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.