Critique of Sullivan Concept of Humanity Key Terms and Concepts

Chapter 8 Sullivan: Interpersonal Theory 211

The young boy had no friends his age but did have several imaginary playmates.

At school, his Irish brogue and quick mind made him unpopular among schoolmates. Then, at age 8V2, the boy experienced an intimate relationship with a 13-year-old boy that transformed his life. The two boys remained unpopular with other children, but they developed close bonds with each other. Most scholars (Alexander, 1990, 1995; Chapman, 1976; Havens, 1987) believe that the relationship between these boys—Harry Stack Sullivan and Clarence Bellinger—was at least in some ways homosexual, but others (Perry, 1982) believed that the two boys were never sexually intimate.

Why it is important to know about Sullivan's sexual orientation? This knowledge is important for at least two reasons. First, a personality theorist's early life history, including gender, birth order, religious beliefs, ethnic background, schooling, as well as sexual orientation, all relate to that person's adult beliefs, conception of humanity, and the type of personality theory that that person will develop.

Second, in Sullivan's case, his sexual orientation may have prevented him from gaining the acceptance and recognition he might have had if others had not suspected that he was homosexual. A. H. Chapman (1976) lias argued that Sullivan's influence is pervasive yet unrecognized largely because many psychologists and psychiatrists of his day had difficulty accepting the theoretical concepts and therapeutic practices of someone they suspected of being homosexual. Chapman contended that Sullivan's contemporaries might have easily accepted a homosexual artist, musician, or writer, but, when it came to a psychiatrist, they were still guided by the concept "Physician heal thyself." This plnase was so ingrained in American society during Sullivan's tune that mental health workers found it very difficult to "admit then indebtedness to a psychiatrist whose homosexuality was commonly known" (Chapman, 1976, p. 12). Thus, Sullivan, who otherwise might have achieved greater fame, was shackled by sexual prejudices that kept him from being regarded as American's foremost psychiatrist of the first half of the 20th century.

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