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Hirsch, I. (1998). Discussion of Interview with Otto Will: Interpersonal Psychoanalysis Then and Now. Contemp. Psychoanal., 34(2):305-322.

(1998). Contemporary Psychoanalysis, 34(2):305-322

Discussion of Interview with Otto Will: Interpersonal Psychoanalysis Then and Now

Irwin Hirsch, Ph.D.

This sensitively conducted and informative interview offers us the additional benefit of learning something more of Harry Stack Sullivan as an analyst. It gives us a good look at interpersonal psychoanalysis near its origins and a clearer understanding of how this perspective arose from theories and treatment of seriously disturbed patients. Reading Will's description of himself as an analyst and his portrayal of Sullivan and Frieda Fromm-Reichmann in the same role, I am most struck by the simple humanity and relative lack of formality in the therapeutic exchange. This, of course, is tempered by Sullivan's stilted manner, but his informality is reflected in his making little effort to conceal such qualities. Will gives every indication that these interpersonal pioneers conducted their analyses more like helpful conversations with benign authorities than like the more formal, relatively distant, standard American classical psychoanalytic model of their era. One sees an attitude in Will that can best be described as that of a “friendly country doctor”: an avuncular and wise friend of the family, often more interested in commonsense pragmatics than in analytic exploration. (Sullivan's attitude is closer to a “buttoned-up” and reserved country doctor.) They appear to be unhesitant about giving advice, self-disclosing, and bending analytic boundary. Both analysts evoke in me a desire to passively place myself in their strong and sure hands. Positioning the analyst as a strong, self-assured, caring, and benign authority appears to be their main way of engaging patients, at least according to the samples provided here. Indeed, the attitude that “we are all more simply human than otherwise,” evidenced by Sullivan in his humanization of the treatment of schizophrenic patients, appears to carry over in work with high-functioning patients.

In

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