Cénac, Michel (1891-1965)

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CÉNAC, MICHEL (1891-1965)

Michel Cénac, a French psychiatrist and psychoanalyst and member of the Société Psychanalytique de Paris (Paris Psychoanalytic Society), was born June 28, 1891, in Argelès-Gazost (Hautes-Pyrénées), and died in Paris in 1965. He was awarded the Croix de Guerre and the Legion of Honor during the First World War and later studied medicine and psychiatry. An intern at the Asiles de la Seine in 1921, he was a student of Professor Trénel and Henri Claude and later became the head of his clinic. His dissertation, "Langages crées par les aliénés" (The Languages of the Mentally Ill), which he defended in 1928, was primarily devoted to the meaningless jargon often spoken by mentally ill patients. He soon became interested in psychoanalysis and began a training analysis with Rudolph Loewenstein. He was elected a member of the Société Psychanalytique de Paris on November 26, 1929. With Adrien Borel, in 1933 he presented a report on obsession at the VII Conférence des Psychanalystes de Langue Française (Seventh Conference of French-Speaking Psychoanalysts). Preoccupied by the links between medicine and psychoanalysis, in 1934 he published "Ce que tout médecin doit savoir de la psychanalyse" (What Every Doctor Should Know about Psychoanalysis). In 1936 he opened a clinic for psychoanalysis with John Leuba.

In 1943, when the French police arrested Françoise and Eugène Minkowski, their daughter Jeanine took refuge with Michel Cénac. He intervened with the Prefecture of Police and was able to obtain their freedom. During the Occupation, the term "psychoanalysis" appeared only once in the title of a review, "Psychiatrie et psychanalyse: L'apport de la psychanalyseà la psychiatre," which he signed and published in March 1943 in Annales médico-psychologiques, even though the content of the article reflected the reticence typical of the French (Mijolla, 1982). In a letter to Ernest Jones written on December 31, 1944, John Leuba writes, "Borel and Cénac are working as best they can . . . the second with complete probity but a technique that leaves much to be desired." He was the first treasurer, [RB1]after the Liberation, in 1946 and vice president of the Société Psychanalytique de Paris between 1949 and 1951.

Together with Jacques Lacan, at the XII Conférence in 1950, he presented a paper entitled "Introduction théorique aux fonctions de la psychanalyse en criminologie" (Theoretical introduction to the use of psychoanalysis in criminology), in which both authors expressed their disagreement with theories that stipulated the existence of a criminal instinct. Very much involved with Sacha Nacht in the origins of the 1953 split, on January 20 he announced his candidacy for president of the Société Psychanalytique de Paris against Jacques Lacan. He lost during the third round of voting. Cénac became the first senior physician of the Centre de Diagnostic et de Traitement Psychanalytique, which was created at the same time as the Institut de Psychanalyse de Paris (Paris Institute for Psychoanalysis) in 1954, and was elected president of the Société Psychanalytique de Paris in 1955.

As part of his work at the psychiatric infirmary of the Paris Prefecture of Police, where he became honorary senior physician, Cénac conducted several studies on the value of witnesses (1951), recidivism and antisocial activities (1956), juvenile delinquency (1961), and subjective post-concussional syndromes.

Jean-Pierre Bourgeron

See also: France; Société psychanalytique de Paris et Institut psychanalytique de Paris.


Borel, Adrien, and Cénac, Michel. (1932). L'obsession. Revue français de psychanalyse, V (4), 586-648.

Cénac, Michel. (Jan.-Feb.-March 1943). Psychiatrie et psychanalyse. L'apport de la psychanalyseà la psychiatrie," Annales médico-psychologiques, 101 (1), 278-288.

Lacan, Jacques, and Cénac, Michel. (1997). A theoretical introduction to the function of psychoanalysis in criminology, May 29, 1950 (Mark Bracher, Russell Grigg, and Robert Samuels, Trans.). Journal for the Psychoanalysis of Culture and Society, 1 (2). (Original work published 1951)

Mijolla, Alain de. (1982). France, 1893-1965. in Peter Kutter (Ed.), Psychoanalysis international. A guide to psychoanalysis throughout the world (Vol. I, Europe, 66-113). Stuttgart-Bad Cannstatt: Frommann-Holzboog, 1992.