To the Editor: In his important plea for a greater recognition and appreciation of traumatic dissociation, David Spiegel, M.D., refers to Pierre Janet’s dissociationist model of psychopathology, stating that “Janet used the term desaggregation mentale, which is poorly translated by the word ‘dissociation’.” Apart from mentioning that the French concept is désagrégation, it should be pointed out that, here, Dr. Spiegel repeated a common misunderstanding among North American students of dissociation (e.g., 1).
It is true that in L’automatisme psychologique(2), Janet spoke of désagrégation, actually désagrégation psychologique. As far as we have been able to ascertain, it was only the second (1893 edition) that he also used the expression désagrégation mentale. However, both before and after this monumental publication (3), he regularly used the term dissociation (e.g., 4, 5), thereby following a tradition that may have started with Moreau de Tours (6, 7). Consequently, Janet’s use of the term dissociation in his Harvard lectures (published in 1907) (8), for example, was not the simple result of translation. Rather, his use of the word dissociation reflected prior usage of the term by himself and others in French publications. Thus the term dissociation as evidenced in the literature today was present in the French literature prior to Janet and does not owe its psychiatric existence to being the closest English translation for the French term désagrégation.
1.Perry C, Laurence, JR: Mental processing outside of awareness: The contribution of Freud and Janet, in The Unconscious Reconsidered. Edited by Bower K, Meichenbaum D. New York, Wiley, 1984, pp 9–482.Janet P: L’automatisme psychologique. Paris, Félix Alcan, 18893.Nemiah JC: Janet redivivus: The centenary of L’automatisme psychologique. Am J Psychiatry 1989; 146: 1527–15294.Janet P: L’anesthésie systématisée et la dissociation des phénomènes psychologiques. Revue Philosophique 1887; 23: 449–4725.Janet P: L’amnésie et la dissociation des souvenirs par l’émotion. Journal de Psychologie 1904;1:417–4536.Moreau de Tours JJ: Du haschish et de l’Aliénation mentale: Études Psychologiques. Paris, Fortin, Masson, and Cie, 1845, English edition. Hashish and Mental Illness. New York, Raven Press, 19737.Van der Hart O, Horst R: The dissociation theory of Pierre Janet. J Traumatic Stress 1989; 2:397–4128.Janet P: The Major Symptoms of Hysteria: Fifteen Lectures Given in the Medical School of Harvard University. New York, MacMillan, 1907