The narrative structure of psychiatric reports

Int J Law Psychiatry. 2006 Jan-Feb;29(1):1-12. doi: 10.1016/j.ijlp.2004.01.012. Epub 2005 Nov 3.


The present contribution illustrates the findings of a research about the narrative structure of psychiatric expertise. We have analysed a sample of nine expertises, using the methodology proposed by Roland Barthes in his book S/Z, in which he applies it to Honoré de Balzac's "Sarrasine". Barthes suggests that every narrative is characterized by the presence of five codes (hermeneutical, proairetic, semantic, symbolic and referential): we have searched for them in the expertises, but we have also observed the presence of many lapsus calami. As for our results, we have interpreted the massive presence of symbolic code in an expertise as a proof of the elaboration of the horror elicited by crime in the expert's narrative and, on the other side, the presence of referential code as the proof of the incapacity to treat such feeling and the necessity to defend himself from it. In this vision, lapsuses arise when the expert is astonished by the horror of the crime, and does not succeed in elaborating it either by using symbolic code or through his cultural resources (referential code). Finally, some reflections are made upon the difficulty for the voice of the defendant to be heard in the texts written about him.

MeSH terms

  • Documentation / methods*
  • Humans
  • Narration*
  • Psychiatry / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Psychiatry / methods*
  • Semantics