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Witenberg, E.G. (1980). Welcome to Symposium. Contemp. Psychoanal., 16:269-270.

(1980). Contemporary Psychoanalysis, 16:269-270

Welcome to Symposium

Earl G. Witenberg, M.D.

THE PLURALISTIC APPROACH TO PSYCHOANALYTIC theory and practice of the William Alanson White Institute has been evident from its inception in 1943. Its founders, Erich Fromm, Frieda Fromm-Reichmann, David Rioch, Janet Rioch, Harry Stack Sullivan and Clara Thompson represented diverse approaches to the study of psychoanalysis. One shared interest was their intense dedication to devising new approaches to the study and treatment of man. Clara Thompson was in the forefront of those who attempted to make an open-ended approach useful for different kinds of people.

Harry Stack Sullivan (1892–1949), whom we are commemorating at these meetings, is best remembered for the new understanding he brought to the treatment of what today are called borderline and narcissistic personalities, as well as schizophrenic people. He added to treatment a theory—a theory of interpersonal relationships. This theory was based on a new paradigm for the study of man in his development and treatment, which stressed that what could be studied, what could be observed by clinical observations was the field between the two participants. Everything else was inferential. And in this field were the participants as well as illusory others—all others from the past of the psychiatrist and patient. There was no tabula rasa in the field. This, then startling, observation in the tradition of the American philosophers, Royce, Peirce and Cooley, made it possible to explicate the significance of the actual participation of the analyst, hence of the actual life experiences of the patient. It restored a balance to the problems more traditional psychoanalysts had and still have with libido and instinct theory, which grow out of a tendency to characterize actual experiences and attitudes as "nothing but" repetitions of the past. It legitimized analysts' reactions to patients and enabled these responses to be studied so that they could be used for the benefit of treatment. Havens has characterized Sullivan as secretly the most influential of American psychiatrists.

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