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Clark-Williams, Margaret (1910-1975)


A psychologist and psychoanalyst who practiced in France, Margaret Clark-Williams was born in the United States in 1910 to a family of prominent academics; she died in 1975.

At 21 she went first to France, then to Vienna, where she made her initial contacts in psychoanalytic circles. After a period in the United States with her two children, she returned to France in 1945 and began psychoanalysis with Raymond de Saussure, clinical training with Georges Heuyer, and university studies with Daniel Lagache; she also practiced analysis under the supervision of John Leuba. She subsequently worked as a psychotherapist at the recently opened Centre Claude Bernard. Nothing had prepared Clark-Williams, a reserved woman of charm and humor, to become the center of a sensational media affair widely reported in the French press. Major articles on the Clark-Williams Trial, as it became known, appeared in Le Figaro, Paris Presse, Combat, Le Monde, and Libération.

In March 1950 the official Order of Physicians brought legal action against Clark-Williams for illicit practice of medicine "due to the fact that she practices psychoanalysis and, therefore, medicine." By French law (l 'Ordonnance du 24 septembre 1945 ), physicians alone had the right to diagnose and treat illness. However, at the Sorbonne in 1947 Daniel Lagache had created a licence (i.e., master's degree) in psychology, and in 1950 the first graduates sought to put their education to practical use in a therapeutic context.

Meanwhile, a Gaullist cabinet member and non-medical psychoanalyst, Georges Mauco, through the intermediary of the Committees of Population and the Family, had created the Centre Claude Bernard, the first psychopedagogical institution in France, in 1945. The Center boasted two distinctive features. It took account of the fact that the role of emotions had theretofore been neglected in favor of cognitive issues, and it brought the psychoanalyst into the consulting room for the initial interviews. In France this represented the first extension of psychoanalysis into social institutions.

Clark-Williams's trial, which began on December 4, 1951, turned quickly to her advantage. Medically trained analysts attested to her competence and, although she was not a physician, they described her as perfectly qualified to practice psychoanalysis. Dr. Leuba went so far as to request that he sit with the defendant since the accused was one of his former students. Arguments quickly centered on the relationship of medicine and psychoanalysis. Clark-Williams's supporters had no difficulty explaining that, inasmuch as medicine did not officially recognize psychoanalysis, it was in no position to accuse psychoanalysts of practicing medicine illegally.

Analysts Georges Parcheminey and André Berge testified that psychoanalysis did not involve treating an illness but resembled an effort to help a person with "abnormal behavior" to adjust. Daniel Lagache and Juliette Favez-Boutonier suggested that "psychoanalysis is not a medicine but a psychological technique." Jacques Lacan, who did not take part in the trial but became involved at meetings where the issue was debated, offered his view that "it is difficult for doctors to do without the best psychologists."

When the court rendered judgment on March 31, 1952, it ruled to dismiss charges against the defendant. The Order of Physicians appealed and on July 15, 1953, a second verdict found Clark-Williams guilty and imposed the purely symbolic fine of one franc. Contrary to the plaintiffs' intentions, the trial served to advance the cause of psychologists and lay psychoanalysis in France.

Georges Schopp

See also: Berge, André; Bonaparte, Marie Léon; Favez-Boutonier, Juliette; France; Lay analysis; Mauco, Georges; Société psychanalytique de Paris et Institut de psychanalyse de Paris.


Berge, André. (1975). Nécrologie de Margaret Clark Williams. Revue française de psychanalyse, 39 (4), 669-670.

Freud, Sigmund. (1926). The question of lay analysis. SE, 20: 183-250.

Schopp, Georges. (1990). "L'affaire Clark-Williams ou la question de l'analyse laïque en France." Revue internationale d'histoire de la psychanalyse, 3, 199-239.

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