Reductio ad traumatum

In 1933, two servant girls in Le Mans, France, Christine and Léa Papin, murdered two of their employers.(1) Madame Lancelin and her adult daughter were bludgeoned and knived repeatedly, to the point of unrecognisability. Each had their eyes gouged out. The Papin sisters had spent much of their young lives in institutional care. Their family had a history of incestuous abuse, and at least one of their relatives had died by suicide. Continue reading

Against ‘objective’ tests

One of the effects of the anti-subjective, objectifying approach in psychology and psychiatry is to leave subjects themselves in an alienated position with respect to their own suffering. Forms of misery which are by definition subjective – melancholia, grief, anxiety, or even physical pain, for that matter – can seem to have no validity unless ‘verified’ in some ‘objective’ form (a blood test, or psychometric scale, etc).

This is an unfortunate position, as it mistakenly treats that which is subjective as if it were non-existent outside of these tests. It leads to absurdity, as grief (for example) is no less real or horrendous for being impossible to quantify. The impulse to seek for ‘objective’ measures of pain implicitly devalues the speech of the suffering subject, and also implicitly posits their disposition, as one in which they are not personally implicated. After all, why examine your life if your most profound and intimate experiences are reducible to neurochemical effects? It also assumes that one person’s suffering is essentially the same as another’s – homogenous – and that it is merely a matter of numbers, of degree on a scale. It is true that speech and subjectivity are clinically and scientifically ‘messy’, but this does not justify rejecting them through objectification.

I cannot see anything in this demand for objectification that is respectful toward private suffering, supportive of therapeutic effects, or grounded in rigorous thinking.