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Janet, Pierre - Healing Achille



Type of Spiritual Experience


A description of the experience


derived from “Un cas de possession et l’exorcisme moderne.” In Névroses et idées fixes, Vol. 1. Paris: Alcan, 1898b.

Janet was an eclectic therapist who borrowed from the old “magnetic” techniques and continued, if needed, to use hypnotic suggestion long after it had lost the respect of many of his colleagues; he had no fear of playing the pedagogue, the spiritual guide, or even the exorcist. Indeed he adopted practices associated with Catholicism, as for instance in the case of Achille , a patient who presented all the classical features of demonic possession.

After failing to hypnotize Achille, Janet reports, he had the idea of acting like a “modern exorcist” and addressing himself to the Devil. He discovered by this means that Achille had had an extramarital affair, and, suffering the effects of remorse, had been harboring a “dream,” which was subconscious, in which he felt he was damned and possessed by the Devil.

Janet conducted the treatment in such a way that Achille forgot both his transgression and his remorse.  In this case history, Janet noted,

Knowing how to forget is sometimes as much a quality as knowing how to learn, because forgetting is prerequisite to moving forward, to progress, to life itself.… One of the most valuable contributions that pathological psychology could make would be to discover a reliable way to precipitate the forgetting of specific psychological phenomena” (Janet, 1898b, p. 404).

Janet’s chief therapeutic concern here was apparently not a cathartic retrieval of memories, as promoted at the same period by Freud and Breuer, but rather a process of learning how to forget.

The source of the experience

Janet, Pierre

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