redtabby's autism blog

A blog considering how psychology, psychiatry, social life and personal life do and don't interact with the autistic spectrum, sometimes obviously, sometimes not.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Phillips' screwdriver

In the woodwork module at art school almost the first thing we were told by Ian the woodwork man was that a chisel is not a screwdriver. Use it as such on a metal object like a screw and you will wreck the chisel, as it is a specially sharpened blade for cutting wood.
Adam Phillips has a new book out, 'Going sane'. I have not read it yet, just the review by Adam Mars-Jones, who likes Adam Phillips like I like him, for thinking differently, for not pushing psychoanalytic orthodoxy for the sake of it, for making it subtle and useful and new and different.
And then, apparently, he goes and jumps back in the pond of orthodoxy (when discussing forms of insanity) by quoting Frances Tustin as saying that autism is a big avoidance reaction-formation by the child when it realizes its separateness from its mother.
The cat goes splat on the mat: I can hear the birds twittering as I lie on the carpet stunned by this particularly huge old chestnut, especially when I recollect how hard it is for the average autist to build up, over many years, a strong sense of a self separate from anything.
Tustin's book ('Autism and childhood psychosis'), in psychoanalytic terms, is new (1972), but, in terms of modern autism thinking, it's antique. In the NAS and elsewhere we've all worked solidly for years to get away from this persistent psychoanalytic idea that everything that can go wrong with people's brains has to be the result of some kind of failure of relatedness.
Hasn't any analyst turned this on its head yet and seen that a failure of relatedness can be an effect, not a cause? Perhaps they never will: they'd say autism is their term and they can do what they like with it. It's an old term, invented (I vaguely remember) by Bleuler round about 1911 to describe a state of being disinterested in the world found in schizophrenia (also a new term then), and the idea that it has something to do with madness has been hard to shift ever since. And now, just as we thought we were getting somewhere with genetics and brain architecture, up it pops again.
OK, I haven't read the book yet, but Mars-Jones has, and thinks Phillips risks giving serious offence by it, and it 'comes uncomfortably close to the bad old days when...mothers were blamed as a matter of course.' Please, Phillips, let's not go there any more. I know psychoanalysts have terminology and meanings all their own, and any psychoanalytic text has to be read carefully so as to keep the old-hat theory separate in one's mind from the good, insightful bits, but maybe modern psychoanalysts should go out of their way a bit more to explain properly when one word has two meanings, so we don't mistake the chisel for the screwdriver.