A ‘Balkanized’ Profession: French Psychologists and the State (1945–1985)

By Thomas Le Bianic

This article examines the role of the State in the professionalization of psychology in France since the post-war period. It is shown that psychologists have used two distinct strategies in their quest for professional status. First, they have strived to create labor market shelters in various segments of the state apparatus since post-war, especially in the fields of health-care and education. Simultaneously, professional organizations and trade unions have tried to unify the profession, defending the idea of a “single status” and a unique regulation for all psychologists, whatever their field of practice. These strategies have proved largely incompatible, which explains the current difficulties met by the psychological profession to gain legitimacy, especially in their jurisdictional disputes with physicians and psychoanalysts. In the first section, we show that the emergence of professional psychology in post-war France is more the result of the growing needs expressed by public welfare administrations, than the product of the initiatives of the profession itself, which remains very fragmented in the period. From the 1970’s onwards, there is a great expansion of psychology at the university and social demands increase rapidly. However, the attempts to unify the profession are confronted with the great heterogeneity of status and regulations within the administration. Professional associations manage to unify during a short period between 1980 and 1985 and obtain a legal protection of the title in 1985, but this minimalist regulation proves insufficient to overcome the strong “balkanization” of the profession.

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