My Janet. A story of investigation





Reprinted from : FEDUNINA, N. (2006). My Janet. A story of investigation. Janetian Studies,

Actes des conf. du 27 mai 2006, No Spťcial 01, pp. 7-8.



†††††††† He threw a thought into the air

†††††††† It fell on earth, I knew not where.

†††††††† For so swiftly it flew, the sight

†††††††† Couldnít follow it in its flight

††††††††††††††††††††††††††† Nearly Longfellow



I know, this title doesnít look like a title for a serious study or talk. And frankly speaking, Iím not going to deliver such a speech. Rather Iím going to share with you both my excitement and my failures concerning Pierre Janet, his theory and psychotherapeutic practice, as well as my nowadays aims of research.


Basically I was very much attracted and inspired by the combination of philosophy and medicine, by the possibility of combining clinical practice and general academic grasp, reflection on oneís experience. And actually this factor determined my choice of exploration and application of Janetís theory.


I really was charmed by his books, both their contents and the way they were written, the very style of presenting the material. But you know, itís not enough just to be charmed, well, at least in science. My first major aim was to make Janet known for my colleagues, both academic researchers and therapists. And to achieve it I wrote a dissertation, thesis on Janet, and several articles. But unfortunately that was far from being enough. The fate of dissertations is quite known. Millions of PhD dissertations are written annually in Russia, millions of them find their honorable place in the library. To make things even worse, history of psychology is usually being treated in Russia as something having to do with nostalgia, with remains of the past, with archeological ruins, which are good to be viewed as curiosities for 2 days before excavators will throw them away to replace them by a nice skyscraper, modern, convenient, up to date.


But as the memory, according to Janet, has to do both with the past and with the present, the same with the ďartifactsĒ of the past. We admire Shakespeare, Pushkin, Goethe, we consider Notre Dame as one of the most marvelous creations Ė they are not just history, the past, they are the present. And I thought that Janetian system is also an art, which should be admired as it can change smth in us, as it can make us understand ourselves better. Art of both therapeutic practice and thinking about it. What makes us return to the past? In poetry Ė thatís the art of the word, in architecture Ė the art of building, giving voice and beauty to stone or wood. In science thatís probably the art of thought, way of thinking, some paths of thought that may be new or forgotten or just never before taken. These are the ways of thinking about the universe, about the atom, about a human being, about grief and joy, about consolation. And I wanted the most to show these paths and to follow them, to try to walk in the shoes of Janet, to follow his thought. And I tried. And I failed.


My first failure was connected with Janetís concept of present as a form of memory. The presence is probably the place of fusion of two genius books on personality and memory. I was absolutely charmed by it, and decided to operationalize it and to add an empirical, an experimental part to my purely theoretical paper. I wanted to explore the conditions and the consequences as well as the very process of present. Probably not to measure itís duration, but to find out smth about the type of presence which the present implies, about the way of experiencing it, personal attitudes connected to the present, the way it influences the way of being. Iíve found a lot of interesting facts about it. For example, in Russian one word ďnastoyaschiiĒ is used for both ďpresentĒ and ďrealĒ. To accomplish this goal I needed to go several floors downstairs from a philosophic, partially clinically proved notion to an experiment-ready concept. At that time, 4-5 years ago I couldnít come up with a decent experimental plan. I couldnít think of experimental material, of the ways to stimulate and preserve this state. And I also had little understanding of what to measure and how. How is it possible to measure an intense sense ďIím aliveĒ, this peak personal experience? Will it change the way of memorization the things? How? Or shall we search for consequences is some other realms? It is very vividly seen in psychotherapy, in clinical practice. But what about the possibilities of disclosure in experimental psychology? Well, probably if I get some grant for this research, Iíll continue it one day. Thatís really a breath-taking topic.


My second failure is much more recent. I really very much admire Onno van der Hartís and his colleagues book on structural dissociation. Janetian psychotherapy was so logically taken as a basis, as a ground, which gives shape to the way of thinking about psychotherapy of trauma. Right now Iím working in the realm of psycho-oncology (the ongoing trauma), and my therapeutic basis is in humanistic psychotherapy, which is quite different from Janetian. So know, thinking about my own possible style or even system of psychotherapy, Iím thinking of the ways of integration, of application (actually, right know in the beginning of my psychotherapeutic work, application of any theory or even skill is a difficult process for my). And I decided that what I need most of all now is to get deep understanding of Janetian psychotherapy, its evolution.


Of course I would like to write a book on Janet, on his psychology and psychotherapy. But insights in his system of psychotherapy, on the basis of which he managed to develop a general psychological theory of psyche, - thatís the realm in my nowadays investigations in this realm.