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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: La vraie fausse disparition de l’asile

by Sophie Aouillé, psychoanalyst

The True Fake Disappearance of Mental Asylums

Translated Wednesday 13 September 2006, by Shaila Kamath

A review of the new book La Mort de l’asile, by Jacques Lesage de La Haye, and of the film documentary L’Eau du bain, by Isabelle Rèbre et Pascal Petitqueux, both of which deal with the perennial question, "how to treat our insane people?".

Whether it be under the banner of alternative therapy or of social rehabilitation, contemporary society is not yet done with banishing its insane.

The Death of the Asylum, A History of Antipsychiatry, by Jacques Lesage de La Haye [1].

The Bath Water, a 52-minute documentary by Isabelle Rèbre and Pascal Petitqueux [2].

How to treat the insane? The book and the film under review, each in its own manner, deals with this question, which has haunted all forms of society since times immemorial.

In his book, Jacques Lesage de La Haye recalls the various stages that have led, today in France, to an almost complete closing of asylums. Evoking, successively, the banishment and isolation to which the insane were first subjected, then the antipsychiatry movement, with its inventiveness but also with its failure, then alternatives to psychiatry and, in parallel, the development of what one called the sector, he does not fail to emphasize that, if the asylum is today in the process of disappearance, and the State paradoxically adopting for its own purposes the antipsychiatric discourse, it is clearly not for good reasons, but instead for reasons of economy.

Even if one can not share all the view-points of the author, this book, committed and lively, gives voice to the message of the insane, a message that the institution, primarily concerned with its own survival, often neglects to listen to and to hear, and which the society of today, in a process described as social rehabilitation, continues to fear and exclude, being on the way to putting the insane “on a par with the delinquent, the youth, the aged, the handicapped, the unemployed”…

It is in a different manner that the film by Isabelle Rèbre and Pascal Petitqueux evokes the condition of the insane: this documentary, filmed in the psychiatric service of the hospital of Perray-Vaucluse, in Épinay-sur-Orge, shows what went on in this service during the few weeks which preceded its move to the Esquirol hospital of Saint-Maurice, in the Valley-of-Marne, within the framework of reorganizations that currently affect psychiatry.

Over and above what we can see in this film of the difficulties of the psychiatric institution to foresee and to accompany what the patients live as a veritable exile, this film maintains just beneath the surface, in an intelligent and sensitive way, the question of what could otherwise be a safe harbor for the insane, an "asylum" in the etymological sense of the term …

This documentary will be presented at the Espace Confluences in a series of films on psychiatry, to be projected on 21 and 22 October.

[1La Mort de l’asile. Histoire de l’antipsychiatrie, Éditions libertaires, Éditions du Monde libertaire, 2006, 224 pages, 10 euros.

[2L’Eau du bain, 52 minutes, from Jean Bigot-VLR Productions, on sale at the site of VLR Productions, 20 euros.

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