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Limentani, A. (1957). Conceptions of Modern Psychiatry: The First William Alanson White Memorial Lectures: By Harry Stack Sullivan. (London: Tavistock Publications, 1955. Pp. xiii + 298. $32.). Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 38:367.

(1957). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 38:367

Conceptions of Modern Psychiatry: The First William Alanson White Memorial Lectures: By Harry Stack Sullivan. (London: Tavistock Publications, 1955. Pp. xiii + 298. $32.)

Review by:
A. Limentani

This is the first English edition of the White Memorial lectures delivered by Sullivan to a small audience of psychiatrists and allied workers in 1939.

Although the theoretical conceptions presented in this series of five two-hour lectures are based on the work of Freud, Meyer, and White, the author's originality and independence of thought is in evidence throughout. The wealth of new formulations, together with the reformulations of old concepts, the author's passion for coining new words and his peculiar use of existing psychiatric terms, make the reviewer's task a difficult one. Brief mention will be made here of the central point of Sullivan's theory, which is based on the belief that 'Psychiatry is the study of interpersonal relations' … 'A personality can never be isolated from the complex of interpersonal relations in which the person lives and has his being.' This theme occurs again and again until the reader feels that for Sullivan individuality had ceased to exist. In his preoccupation to understand processes of 'acculturation', social and environmental modes of interaction, he seems to have come to disregard the individual's internal world and to ignore the rôle of unconscious fantasies as well as projective and introjective mechanisms. This is all the more surprising because of his interest and obviously great skill in dealing with schizophrenic patients. Admittedly he states that he is only concerned with 'the early fruits of Freud's genius'. His divergence from accepted analytical concepts, however, goes deeper than that. To give a further example, in his description of child development, infantile sexuality is never mentioned. In spite of this, Sullivan's early interest in psycho-analysis is clearly reflected in the general framework of his approach and especially in the stress placed on the value of transference interpretation in the therapeutic situation.

In view of the limited time which the author allowed himself to present his personal views on almost the whole of the psychiatric field, it is to be expected that many theoretical points remain only sketchily developed. The occasional inadequacy of the presentation is well compensated by the inclusion of a 'Critical Appraisal of the Theory', written by Patrick Mullahy.

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