Thursday, November 9, 2017

Harry Stack Sullivan and Interpersonal Psychology

Harry Stack Sullivan was an American psychiatrist who, along with Erich Fromm and Karen Horney, explored the idea of "personality" as a social phenomenon that emerges from an interpersonal context. Sullivan's theory was described by Eastern philosopher, Alan Watts, as one of the most promising Western systems of psychology, and described it as a bridge to Buddhist psychology. In this series of podcasts, I introduce the basic theory of Harry Stack Sullivan and discuss its practical value in our everyday lives.

Stack Sullivan wrote one book, Conceptions of Modern Psychiatry, but kept extensive notebooks and transcripts of his lectures. These notebooks were later edited and published, and are valuable resources to understanding Stack Sullivan's insights into the human condition. Many of these texts are available at

Stack Sullivan traces the beginnings of habitual reactions to others, in an effort to reduce anxiety and sustain a sense of safety, and demonstrates how those habitual thoughts and behaviors become adult patterns of a self system. For Stack Sullivan, change takes place when we become aware of and replace outdated habitual patterns of reaction with choices that are more conducive to our current, adult situations.

Harry Stack Sullivan founded the William Alanson White Institute, in New York City, which trains psychologists and psychiatrists in interpersonal psychotherapy.