Harry Stack Sullivan: Biography of this psychoanalyst

The history of the study of psychology, although of relatively recent beginnings, is full of important people, schools and different schools of thought. All of them brought their vision of the psyche and behavior, in some cases contrasting with each other. Among the different schools of thought, we find the psychoanalytic and psychodynamic current, focused on the existence of intrapsychic conflicts due to the repression of impulses and the attempt to adjust them to the reality of the environment.

One of the authors of the psychodynamic current, considered among neofreudians and who like Alfred Adler and Carl Jung distanced himself from Sigmund Freud to create his own vision of psychoanalysis was Harry Stack Sullivan, creator of interpersonal psychoanalysis. In this article, we will review his life, through a short biography of this important author.

A brief biography of Harry Stack Sullivan

One of the great figures of psychodynamic currents, Harry Stack Sullivan is known for the creation of interpersonal psychoanalysis, based on the importance of the interaction between people in personal development and the creation of identity and personality, and its expansion. psychotic disorders and the application of a more empirical methodology compared to other psychoanalysts. The development of his theories is greatly influenced by his lifetime experience.

Childhood and early childhood

Harry Stack Sullivan was born February 21, 1892 in Norwich, New York. Son of Timothy Sullivan and Ella Stack Sullivan, Was born into a family with few resources of Irish descent of Catholic beliefs. His relationship with his parents was, in his opinion, convulsive, as there was no close relationship with his father and received little affection from his mother. However, he would have a better bond with his Aunt Margaret, who would give him great support.

The family had to move for lack of resources to a farm owned by the maternal family in Smyrna. His early years were not easy, feeling socially rejected and isolated (it is believed that we did not have a true friendship until the age of eight, with the young Clarence Belliger) living in a predominantly Protestant population. nature and excel in studies.

Training and first jobs

Although coming from a family of few resources (although the one of maternal origin was something easier), she would manage to enroll at Cornwell University in 1909 after finishing high school, but by some circumstances (it is believed that she suffered from a psychotic epidemic which would lead him to be detained in an institution) could not complete her studies there, having only attended her first year.

Over time, Sullivan managed to enter the Chicago School of Medicine in 1911, graduating with a degree in medicine and surgery in 1917.

The fact that World War I began in 1914 would lead him to be drafted into the conflict as a medical officer in the Army Veterans Medical Corps. In 1921 he would begin working at Saint Elizabeth’s Hospital in Washington, DC. He would meet neuropsychiatrist William Alanson White and work with schizophrenics for the first time. With him, Sullivan would work to adapt psychoanalysis to the psychotic population, especially in the case of schizophrenia.

A year later, he would go to work for the first time as a psychiatrist at Sheppard & Enoch Pratt Hospital, where he would excel at communicating with patients quickly and achieving good results.

Link with psychoanalysis and development of interpersonal psychoanalysis

While at Sheppard% Enoch met Clara Thompson, with whom she would share her affinity for treating schizophrenia and become one of her closest friends. This would introduce him to his mentor Adolf Meyer, from whom Sullivan would learn psychoanalytic practice along with skepticism about the orthodoxy of classical psychoanalysis.

He also met in 1926 (the same year of his mother’s death) the anthropologist and ethnolinguist Edward SapirThe collaboration would make her interested in the study of communication and its effects. Through him, he met George Mead, from whom he will acquire many concepts.

Also interested in Ferenczi’s ideas, he suggested that Thompson go to Budapest to be analyzed by him in 1927. In turn, Thompson would become Sullivan’s analyst, which would ultimately lead to his acceptance into the American Society of Psychoanalysis. Also in 1927, he will meet a young man named Jimmy whom he will eventually adopt and become his secretary and sole heir.

All this set of circumstances would ensure that during his stay in the hospital (of the one who would happen to be appointed director of clinical research), Sullivan was partially based on the theory of Sigmund Freud (with which he never arrived to have contact) with contributions from other disciplines to develop a model that could explain the circumstances that could lead to a psychotic crisis. This will lead him to end up developing his interpersonal theory, which will eventually lead him to found interpersonal psychoanalysis..

Sullivan would be aware of the importance of uniting the contributions of various disciplines, which would lead him to try to found several organizations with other professionals. However, some of these companies would practically bankrupt you.

The last years and death

From 1930 he will leave his place at Sheppard Hospital (because despite his very active participation in the creation of a new center and its work it was not granted and in addition he began to cancel the provision of funds for his research) and would move to New York.

Three years later, he co-founded the William Alanson White Foundation with other professionals, then established the Washington School of Psychiatry in 1936 and finally the publication Psychiatry in 1938. He also collaborated with various hospitals and universities, as professor and head of department. . of Psychiatry at Georgetown University. Later, from 1940 he would realize several collaborations with the World Organization of the Health and the UNESCO..

Sullivan died on January 14, 1949 in Paris from a cerebral hemorrhage, while resting in a hotel room where he spent the night on his return trip from a meeting of the World Health Federation. mental in Amsterdam.

Although he may not be as well-known as other writers in the psychoanalytic stream, Sullivan’s contributions have had wide repercussions in the world of psychology, serving as the basis for such well-known authors as Carl Rogers.

Bibliographical references:

  • Barton, F. (1996). Harry Stack Sullivan. Interpersonal theory and psychotherapy. Rouledge London and New York. New York.

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