The Meaning of the
AFTER A good many years of effort at teaching psychiatry I have concluded that either certain appraisals of myself as a good teacher are entirely unfounded or the teaching of psychiatry is extremely difficult; and I think quite possibly both are the case. But the fabulous difficulty of teaching psychiatry, as I have seen it over the years, is that it is quite easy to learn certain things—that is, to get so you can talk about them—but it is extremely difficult to get any two people to mean just the same thing when they talk about what they have supposedly learned.
This difficulty is a result of the fact that psychiatry deals with living and that everybody has a great deal of experience in living. But no one lives in anything like the highest style of the art; and it is very disconcerting to notice how badly one lives in the sense of the extent to which fatigue and other discomforts are connected with one's most important dealings with other people. So it is not very easy to develop that type of objectivity about the subject matter of psychiatry which one can acquire about the works of a clock or the principles of physics or even the phenomena of quantum meruit in law.
We interpret everything that we hear in this field of psychiatry on a double basis and, unhappily, neither of the bases is very helpful : first, on the basis of what one presumes the data mean in terms of what one knows already, or half-knows; and secondly, on the basis of how this can be interpreted so that it does not increase
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Publication information: Book title: The Interpersonal Theory of Psychiatry. Contributors: Harry Stack Sullivan - Author, Helen Swick Perry - Editor, Mary Ladd Gawel - Editor. Publisher: W. W. Norton. Place of publication: New York. Publication year: 1953. Page number: 3.
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