Critique of Sullivan

Although Sullivan's theory of personality is quite comprehensive, it is not as popular among academic psychologists as the theories of Freud, Adler, Jung, or Erik Erik-son (see Chapter 9). However, the ultimate value of any theory does not rest on its popularity but on the six criteria enumerated hi Chapter 1.

The first criterion of a useful theory is its ability to generate research. Currently, few researchers are actively investigating hypotheses specifically drawn from Sullivan's theory. One possible explanation for this deficiency is Sullivan's lack of

Chapter 8 Sullivan: Interpersonal Theory 237

popularity among researchers most apt to conduct research—the academicians. This lack of popularity might be accounted for by Sullivan's close association with psychiatry, his isolation from any university setting, and the relative lack of organization in his writings and speeches.

Second, a useful theory must be falsifiable; that is, it must be specific enough to suggest research that may either support or fail to support its major assumptions. On this criterion, Sullivan's theory, like those of Freud, Jung, and Fromrn, must receive a very low mark. Sullivan's notion of the importance of interpersonal relations for psychological health lias received a moderate amount of indirect support. However, alternative explanations are possible for most of these findings.

Third, how well does Sullivanian theory provide an organization for all that is known about human personality? Despite its many elaborate postulates, the theory can receive only a moderate rating on its ability to organize knowledge. Moreover, the theory's extreme emphasis on interpersonal relations subtracts from its ability to organize knowledge, because much of what is presently known about human behavior has a biological basis and does not easily fit into a theory restricted to interpersonal relations.

The relative lack of testing of Sullivan's theory diminishes its usefulness as a practical guide for parents, teachers, psychotherapists, and others concerned with the care of children and adolescents. However, if one accepts the theory without supporting evidence, then many practical problems can be managed by resorting to Sullivanian theory. As a guide to action, then, the theory receives a fan to moderate rating.

Is the theory internally consistent? Sullivan's ideas suffer from his inability to write well, but the theory itself is logically conceptualized and holds together as a unified entity. Although Sullivan used some unusual terms, he did so in a consistent fashion throughout his writings and speeches. Overall, his theory is consistent, but it lacks the organization he might have achieved if he had committed more of his ideas to the printed page.

Finally, is the theory parsimonious or simple? Here Sullivan must receive a low rating. His penchant for creating his own terms and the awkwardness of his writing add needless bulk to a theory that, if streamlined, would be far more useful.

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