Numéro 5 / juin 2012

Wil, or the open institution

When an adolescent enters our institution, a very long time is occasionally necessary before he latches onto a symptom. By vocalizing his complaint he sets in motion the process of dealing with the symptom, and it is only then that the adolescent truly enters into a treatment plan, one that does not thus necessarily coincide with his admission into the institution. The case of Wil discussed here illustrates the long latency period that can precede work and the manner in which, starting with the avowal of a problem, he uses the treatment, leaves it, and comes back to it, accomplishing brief treatment cycles1 and pushing the institution to innovate in the transferential link that has been woven. Wil entered the institute for the first time at the age of eleven.

The motive for the social services' admission request, following a call for help by his mother, was that he was posing a problem at school because of his refusal to learn and his lack of interest in the knowledge dispensed there. The pre-admission interviews enabled us to confirm that this was an honest position on his part.

Wil never complained about anything and said very little; there were no questions regarding his admission into the institution. He had no symptom. It was nonetheless important for him to be recognized as "resourceful" (debrouillard), a signifier by which his mother designated him. We thus isolated, at the moment of his entry into the institution, a rather "inflated" manic position, one that signaled that any form of breach could very well be the hole through which the subject might entirely disappear.

If Wil nonetheless admitted to wanting to enter within our walls, it was because he had encountered an educator who could be a paternal figure of reference for him, an ideal. We thus had here, against a background of total confusion (brouillard total) covered over with an opaque identification of "resourceful" (débrouillard) a first appeal to the Other. It was the condition of entry into the institution for him, and thus for us.

What did Wil do during this first period of separation from his mother? The meeting reports, in which he was discussed, evoked above all a mapping onto his friends from the life-group. Identificatory and marked by rivalry, it was the imaginary axis that led the way in this first slice of institutional life.

At sixteen, a turning point: Wil lost the imaginary support that the small band of toughs that he belonged to constituted for him and which the institution dissolved by reorganizing the resident groups. He found himself with no possibility of "doing like the others" (I refer here to the formula that he gave regarding the problem and to the solution that he found: "As long as I do like the others, I won't have any problems"). His psychosis was triggered and he began to report fringe phenomena: the institution became uncanny and he no longer understood people because they “talked weird".

In addition, the death of his father precipitated the conviction that he had to watch over his mother and regulate her alcoholism.

Wil then demanded and obtained a reorganization of the care plan, becoming a day resident only. I underline here the interest, the originality in the apparently contradictory character of the request that the institution addressed to the administrative authority: although he was doubtlessly doing worse, something relating to the bond with his mother had finally been spoken in a symptomatic mode. We asked the administration to follow up on the prescription for reduced custody that would permit him to "watch over his mother".

The request was favorably received and allowed us to avoid a pure and simple passage to the act in the form of an exit from the institution or some other desperate act. The appeal made to the institutional Other was heard and processed without attempting to operate a cut between the subject and his object. What thus prevailed in our decision was the attempt at a symptomatization, a putting to work, not a forced choice of "inside or outside", not a cure.

From this moment on, Wil was able to speak with an educator during the daytime about this impossible bond with his mother.

One year later, a new turning point: the supervision of his mother turned to violence. Wil admitted that things had taken a mortifying direction – kill her rather than live such a degradation – and appealed to the institution to shelter him. He was not very warm to the idea of returning to live there but he said that he would accept communal life for a few months if, at the end of the procedure, he was given a studio in town through the Courtil Studios program. He specified that he would like to move there with his dog, a rottweiler that had not left him since he went back to live in his mother's public housing development.

A short time after his entry, his openly paranoiac position irrupted: the institutional Other hedged, moved the deadline, tricked him, didn't hear him, didn't give him what he expected and what he thought he had a right to: a studio. The school where, for better or for worse, he was enrolled in cooking classes was at fault as well, was "after him". He didn't understand what was wanted of him: it wasn't for him, it wasn't what he wanted to do...

Wil's year at the Student House nonetheless allowed him, with the help of an educator, to construct a discourse for the future, in which he saw himself "becoming a cab driver for the institution," he specified. He also specified the procedure that he had set for himself: work to earn money, get his driver's license, buy a car and then a cab driver's badge. He wanted to be autonomous – here we should hear that the Other and his desire are always a little too present, not barred enough.

What can we say about this time spent at the institute? Without a doubt he had to work very hard: work to reduce the Other to a code that would send him the least number of messages possible but which would guarantee that there was, nonetheless, a code at his disposal, the usage of which could be his through our support.

Wil wanted to work, stop studying, and immediately start making his own money. We therefore indicated to him that the institute welcomed precisely those who had difficulties at school or work. It was thus a clear response regarding the limits of our work and not a piece of orientation advice.

This determined him to look in his family circle for employment, for a paid job, and he left us, not without manifesting anxiety at losing this mapping, this interlocutor that the institution had become for him.

We then indicated to him that we would keep his file open for a year with the permission of the administration. This openness, a suspension at the edge of the break, reassured him, and he was able to leave the Student House a month before his eighteenth birthday.

One year later and, more precisely, one month after we asked the administration to close his file, Wil made an appeal in the form of a letter addressed to me in which he said the following: "I wanted to know what the active life was and it taught me that I needed to have some baggage as well as experience to acquire a full-time job and a decent living salary". He said that he was "available for a interview" and asked me to make an appointment for him. He presented himself with all of the appearances of a young man who had learned "about life"; he had worked; he had learned, so he said, to present himself well; he had obtained his driver's license.

Underneath his words ran, nonetheless, the impossible:

- the confrontation with his mother. He had, however, made an important step here: he no longer had the idea that he absolutely had to come to his mother's rescue.

- something like an alternating structure in his way of living: work to have a car, have a car to work: in short, always postpone the singular goal to be attained.

Wil thus asked to begin another training program but insisted that it be in the hosting structure of the Courtil Studios. We estimated him to be mature enough for the program and in a less paranoiac position, or in any case non-demanding regarding what the institution owed him. He consented to part with his dog, a preliminary condition for entering into the studio and one that he accepted without too much difficulty, this forced choice permitting him to determine himself in favor of a project and not a defense.

We then asked and obtained from the administration a new modality of custody, not on the grounds of his desire to obtain a certificate (the administration signaled to us that such was not the mission of our institution) but because he seemed to us to have encountered a new impasse in his existence.

His assumption of a studio demonstrated amply that he cannot localize himself in the knowledge of the Other with its imperatives and its ideals; the apprenticeship contract remained closed to him. He demonstrated this immediately by a punctilious opposition to the scheduling constraints and then by mental block when he decided to take a rehabilitation test that he rapidly and with relief gave up on.

Otherwise he has conformed to all of the formalities necessary to become the owner of a used car and to handle everything these forms entail (code, license, administrative documents, insurance). Since then he spends his days in relative peace in his studio, driving at the wheel of his car between Tournai and his city of origin, between the front desk, his studio, and the studio of his friends, on the lookout for a job and maybe, later, for a training program.



1Cf. Miller Jacques-Alain, La conversation de Barcelone, Effets therapeutiques rapides en psychanalyse, Collection du Paon, 2005, particularly pages 72-75 in which he takes up the question of a theory of cycles in the analytic cure.