Beyond Indifference and Aversion: The Critical Reception and Belated Acceptance of Behavior Therapy in France

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In 1960s France, behavior therapy attracted the attention of a group of isolated pioneers largely composed of psychiatrists and some experimental psychologists. At the beginning of the 1970s, after a discreet introduction, the development of this movement provoked an adverse reaction related to the French intellectual context, which was characterized by a taste for psychoanalysis. At the height of the Cold War, this new form of therapy was, moreover, seen as a typical product of American culture, and viewed as a technique for mind control that would be incompatible with French humanist values. In this respect, the French rejection of behavioral therapies can also be placed in a broader context, one of anti-Americanism and assertion of the French “cultural exception.” Thus, until the late 1980s, the development of the French behavior therapy movement was weak compared with what happened in the United Kingdom or the United States. Conversely, psychoanalysis reigned unchallenged in the French market for psychotherapy. In the early 1990s, the arrival of cognitive–behavioral therapy made a crucial difference. Hybridized with cognitive techniques, cognitive–behavioral therapy was seen as a “synthetic product” better suited to the French culture in psychotherapy than the initial model of “pure” behavior therapy.

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