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Theory and Practice in Child Psychoanalysis

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During her lifetime Francoise Dolto revolutionized the psychoanalytic understanding of childhood. As an early pioneer, she emphasized that the child is to be recognized from birth as a person. As a gifted and innovative clinician, Dolto developed her ideas about the unconscious image of the body. An image that is unique to each individual and linked to both a person's history and narcissism, rather then their physicality. It is the symbolic incarnation of a person's desires. Dolto began her career as a member of the IPA, was admired by Winnicott, close to Lacan and influenced by Morgenstern. Her life witnessed an extraordinary evolution from the conservatism of her parents, through the second World War, to the turbulence of Paris in the 1950s and 60s. In the succeeding years, Dolto made a number of original contributions to the understanding of psychosis, neonatology, female sexuality, education, and religion. Although controversial, she was able to write both for the general public and for professional colleagues. In 1979 Dolto opened La Maison Verte as a specialist centre for the practical application of her theories. Similar centres have since been created around the world. Dolto continued to write and teach until her death in 1988.

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CHAPTER ONE: Françoise Dolto: a biography

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Sian Morgan

This chapter is presented in two sections; the first concerns the history and formative influences in the life of Françoise Marette Dolto, the second traces her career.

Background

Françoise Marette Dolto was born in Paris in November 1908 into an affluent bourgeois family. She was the fourth of the seven children of Henri Marette and Suzanne Demmler. She appears to have been, from her early years, an exceptionally independent spirit with an acute intelligence. Her family was religious, strict, and protective. Her mother, though loving, was controlling and demanding, while her father was more liberal, encouraging her inventiveness and desire for knowledge. She was educated in a cours within the kind of seclusion typical for girls of the time, pursuing her studies on her own, only having contact with other children at playtime. She was well known for being funny, jolly, noisy, and full of vitality. Reminiscing late in her life, in Autoportrait d'une psychanalyste (1989, pp. 209–210), Françoise Dolto remembered being told by an old family friend that when she was born she had remarked on her difference from the rest of her family: “How is this little frog going to fare amongst the ducks on this pond?” It is apparent from letters written to her parents from Deauville when she was five that she had considerable difficulty being good; her charming communications are a frank confession of a series of transgressions from a naughty little girl (Dolto, 2003, pp. 18–28).

 

CHAPTER TWO: Françoise Dolto's contribution to neonatology

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Catherine Vanier

When I began my work in neonatal care, I worked with Françoise Dolto. I encountered much prejudice. Françoise Dolto supported and encouraged me when I said to her: “They treat me like a witch. They want me to work in a broom cupboard.” This was a fact, because the first office in which I received a mother was indeed a broom cupboard, with a broom for a witch. I went to complain to Françoise Dolto, whose advice to me was: “Just hang on in there. When I started work, doctors, even psychoanalysts, treated me as if I was crazy.” Eventually, they realized I was right. From the moment of birth something has to be taken care of, alongside bringing the body to life. From the moment of the baby's arrival, as a team we care for the baby, not only as a body, which has to be helped to maintain a continuity of being, but we also have to care for the baby's humanity, for him as a bearer of a history that precedes his coming into hospital. This history, of which his stay at the neonatal care unit will be only an episode, will continue into the future as long as there is no trauma to interrupt it. So often the tear of a premature birth testifies to a breaking of the chain of signifiers that prevents symbolization, making it impossible to carry the child. The neo-natal team has to bear in mind the context of gestation that is greater than the link between the mother and baby alone.

 

CHAPTER THREE: Childhood psychosis

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Sian Morgan

Several French psychoanalysts influenced by Lacan have written on childhood psychosis and autism, including Françoise Dolto, Maud Mannoni, and, more recently, Catherine Mathe-lin Vanier. Very little of their work has been translated. Le cas Dominique (1971), the case of a pre-psychotic adolescent boy, is the only one of Françoise Dolto's thirty-four works available in translation into English. Much of Françoise Dolto's writing focuses on childhood psychosis and autism; in her writing, the term autism is used to describe a form of severe childhood psychosis. Dolto's interest in child psychoanalysis grew out of her work as a paediatrician in a children's hospital in the 1930s, which influenced her research and contributed to her medical thesis, entitled Psychanalyse et pédiatrie (1939). She held an unpaid position as a child psychoanalyst at the Hôpital Trousseau in Paris from 1940 until 1978. Here, she supervised the cases of trainee psychoanalysts that later informed her seminars on child psychoanalysis, published in the 1980s. Donald Winnicott and Françoise Dolto were contemporaries; both were paediatricians and psychoanalysts, both were extremely sensitive to the developing mind of the infant, and both shared the same interests in primitive emotional disorders. Thus, it is surprising that Winnicott is known to have dismissed her as being too intuitive. English psychoanalysis has persisted in being deeply suspicious of Lacanian psychoanalysis, and this accounts in part for the lack of interest in Françoise Dolto's work, which, within France, has had revolutionary effects on childcare.

 

CHAPTER FOUR: Seeing the bigger picture

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Guy Hall

Lorsque l'enfant paraît, le cercle de famille
Applaudit à grands cris. Son doux regard qui brille
Fait briller tous les yeux,
Et les plus tristes fronts, les plus souillés peut-être,
Se dérident soudain à voir l'enfant paraître,
Innocent et joyeux

(Hugo, 2002)

Françoise Dolto is a more popular and better known psychoanalyst among the general public in France than Jacques Lacan. Outside of the English-speaking world, she is an eminent authority on child psychoanalysis and of similar stature to Anna Freud, Melanie Klein, and Donald Winnicott. In France, she is among the first sources that people turn to when it comes to the psychoanalytic understanding of childhood.

Challenging established boundaries and keeping her independence was one of the consistent features of her personality. While many people past the age of retirement seek a quiet life, Françoise Dolto chose to start a new career. Although she had for seven years been broadcasting on the radio as the anonymous Docteur X, it was in September 1976, that she joined France-Inter. The new programme was called Lorsque l'enfant paraît, a reference to Victor Hugo's poem. For this new radio programme, Françoise Dolto was able to use her own name and answered letters sent in by parents on issues relating to bringing up children. Many of the highlights, from over 375 hours of material, have been transcribed. They are now available as books and CDs. From the start, these programmes were very popular, and for the generation who have been influenced by them, they have become quite iconic. The programmes took the form of an interview, with Jacques Pradel reading letters and asking additional questions.

 

CHAPTER FIVE: The unconscious image of the body

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Claude Boukobza

Françoise Dolto published The Unconscious Image of the Body in 1984, at a time when she was no longer seeing patients and had limited her activity to supervising analysts. Dolto considered this book, of which she was particularly fond, a kind of “last will and testament”. It attests to a life spent in innovative clinical practice with psychotic and autistic children and adolescents, most of whom were labelled as “crazy”. Her case studies, which punctuate the text, establish a new model for listening to children. She also thought of The Unconscious Image of the Body as a legacy for her students and a wider audience interested in the theories that she had forged and whose ramifications have undoubtedly yet to be exhausted.

Dolto's originality lies in the fact that, from the very outset, she placed the problem of the body at the core of her analytical practice, whether in the treatment of adults or children. What Dolto calls the unconscious image of the body—we will come back to this point later—is the living synthesis of the emotional, sensory, and language experiences of early infancy. For Dolto, such experiences make up the treasure trove of the unconscious that succumbs to repression after the mirror stage and the Oedipal complex.

 

CHAPTER SIX: Gendering the libido: Françoise Dolto and female sexuality

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Françoise Hivernel

For Françoise Dolto, it is education and not hormones that determines the genital and libidinal orientation of the subject. This is achieved through the interaction between the parents’ desires for the child and through language, which leads to the symbolic determination of the infantile psychic structure. “… ‘the’ woman or ‘the’ girl in itself, doesn't exist, what there is, is libido in the feminine mode” (Dolto, 1996, p. 55).

Introduction

Before going any further, it is worth looking at the genesis of Dolto's book, Sexualité féminine. La libido génitale et son destin feminin, and the political context within psychoanalysis in which it developed. This I will summarize from the excellent preface to the 1996 edition, published after Dolto's death, and collated, annotated, and presented by M. Djeribi-Valentin and E. Kouki, which retraces the genesis of her text over twenty-five years. Neither this book nor any of its earlier versions has been translated into English.

Françoise Dolto was invited by Jacques Lacan to give a paper on the development of female libido, in its normal and pathological forms at the International Psychoanalytic Congress in Amsterdam (5–6 September 1960). This congress was organized by the Société Française de Psychanalyse (SFP) and Nederlands Psychoanalytisch Genootschap (NPG), both groups being dissidents from the International Psychoanalytical Association (IPA). For more details about the history of the differences and feuds between these organizations see Roudinesco (1986).

 

CHAPTER SEVEN: Homosexuality in women

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Françoise Hivernel

This chapter summarizes Françoise Dolto's theories on female homosexuality, and was “extracted” from her book Sexualité féminine. La libido génitale et son destin féminin (1996 edition), which is based on the paper she presented to the 1960 Amsterdam Congress. It needs to be read in conjunction with Chapter Six, on “Gendering the libido and female sexuality”.

Introduction

When talking about female homosexuality, it would be very difficult not to consider Dolto's position (or absence of position) in the context of the French feminist movement. The French feminist movement originated as a result of the 1968 students’ and workers’ strikes. It was perhaps more of an intellectual debate than its sister movements in the rest of the world, and, in its early days, Simone De Beauvoir was its symbol. The Movement de Liberation de la Femme/Movement of Liberation of Woman (MLF) had different forms of feminism under its name, of which I will briefly name two branches. The first branch was more revolutionary, and concerned with bringing down the existing patriarchal order and with the sexual liberation of women. The second one turned towards psychoanalysis as a mean to interrogate gender construction and bring about political changes. I recently attended the Colloquium organized at the UNESCO in Paris (December 2008), in the context of “The international day of philosophy”, to celebrate the centenary of Françoise Dolto's birth. During this Colloquium, papers were given about Dolto, but also extracts of her interventions (filmed by de Mezamat, 1994, 2008) on radio or television were shown, among which one particularly struck me because of its relevance to this chapter. In it, Dolto was very vociferous against the MLF, saying that its policies were leading to a mutilation of femininity and were conducive to hysteria and the emasculation of the male. She deemed the MLF to be an “annihilator of ovaries and testicles”, in her highly truculent style. Françoise Dolto certainly thought and fought for her ideas that women had equal rights to men, in the certainty and pride of their sexual differences, and saw no reasons to join feminist movements. This could be one of the explanations as to why Dolto is not mentioned in feminist literature, despite her courageous stance on many issues, such as homosexuality, contraception, and abortion, but I suppose that she was too much of an individualist to feel at ease in groups. However, she is reported to have said about the 1960 Amsterdam Congress on female sexuality that “France wasn't yet ready to listen to a paper presented by a woman on women's sexuality …” (Dolto, 1996, p. 25).

 

CHAPTER EIGHT: La Maison Verte: a place for words. Personal reflections on working with Françoise Dolto

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Anne-Marie Canu

On the 6th January 1979, on the door of a little blue shop, the following notice appeared.

A place has opened for children and parents at

57 Place Saint Charles.

Why? Because we know the importance for young children, from the first day of their life, of preparation with their parents to enter into society.

And because parents are sometimes very much alone as they face the daily difficulties they have with their young children.

This place is not a day-care, not a crèche, not a kindergarten, nor a child health or welfare centre. It is place of words, of relaxation, where mothers and fathers, grandparents, nannies and babysitters, are welcomed with the child they have in charge and sometimes are worried about.

Little ones will be able to make friends.

Expectant mothers and their companions, as well as young siblings, can also come, because the arrival of a new baby is very important and sometimes a very difficult time in the family.

We will be open, starting January 1979, every morning at 9.30, except Monday mornings, and every afternoon from 3.00 to 6.00 p.m.

 

CHAPTER NINE: La Casa Verde: Speech, listening, welcoming in

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Bice Benvenuto

“The shop where it was set up was painted ‘bluish-green’, that's why it was called the Maison Verte. The pompous name ‘Association for young children and their parents’ was too long … No need to stick to this name though”

(Dolto, 1986)

When Françoise Dolto wrote these words in 1985, she did not yet know that the contingency of the colour of some green paint in her house had given the name to what I would call “a new impact of psychoanalysis in the social”. She presents herself as a psychoanalyst for today's discontent, as someone offering some oxygen to the lungs of the contemporary mind. When she created La Maison Verte in 1979, a place on the street where anyone could drop in, if accompanied by a child, she marked, in my opinion, a passage for psychoanalysis: from nineteenth century bourgeois rituals and posh consulting rooms to the streets, to meet people and their children. If Mohammed (the man in the street) will not go to the Mountain (of psychoanalysis) then the Mountain must come to Mohammed. This entails quite a shift of the analyst's position when working with the unconscious, something that has not repaid her with too much consideration from the psychoanalytical establishment. This includes most Lacanians, although she was, theoretically, very close to French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan.

 

CHAPTER TEN: Desire, Dire, Dieu, and Dolto

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Guy Hall

There is a Zen Buddhist story (Reps, 1971, p. 98) that tells of a teacher who, when he wanted to emphasize a point, would raise his finger into the air. One of his pupils started doing the same thing when repeating what he had learnt. It was not long before the teacher heard of this, and one day when the student made this gesture, the teacher leapt forward and, with a knife, cut off the student's finger. It is said that it is only from that moment that the student was truly able to teach and not simply repeat the lessons that he had previously learnt. Such a story would have appealed to Françoise Dolto, not only for the symbolic castration contained within it, but also because it mirrors so much of her own experience and understanding about the nature of education. Simply repeating the lessons and understanding of previous generations is not sufficient. Each generation has to add its own insights, so that there is the potential of exploring other options. Freud opened the door to a new way of conceptualizing what happens in the mind. His was not the final word, just the first step in what was at the time a revolutionary direction. Those who have made the most interesting contributions to psychoanalysis since Freud have often been apart from, as well as a part of, what went before.

 

APPENDIX I: Chronology of the life of Françoise Dolto

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