agenda behind the financial one that is so brilliantly highlighted by Aflalo. So I welcome her anger and passion as she rails against the expurgators of psychoanalysis. It's good to see that the couch can have teeth and bite back. This situation is not just about psychoanalysis, as French intellectuals seem to recognize, but about the world of ideas, the essence of culture itself.

There's a lot at stake. Freud said that psychoanalysis is about the mind and culture. Speaking out about what's happening is critical if psychoanalysis is to remain in the public domain. I fear it may already be too late.

Celia Goto
Psychoanalytic Psychotherapist
Child & Adollescent `psychotherapist
December 2015

First published in New Associations British Psychoanalytic Council Issue 19 Autumn 2015

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