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French: suggestion

Psychiatric Definition

In nineteenth-century French psychiatry, the term "suggestion" referred to the use of hypnosis to remove neurotic symptoms; while the patient was in a state of hypnosis, the doctor would "suggest" that the symptoms would disappear.

Sigmund Freud

Taking his cue from the French psychiatrists Charcot and Bernheim, Freud began using suggestion to treat neurotic patients in the 1880s.


However, he became increasingly dissatisfied with suggestion, and thus came to abandon hypnosis and develop psychoanalysis.

The reasons for Freud's dissatisfaction with hypnosis are hence fundamental for understanding the specific nature of psychoanalysis.

However, it is beyond the scope of this article to enter into a detailed discussion of these reasons.


Suffice it to say that in Freud's later work the term "suggestion" comes to represent a whole set of ideas which Freud associates with hypnosis and which is thus diametrically opposed to psychoanalysis.

Jacques Lacan

Following Freud, Lacan uses the term "suggestion" to designate a whole range of deviations from true psychoanalysis (deviations which Lacan also refers to as "psychotherapy"), of which the following are perhaps the most salient:

Direction Toward Moral Value

1. Suggestion includes the idea of directing the patient towards some ideal or some moral value.
In opposition to this, Lacan reminds analysts that their task is to direct the treatment, not the patient.[1]
Lacan is opposed to any conception of psychoanalysis as a normative process of social influence.

Resistance to Treatment

2. Suggestion also arises when the patient's resistance is seen as something that must be liquidated by the analyst.
Such a view is completely foreign to psychoanalysis, argues Lacan, since the analyst recognizes that a certain residue of resistance is inherent in the structure of the treatment.

Interpretation, Signification and Meaning

3. In suggestion, the interpretations of the therapist are orientated around signification, whereas the analyst orientates his interpretations around meaning (sens) and its correlate, nonsense.
Thus whereas in psychotherapy there is an attempt to avoid the ambiguity and equivocation of discourse, it is precisely this ambiguity which psychoanalysis thrives on.


Suggestion has a close relation with transference.[2]

If transference involves the analysand attributing knowledge to the analyst, suggestion refers to a particular way of responding to this attribution.

Position of the Analyst

Lacan argues that the analyst must realize that he only occupies the position of one who is presumed (by the analysand) to know, without fooling himself that he really does possess the knowledge attributed to him.

In this way, the analyst is able to transform the transference into "an analysis of suggestion."[3]

Suggestion, on the other hand, arises when the analyst assumes the position of one who really does know.

Hypnosis and Psychoanalysis

Like Freud, Lacan sees hypnosis as the model of suggestion.

In Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego, Freud shows how hypnotism makes the object converge with the ego-ideal.[4]

To put this in Lacanian terms, hypnotism involves the convergence of the object a and the I.

Psychoanalysis involves exactly the opposite, since "the fundamental mainspring of the analytic operation is the maintenance of the distance between I - identification - and the a."[5].

See also


  1. Lacan, Jacques. Écrits: A Selection. Trans. Alan Sheridan. London: Tavistock Publications, 1977. p.227
  2. Lacan, Jacques. Écrits: A Selection. Trans. Alan Sheridan. London: Tavistock Publications, 1977. p. 270
  3. Lacan, Jacques. Écrits: A Selection. Trans. Alan Sheridan. London: Tavistock Publications, 1977. p.271
  4. Freud, Sigmund. Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego, 1921. SE XVIII, 69.
  5. Lacan, Jacques. The Seminar. Book XI. The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis, 1964. Trans. Alan Sheridan. London: Hogarth Press and Institute of Psycho-Analysis, 1977. p. 273