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Murphy, W.F. (1954). The Interpersonal Theory of Psychiatry: By Harry Stack Sullivan, M.D. Edited by Helen Swick Perry and Mary Ladd Gawel. New York: W. W. Norton & Co., Inc., 1953. 393 pp.. Psychoanal Q., 23:446-450.

(1954). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 23:446-450

The Interpersonal Theory of Psychiatry: By Harry Stack Sullivan, M.D. Edited by Helen Swick Perry and Mary Ladd Gawel. New York: W. W. Norton & Co., Inc., 1953. 393 pp.

Review by:
William F. Murphy

This book is essentially the refinement of a recorded series of lectures given at the Washington School of Psychiatry in 1946-1947. According to the editors, it is the finest and most complete presentation available of Sullivan's later conceptions. It is divided into four parts: the first deals with introductory concepts; the second with developmental epochs in the life of the individual; the third with patterns of inadequate interpersonal relationships, including schizophrenia and paranoid conditions; and a fourth in a class by itself, entitled Toward a Psychiatry of Peoples.

To discuss this book intelligently, Sullivan the author must be distinguished from Sullivan the legend and figurehead; for the discrepancy between the two is considerable. A series of apparent paradoxes has helped to create this condition. Sullivan stressed interpersonal relationships and social interactions to such a point that he developed an animus against individuality in any form; yet he was essentially an isolated, lonely person, dwelling in a world of his own unique jargon which he jokingly called his 'neologisms'. Semantics and problems of communication were always uppermost in his mind; yet no psychiatrist has ever been more difficult to comprehend. He used scores of new, ill-defined Greek and Latin terms, and he made peculiar use of well-known words such as 'euphoria' and 'dissociation'. The difficulty was compounded by his refusal to employ words with a psychoanalytic taint; for example, sublimation was called 'the outcome of referential processes in the parataxic mode in the service of minimizing anxiety'. Even here one must remember that 'anxiety' to Sullivan had a meaning all its own.

There are more serious difficulties. Sullivan was a man of many ideas who talked easily and at great length, imbuing his spoken words with a personal magic which became lost as they were recorded or written down. Without this magic, even condensations of his remarks appear redundant. The discrepancy between what he appeared to say and what was really said was as much a disappointment to Sullivan as to his devotees; it led to Sullivan's writing very little and his admirers' continually asserting that what had been written so far was but a paltry outline of the real thing.

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