“Le Mur”: Facing a Wall Regarding Autism

The following article is a response to the French documentary, “Le Mur” by Sophie Robert. If you have not heard about the film, you can read about it here, as it was announced in the New York Times. It has reignited the seemingly endless binary battle between psychoanalysis and behaviorism, while also illuminating yet another “witch hunt” of psychoanalytic practitioners and analysts, particularly those informed by Lacan. Words like “negligent,” “archaic,” and “outdated” have all been utilized to describe the application of psychoanalysis with this population. I found the following article refreshing, like it was upholding some element of justice.


In an age of Managed Care and recession in the US, we are specifically encouraged to establish efficient, quantifiable practices and measures to monitor and validate our work. We are expected to categorize people in order to “better treat them” when in my experience, this can be translated into “this is how they get services.” This is probably most prevalent in Community Mental Health settings and services for children, particularly as it relates to education. I am familiar with how dehumanizing, condescending, and amiss this can feel at times as a psychoanalytic practitioner given that the basis of my work is to help the person in front of me make sense of their experience vs. just change their behavior. That said, I have seen how behaviorism works to improve the functionality of children diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorders, and I use Autism Speaks as an online resource. I later learned that Autism Speaks’ directors also further denounced psychoanalysis in favor of the more “valid” behavioral interventions after “Le Mur” was released. Unfortunate. I have since located the P.L.A.Y. project, an offshoot of the D.I.R./Floortime Program by Stanley Greenspan and profectum.org which appear to be much more inclusive of different interventions.

I have never seen the film, but from what I can tell (as I denote a “witch hunt” above) a great deal seems to have been grossly misinterpreted, particularly as it relates to psychoanalysis. I find myself asking, why aren’t there greater resources for all and why do we have to choose between helping someone increase their functionality and honoring their internal life? Why must we be kept so separate? In my mind, we could be pondering both and really thinking about it so that we’re not mindlessly giving skills, dismissing a psyche, or neglecting one’s need to advance in a developmentally appropriate way in order to survive. It seems to me that something has been horribly missed here: the work and treatment, if to be effective (behavioral or not), happens in the context of a relationship. It’s not magic, it’s not science, & I can’t say it’s logical as we are informed by our intuition, our brains, our chemistry, our minds, and the relationships that we’ve had before. To not honor all of that is neglectful. Psychoanalysis is not neglectful.

Anne Alvarez is a wonderful writer regarding the subject at hand. Specifically, she authored a book entitled Live Company which illustrates the psychoanalytic work with children on the Autistic Spectrum. Jane Christmas in SF also discusses a similar topic in her article Psychoanalysis and Autism – Neuro-analytical Advances.

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