No psychoanalyst can exercise his profession without understanding the society in which he lives. And with good reason : he is constantly observing the repercussions of social life on his analysts, who are struggling to construct themselves within this society. The psychoanalyst doesn't work in a void without history nor social context. Moreover, each psychoanalyst is often confronted with problems that no one can pretend to solve or even make easily bearable, on his own, as if consultants, whether they want it or not, were not determined by society, by a whole institutional world that no one commands or controls, that no one can reinvent by wiping out the past. God knows if the social inertia that is characteristic of this constituted world can be great and burdensome. More than one civil servant, for example, even though genuinely inspired by a sense of public service, will have no difficulty in recognizing how difficult it is to make things happen. In addition, social life is complicated by the fact that so many actors are involved in it in different ways. And one does not necessarily grasp all and everything that is going on, who's involved and how. These actors operate from differentiated, virtually conflicting positions, they almost invariably have divergent ideologies, they do not all have the same prerogatives, they may or may not be armed with power that may be legal, economic or otherwise, they hide in the dark, seek to conceal their enterprises or, on the contrary, wish to distinguish themselves in the public arena. Let us take the example of the civil servant: those who work in an administration do not necessarily have much in common with those who work as small independents or in a highly competitive entrepreneurial environment where the neo-liberal managerial culture of rank and yank reigns, sometimes even in Europe.
Since the beginning many psychoanalysts have therefore taken a stand in social debates. Freud initiated psychoanalytically inspired social criticism, notably with his Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego in 1921 (Massenpsychologie und Ich-Analyse) and with Civilization and its Discontents in 1930 (Das Unbehagen in der Kultur). Many others have followed, psychoanalysts strictly speaking but also philosophers and sociologists, making the best of their acquaintance with psychoanalysis. Erich Fromm, for example, who was active in the era of flower power, or Herbert Marcuse, Alexandre Mitscherlich and then Jürgen Habermas.
Closer to us, I could mention among the colleagues that I appreciate very much Jean-Pierre Lebrun. Inspired by the work of Jacques Lacan, which he makes readable in his own way, he is also a tireless reader cultivated by the work of many other thinkers. Always a firm and combative discussant, he is the author of many very instructive books. He explores the contemporary figures of subjectivity and the possible recasting of the social bond by trying to examine both the opportunities and the risks presented by an egalitarian society that has evacuated patriarchal authority, which is not to be regretted, in order to henceforth give pride of place to the discourse of science and to organize society according to creeds that could be called neo-liberal.
The demanding and bubbling intellectual who inhabits him never forgets, however, that he is a practitioner - in his own way, absolutely. As a practitioner, he never hesitates to step outside the classical framework in which all psychoanalysts usually work. JP Lebrun thus leaves the chair behind the couch or the face-to-face meeting between individuals in a private practice. He will tirelessly return to the world and its people in educational, hospital and other institutions to practice psychoanalysis at the heart of society, instead of through a dialogue with a single person ‒ a person that lives in society anyway, and has been educated with the help of society's institutions.
Psychoanalytically inspired social criticism is valuable. It nourishes societal debate. It is no doubt also present in the daily work that the psychoanalyst carries out with his patients, whom he seeks to understand and accompany in their own social environment. However, it does not at all imply that the clinician's concrete work serves to nourish revolutionary fantasies with regard to the social whole, naïve and unrealistic fantasies. Psychoanalytical practice, while maintaining a critical distance from contemporary society, is in my opinion above all a clinical practice, intended to accompany and help people without forgetting what they are, complex humans in complex situations, without an immediate grip on reality, but capable of repositioning themselves by examining what is bothering them, what they are struggling with. Failure to take note of this clinical dimension opens the door to sometimes catastrophic slippages. The primary responsibility of the practising psychoanalyst is to render a clinical service, both in private practice and in the institutional world.
It goes without saying that the psychiatric institution can also be scrutinized. One should not hesitate to combat certain psychiatric practices if they turn out to be more prison than hospital. But I do not believe that psychiatric practices are by definition equivalent to abuses of power. Trying to live in a community with psychotic patients for example, is no more or less a political challenge, since the challenge is to live together without destroying each other, on a daily basis, agreeing on a number of things, distributing all the roles to be played while fighting all sorts of alienation that keep resurfacing. There are abuses, of course. And that is regrettable. But I dare to affirm that the obstinate refusal to educate oneself as a psychoanalyst by rubbing shoulders with actual psychiatric practices, those of so-called institutional psychotherapy for example, those of great clinicians engaged in the field such as François Tosquelles and Jean Oury, sometimes also leads to abuses of power ‒ not in psychiatric institutions this time, but in the private practice of the psychoanalyst himself, unfortunately.