“Le packing” is a treatment for autistic children used in France where, the August 25th Lancet notes, it is causing an “outcry.”
“Outcry” strikes me as a bit of an understatement, personally speaking: When I hear the word “packing,” the associations that come to mind are about sending some not welcome person “packing,” or about a certain industry involving meat, and keeping it refrigerated.
“Le packing” involves something similar. According to The Lancet (with some editorial comments by me):
The therapy, called packing, involves wrapping a child tightly in wet sheets that have been placed in the refrigerator for up to an hour. When children are encased in this damp cocoon—with only their head left free—-psychiatrically trained staff talk to them about their feelings. [I'm presuming this means that the staff get the children to talk about the children's own feelings though the sentence reads as if the staff talk to the children about the staff's own feelings] Typically, the treatment is repeated several times a week, and depending on the results and the severity of the child’s condition, it can continue for months or even years.
“Months or even years”?
“Le packing,” it seems, is not only being practiced on autistic children, but is being studied to see if it is effective. (Just from reading about what “le packing” involves, I will venture to say that I am not sure why it is being studied, much less put to use, at all.)
The man who pioneered packing for children, Pierre Delion, is head of the child and adolescent psychiatry unit at Lille Regional University Hospital in northern France. He says that it reinforces childrens’ consciousness of their bodily limits, which in some psychiatric conditions becomes fragmented. He recommends that the technique be used for three types of patient: severely autistic children who self-harm; psychotic children; and, more rarely, children with anorexia. Referring to the first category, he has written: “In our experience of packing, self-harming behaviour very often disappears.”
Well, if one is wrapped in wet and cold sheets, perhaps one might become numb—lose bodily sensations—stop moving…..
The Lancet continues:
Forms of wrapping or envelopment—for example, in mud or clay—have been used therapeutically for centuries. The idea of using it to calm violent patients was conceived in Germany in the 19th century, and packing was routinely applied at Chestnut Lodge—-an asylum in Rockville, Maryland—in the 1950s.
A decade later, American psychiatrist Michael Woodbury brought it to France, where it was embraced by the influential psychoanalytic movement, whose founder was Sigmund Freud. Psychoanalysts found that Woodbury’s philosophy dovetailed with ideas they had about children’s development [my emphasis]. One psychoanalytic theory holds, for example, that packing can help children to dismantle the defensive behaviours they developed at an early age, to protect themselves from a dysfunctional relationship with their mother.
“Psychoanalysts found that Woodbury’s philosophy dovetailed with ideas they had about children’s development”: Was the idea for “le packing” devised because psychoanalysts in France found that the procedure fit with their theories, but not necessarily with an actual child’s experience? Is this a case of “theory” that turns into “practise” that sounds more than a little like “torture” to me?
Views from France about “le packing” can be read on this Forum Autisme.