“Popular and religious beliefs do not exclude science” [Interview]

“From jinns to psychoanalysis, a new approach to traditional and contemporary practices” is the new work of Dr. Jalil Bennani, recently published by Les presses du réel, in the Al Dante collection. In six parts, the psychiatrist and psychoanalyst’s book examines the so-called “popular” practices in the treatment of people with mental illness.

The book also offers a global approach taking into account the particular context and situations of patients, in order to articulate the discourse of beliefs with that of science and language.

In this book, you explain that supernatural spirits are considered responsible for mental disorders, according to popular belief. At a time when ancestral practices are harsh, how can psychoanalysis include magical-religious beliefs to gain acceptance of modern healing?

First of all, it is necessary to specify that the patients who turn to the psychoanalyst go in search of other solutions, remedies and answers to their suffering. This happens very often when traditional methods have not been enough to help them, other times because they themselves are looking for something else. Then they sell on their own or on the advice of family or relatives. That doesn’t mean they’re taking their beliefs away from me. Even if they are looking for another remedy, they need to be listened to in their belief because it gives them meaning and allows them to explain their suffering. Refusing to listen to them would be a mistake, a way of denying them in their subjectivity and belonging to the community. The doubts they express about the causes of what is happening to them may lead them to seek another discourse.

What is essential in these cases is to listen to and heed his words. It is with the language that I work, through the words that come from the subjects themselves and that make them aware of their involvement in what is happening to them. From then on, they no longer attribute their ailments only to external causes, that is, supernatural forces, relatives, neighbors, designated enemies, and so on.

In your book, you get Gaston Bachelard’s concept of epistemological rupture. Is it possible to contradict the past by articulating a discourse that combines belief (of this past) and science?

It is not a question of contradicting the past but of seeing its effects in the present. We exist in the present and the past remains active in us. Bachelard says that “in the formation of a scientific mind, the first obstacle is the first experience, it is the experience before and above criticism which, in itself, is necessarily an integral element of the scientific spirit. .. “. It is a matter of not being carried away by nature, but of advancing towards the scientific spirit.

It is therefore a matter of moving towards a rational approach which is that of the scientific approach. This has been done by medical scholars and Arab philosophers. They described symptoms, prescribed medications, gave importance to health prevention through food and the environment. They were followed centuries later by psychiatrists who established classifications, then psychoanalysts who focused on subjective factors. All these theories, combined with practice, went in search of rational causes. This reasoning does not eliminate beliefs, but fights against the charlatanism that irrational beliefs can engender.

In psychoanalysis and in many psychotherapies, we start from the patient’s past history to articulate it in the present, we question the patient’s links with his family and social group, the trigger of his disorders, the duration of the disease … a matter of historicizing the present. A search for the intelligibility of symptoms, causes and meanings, everything we define as psychopathology can lead to the rationality and detachment of primary beliefs in their irrationality and assumptions. If the approach evolves in this direction, we can say that psychotherapeutic and psychoanalytic work is advancing. Otherwise, the patient may cling to his initial beliefs and it is not in these cases that the psychoanalyst tries to get away with it against his will.

In the context of Morocco, how to find a conciliatory ground between local traditions and the scientific contribution of psychoanalysis, where the family of the sufferer can come together to help their loved one in their therapy?

I must tell you, as far as I am concerned, that being a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, my approach can move from a medical position to a psychoanalytic approach through language and the exploration of the unconscious mechanisms that reside in everyone, sick. or not.

Therefore, I can begin with a medical prescription to associate it with an in-depth listening to the history of individuals, their inner conflicts, their inhibitions. When patients no longer need medication, I can only see them in interviews, more or less spaced for a variable duration for each. This is what defines psychotherapy: a therapeutic effect independent of pharmacological means.

Depending on the situation, and on a case-by-case basis, depending on the family, the environment, the beliefs, the patients may coexist with one approach or another, traditional and contemporary, or one or the other successively. Popular and religious beliefs do not exclude science. Patients and their relatives often speak of the “sabab”, saying in these cases that the consultation is a “pretext” and that “it is God who heals”. We are witnessing back and forth between this or that approach, this or that belief, but most of the time it is a domain of one or the other.

According to your experience in the field for several decades, by what mechanism can irrational folk traditions feed a rational approach in a process of transmission?

This question is very important because it allows me to point out that rationality exists in both traditional and modern practices. But they are not of the same order. There are two discourses, one on traditional practices and one on contemporary practices. Two discourses that are articulated and can be complemented or excluded. It is the patient, not the therapist, who moves from one place to another. Take the example of magic. You know very well that it coexists with religious beliefs and should be differentiated. Belief in science also exists and may have its irrational part, but it can evolve into rationality.

Alongside traditional practices, magic could lead to scientific discoveries such as astronomy, physics, and chemistry. When it comes to words, they carry a certain magic. Words can make symptoms go away, they can make you happy or sad. This power of words is what founded the psychoanalytic technique. But unlike magic, it is through the analysis of the relationship that is established with the psychoanalyst that is called transference, through the interpretation of words, stories, and behaviors that psychoanalysis helps to take a step forward. an articulation from one speech to another. The patient may find himself released, detached from his fears, inhibitions, and symptoms.

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