Seminars at Sainte Anne - Year 2

Origins of the concept

Cynthia Fleury returns here to the origins of psychological trauma, a pathology described for the first time at the end of the 19th century, following frequent train or work-related accidents. The first hypothesis concerning psychological trauma was that of nerve damage caused by a shock; however, the observation of the disorder, even in the absence of physical damage, revealed an emotional component inherent to the trauma. This led to a split between, on the one hand, a belief that psychological trauma was caused by pre-existing neuroses and, on the other hand, a belief that trauma is a pathology entirely attributable to the traumatic event. Oppenheim thus speaks of “disorders of the nervous system caused by injuries that are not directly related to the central nervous organs or the peripheral nervous system, but which are caused by trauma in the broadest sense of the term”.

Trauma: an invasion of the psyche

Louis Crocq later defined trauma as “the phenomenon of the invasion of the psyche and the overwhelming of its defences by the violent excitement associated with the occurrence of an event that threatens the life or integrity of an individual”. The subject would not be able to process the traumatic experience, which is experienced as a foreign object in the psyche. Therapies with multi-modal approaches seem to be the most effective treatments: psychological trauma, which is actually bio-psycho-social, requires appropriate care for each of its parts. Fleury also evokes irreversibility, which must be taken into account as a major component of trauma: quoting Canguilhem, she reiterates the need to imagine a radically new form of life, based on this temporal fact – taking into account both the trauma and its irreversible nature.

The “needs of the self”

Based on Roussillon’s reflections, as well as those of Winnicott and Anzieu, Fleury invites us to consider the “needs of the self” as so many intra- and intersubjective conditions required to process the trauma. The first level of these needs is a “phoric function” which permits the unity of the subject’s psychological life, which is accepted, supported and stimulated by material and human means. The second is a so-called “semaphoric” level, ensuring the recognition of the signifying and symbolic character of all human activity. Finally, the third level concerns the “metaphorical function”, itself a source of meaning: this is the function that is truly symbolic, allowing the production of subjective reference points. For Roussillon, it is precisely this capacity to make sense that makes it possible to develop a capacity for resilience in the face of psychological trauma.

Disillusionment: a paradoxical form of adherence to the world

In “Experience and Poverty”, Benjamin regards the experience of the Second World War as the experience after which nothing is experienced any more – this is why Lacan speaks of a psychological trauma: ‘it creates a hole’. He then suggests starting from this observation – that of impoverished experience – in order to build, in spite of everything and with almost nothing: looking for teachers in resilience, experts of the clean slate – Descartes, Klee, Newton… – he imagines resilience as the abandonment of expectations and normalising preconceptions about what a true experience should be, in order to recognise a form of dignity in every lived experience. Fleury concludes her presentation by reminding us that the essence of treatment is not in fixing things, but above all, in creating them. It is precisely the creative power that is undermined by traumatic experience: care is thus a matter of regaining confidence in one’s own abilities, but also in the ability of others and of the world to make creation and occurrence possible”.