Jacques Lacan (1901-1981)

Jacques Lacan

Jacques Lacan was a 20th century psychiatrist, psychoanalyst, and philosopher who expanded upon and redefined Freud's work. 

Professional Life

Jacques Lacan was born on April 13th, 1901 in Paris, France. Lacan began studying medicine in the early 1920s, specializing in psychiatry and interning at Sainte-Anne Hospital in Paris. In 1934, shortly after defending his thesis On Paranoid Psychosis in its Relation to Personality, which was very well received, Lacan was invited to join the Paris Psychoanalytic Society. He also received psychoanalysis around this time.

In 1936 he presented a paper called “The Mirror State: The Theory of a Structural and Developmental Moment in the Construction of Reality, Conceived in Relation to Psychoanalytic Experience and Teaching," Lacan identified the ego as a primary narcissistic imago that is opposed to reality and resists treatment. He identified three types of reality in this paper: the psychical, external, and the real.

Lacan wrote and lectured extensively on his theories and he incorporated a number of disciplines into his theories, including linguistics, mathematics, art, literature, and philosophy. He resigned from the Psychoanalytical Society of Paris in 1953 as a result of controversy around his methods, and he helped to develop the French Society for Psychoanalysis with other dissenters. In 1964, he established the Freudian School of Paris that he later reorganized and renamed the School of the Freudian Cause.

Contribution to Psychology

Lacan remapped Sigmund Freud's theories. Freud’s superego, ego, and id were labeled the symbolic order, the imaginary order, and the real, respectively. 

  • The symbolic order is supreme and undermines the ego’s autonomy. 
  • The imaginary order is involved in repression, self-representation, and the assimilation of a constructed, imaginary reality. 
  • The real defies definition. Lacan likens it to the real in science that is elusive and impossible to grasp in its entirety.

Lacan’s developed the concept of the mirror state, which occurs in infancy between 6 and 18 months. The child identifies his or her reflection and associates that reflection with self. Unable to master full control over limbs and actions, the child begins to struggle with self, leading to internal aggression and depression. These emotions contribute to the development of the ego. The mirror stage involves a state of misunderstanding for the child resulting in a process of alienation, which leads the child into an imaginary state. This theory of mirror stage later evolved to represent the overall development of a child’s personality, perceptions, and behaviors.

Lacan redefined the psychoanalysis practice when he identified the analysand as the patient, the one who is conducting a study of him or herself. Lacan believed psychoanalytic sessions should conclude once the analysand reaches a revelation, rather than conducting sessions for a specified length of time. He rejected the standard 50-minute session with the belief that, in some cases, 5 minutes would suffice. Lacan’s methods were termed deviant by some, and he was expelled from the International Psychoanalytical Association in 1953.

While Lacan’s theories have been widely popular throughout the world, his influence has been limited in the US. Lacan wrote in a Gallic tradition, with cultural references and allusions, and some biographers speculate that cultural differences and the difficulty of translating his work into English may make Lacan’s obscure theories difficult to decipher.


  1. Jacques Lacan. (2007). Europe Since 1914: Encyclopedia of the Age of War and Reconstruction. Retrieved from http://www.gale.cengage.com/InContext/bio.htm 
  2. Jacques Lacan. (2013, April 02). Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved from http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/lacan/
  3. Jacques Marie Émile Lacan - Biography. (n.d.). The European Graduate School. Retrieved from http://www.egs.edu/library/jacques-lacan/biography/
  4. Sedat, Jacques. (2005). Jacques Lacan. International Dictionary of Psychoanalysis. Biography In Context. Retrieved from http://www.gale.cengage.com/InContext/bio.htm

Last Update: 07-08-2015

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