Numéro 8 / novembre 2012

Seizing the small, singular detail

"The psychoanalyst is he who knows how to be an object; how, a priori, to want nothing for the good of the other; how to be without prejudice regarding the good use to which he can be put", says Jacques-Alain Miller. It is under these conditions that the child who arrives at an institution has a chance of making a fortunate encounter. From the moment of arrival on we have reason to elaborate on any singular indications from the subject that might enable him to decide to enter.

Having a room on the ground floor

Arthur entered the institute following our realization of an expression of relief on his part. While visiting the premises of the wing where he might eventually be accommodated, Arthur exclaimed, beaming: "Ah! Here I'll be OK because I can have a room that isn't on the second floor." I then responded, without hesitation: "Now that's a very good reason to come to the Courtil. You can have a room right here." I designated an unoccupied room. "This one will be yours." Having thus committed myself well before discussing it with my colleagues, it was up to me to persuade them to take him in.

But why then had I allowed myself to make a commitment to him so quickly? Arthur's comment had resonated with what I knew about him already regarding several dramatic events in his life.

Arthur began to be assisted by an educational aide at the age of six, and his difficulties became more aggravated two years later. His school informed the district attorney that Arthur had come to school with bruises on his face; the child accused his father and his brother of having beaten him. Emergency supervision measures were put in place. Arthur's mother did not tolerate the intervention of social services and feared that her children might be taken away from her. Arthur's father accused her of being incapable of raising them. Arthur himself was doing worse and worse and committed several suicidal passages to the act.

At school he attempted to throw himself over the banister of a staircase. He claimed not to remember anything but complained of having violent headaches. He was then hospitalized in a state of emergency in the pedopsychiatry department. He remained there for five days. During this stay Arthur was calm and respected the rules of the hospital.  A complete physical exam presented no anomalies and he was then sent to a health clinic before changing schools.

One month later, Arthur tried to run away by jumping out of the taxi that was taking him to school.  Then, over the course of one week, he twice attempted to jump out of a third floor window, both times being stopped just in time. It is difficult to apprehend what provokes these "crisis" states; he is unable to say anything about them. The academic inspector was warned and Arthur was taken out of school. He was brought to us by the state, who asked the "La Sagesse" institute to take particular care of him.

Arthur was admitted to a first group at the institution and immediately had difficulty adjusting. At night he refused to go inside and claimed that he didn't have a room. The obligation to go inside made him very angry and he smashed a tile.

Following these events, Arthur confided to the director that he heard music and voices, including the voice of a man that ordered him not to go inside and also to throw himself out of the window: "It says, 'throw yourself.'" Arthur explained to the psychiatrist who was following up on him at the health clinic that he wanted to rejoin his dead grandmother.

Bernard Seynhaeve, the co-director of the Courtil, asked me to meet him. I received Arthur for the first time with his mother. He remained stuck to her body. His father refused to come. The interview was very poor in substance. Arthur's mother had little to say about life with her children. Rather than speak, she confirmed the interpretations of the social worker who spoke in her place. She became animated only when she avowed that she did everything with her children, all of them together so as not to create jealousy between them.

Following this interview, Arthur agreed to come with me to visit the institution. It was during our walk that I accepted his proposition to come to the Courtil, to "occupy a room that is not upstairs".

What thus appeared to me, in his request for a room on the ground floor, was a direct connection with something in the Courtil that quite simply had to do with the layout of the premises and which might have a very concrete effect on what made up the drama of his life.

A goldfish, yes ! But not in the bathtub.

My cellphone rang; it was Bernard: "Veronique, I have here next to me a little girl, Anna, who would like to make an appointment with you. Have you got a few minutes this morning to meet her?" He put Anna on the phone. Both of us were caught off guard. I agreed to meet her.

When I got there 15 minutes later, Bernard suggested that she tell me what she had confided to him. She then told me: "When someone speaks to me I hear voices in my head that say the same thing. When I speak they do too and it bothers me. At my residence I have fits..."

We did not question her about these phenomena because Anna had already understood that we had heard her and that I had acknowledged what she said. We did, however, speak about her true passion for the multitudes of animals that she and her mother took in. Anna agreed to come back with her mother for an interview a week later.

Anna had been institutionalized since the age of three. Mother and daughter have always had trouble separating. Most recently, following the suicide attempt of her mother, Anna and her little brother had been put in foster care.

With each of her mother's visits, the moment of separation was particularly difficult. Anna put in place a little ritual in order that this moment be more bearable for her: after saying goodbye to her mother and to the cat that accompanied them, Anna watched her mother leave and waved to her. One day she saw her mother take another route than usual. Anna fell apart and, screaming, said to the educator who was watching her: "Mommy is going to get lost! She went the wrong way. I want to look out of the window. Mommy is lost." The educator attempted to reassure her: "Your mommy is an adult, she knows the way; she can get there by going that way also." Anna became aggressive, struck the window, and cut her hand badly. Afterwards, Anna would not stop making things impossible for herself at the center in order to "go home to Mommy". She complained that she no longer wanted to live at the center. She wanted to stay with her mother and her menagerie.

Anna visited the institution while I was having a meeting with her mother. Once back, the educator that had accompanied her remarked: "Well, Anna noticed all the bird's nests in the trees. I had never seen that there were so many of them!" I exclaimed: "Where? So there are that many birds who nest at the Courtil?" Anna followed me and participated with enthusiasm in our conversation, and then insisted on coming to the institute as quickly as possible. After being here for a few days, Anna asked permission to bring some animals that she liked to the institute: "A fish in its aquarium Agreed!" said the director.

But Anna was quite overburdened with the animals that she had adopted. "He'll take his baths with me!", she said of the goldfish that she didn't have yet. Will Anna's goldfish be able to stay in its aquarium? Not so sure! We will nonetheless have to find a way to guarantee this with her.

Like Arthur, Anna has taken from the setting of the institute a small detail that is important in her life and makes it heard, makes it resonate. Seized and fastened upon, this small detail produces an encounter and opens up a field where the subject will have the chance to construct himself.