Harry Stack Sullivan: Interpersonal Theory and Psychotherapy

Harry Stack Sullivan: Interpersonal Theory and Psychotherapy

Harry Stack Sullivan: Interpersonal Theory and Psychotherapy

Harry Stack Sullivan: Interpersonal Theory and Psychotherapy


Harry Stack Sullivan (1892-1949) has been described as 'the most original figure in American psychiatry'. Challenging Freud's psychosexual theory, Sullivan founded the interpersonal theory of psychiatry, which emphasized the role of interpersonal relations, society and culture as the primary determinants of personality development and psychopathology.This concise and coherent account of Sullivan's work and life invites the modern audience to rediscover the provocative, groundbreaking ideas embodied in Sullivan's interpersonal theory and psychotherapy.


Harry Stack Sullivan is the most original figure in American psychiatry.

(Havens 1973:183)

The idea for this book was originally conceived in 1980 by Dr. Robert Kvarnes, who was at that time Director of the Washington School of Psychiatry and a supervisee of Sullivan. As part of the Washington School's Advanced Psychotherapy Training Program Dr. Kvarnes gave an exceptional semester-long seminar on interpersonal theory, which brought Sullivan's ideas to life. It was increasingly clear to Dr. Kvarnes and Dr. Alec Whyte, his teaching partner in the seminar, that an introductory book of manageable size summarizing and translating Sullivan's often turgid ideas could be of great value to students interested in Sullivan's work. I whole-heartedly agreed with Dr. Kvarnes and offered to work with him. Unfortunately, after considerable effort, Dr. Kvarnes was unable to obtain funding to support the writing of the book. When Dr. Kvarnes passed away several years later, so apparently did the book. My life was far too full with professional and family responsibilities to take on such a task by myself. Little did I know that the book was simply undergoing a long period of hibernation.

In the spring of 1993, Dr. David Scharff, then Director of the Washington School of Psychiatry, with whom I had worked closely in the previous year in my role as Conference Chair of the Sullivan Centennial Conference, approached me with a letter that he had received from Dr. Laurence Spurling. Dr. Spurling inquired of Dr. Scharff about someone to write a book on Harry Stack Sullivan for Routledge's “Makers of Modern Psychotherapy” series. I contacted Dr. Spurling and the rest is history. I am delighted to have the

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