Academic journal article American Journal of Psychotherapy

General Introduction to the Psychotherapy of Pierre Janet

Academic journal article American Journal of Psychotherapy

General Introduction to the Psychotherapy of Pierre Janet

Article excerpt

This article deals with Pierre Janet's concept of "Psychological Analysis" (analyse psychologique). It brings out Janet's criticism of Sigmund Freud's ideas, and delineates the difference between psychological analysis (Janet) and psychoanalysis (Freud), Further it points out that Janet's theories on the pathogenesis of neurotic disorders rely on the concept of psychic trauma and associated fixed ideas. Mental force and mental tension, described in greater detail, are essential for the pathogenesis of mental disorders. According to Janet, a significant characteristic of the neurotically disturbed person is a feature that Von Gebsattel calls "Werdenshemmung" ("inhibition of becoming"), a state which impairs the life development of the ill person.


Pierre Janet (1859-1947) began his scientific career as philosopher, psychologist, and psychotherapist before Sigmund Freud and practiced it for longer. Yet his work has been to a large extent unjustly forgotten as, like many scientific theories, it did not provide the starting point for a whole new (social) movement. His work is more matter-of-fact and less speculative than that of Freud and is well suited as the starting point for the new formulation of a scientific depth psychology, as is essential for the explanation and treatment of dissociative disorders and conversion disorders.

Janet was a patient and tireless observer. "Psychological Analysis," ("analyse psychologique"), as he termed his method, aimed at an exact exploration of both current and past conditions of life and life events, as well as exhaustive observation and description of behavior.

Janet thus pursued not only nomothetic research, i.e., looking for scientific laws or regular patterns, but also idiographic research based on the individual case. He justified this with a psychology for the individual necessarily arising from practical psychology, which itself proceeds from generalizations, in order to best serve the individual. This idiographic approach was pursued by Janet using his method, i.e., psychological analysis. He regarded this as the essential method for a psychology of the individual that concerns itself with those characteristics that differentiate one individual from another. According to Janet, this individualized approach to psychological analysis makes it impossible to give a definitive and generally applicable set of rules for the method, as unprecedented changes and circumstances may always arise. Janet expressed this in the following words: "Psychological analysis is the essential method for a psychology of the individual that aims to seek out those characteristic behavioral patterns that distinguish one individual from another. If this is so, then it is impossible to describe in a generalized way the rules and methods of a psychological analysis" (1, p. 369).


Pierre Janet was born in Paris on May 30, 1859, and died there on February 24, 1947. After finishing high school, he went to the Ecole Normale Superieure, one of the elite schools of France. After completing his studies there, he first taught philosophy at a grammar school in Chateauroux and then at one in Le Havre. There he also did voluntary work in a hospital and engaged in psychiatric research. This research was the basis for his thesis in philosophy entitled "L'Automatisme Psychologique" in the year 1889.

After a time, he returned to Paris and began, concurrently with his professional and research activities, the study of medicine, which he completed in 1893 with a thesis entitled "L'Etat Mental des Hysteriques."

This was followed by work in the psychological laboratory at the Salpetriere. Janet can be regarded as the founder of medical or clinical psychology in France. In addition, Janet continued to teach, first in Paris grammar schools, later at the Sorbonne and, starting in 1902, at the College de France. After completing his medical studies he opened his own practice and also treated patients at a private sanatorium in Vanves. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.