Interpersonal Psychoanalysis

A summary of Dale H. Ortmeyer Article, The History of the founders of Interpersonal Psychoanalysis

Interpersonal psychoanalysis is based largely on the American culture. American culture emphasizes on pragmatism, egalitarian, and pluralism, which is at the foundation of the interpersonal psychotherapeutic model of therapy. Harry S. Sullivan, along with Ferenczi, Thomson, Fromm, and Fromm-Reichman are the founders of the Interpersonal Psychoanalytic modality, which formulated itself in the United States in an Americanized fashion. Sullivan’s courage to revise and change psychoanalysis from its traditional Freudian instinct drive model, which was based on the European culture of intellectualism, took enormous courage and bravery. The shift wasn’t easy.

Sullivan moved from the traditional Freudian intra-psychic model of having the analysand associate freely, while the analyst kept a neutral blank front, and interpreted the symptoms, the transference, and the unconscious according to a theoretical libidinal drive model, to a interpersonal related, communicative, inquiring relationship model. Sullivan believed that the gestalt of the relatedness is at the center of the therapeutic process. A style that is based on interpersonal interaction. Sullivan realized that some severely psychotic patients were unable to benefit from the traditional aloof psychoanalytic neutrality, thus he began to experiment with interaction, communication, inquiring, and interviewing rather than being a blank and neutral object. The interpersonal model entails both, the therapist and client; they’re both engaged and active participant in the therapeutic experience. The process is a joint relationship of equality and relational equivalence and mutuality. Sullivan also differed with Freud on how to conceptualize the patient’s symptoms. Rather than a pathological symptom Sullivan viewed symptoms as a ‘difficulty with living’.

Sullivan believed the clinical inquiry is the essential tenet in the interpersonal analytic process. Through the detailed inquiry of who, what, why, when, and where clarity and reconstruction take place within the patients thought process.
Sullivan worked extensively with schizophrenic patients and after observing the split between self and other he developed his technique of psychiatric inquiry which helped repair and reconstruct the gap of the split between self and others to a more connected and relatable self.

Similar to Sullivan, Ferenczi began to practice Freudian psychoanalysis, but when he pushed it to its limits he realized that the aloof neutrality was causing the patient to regress and deteriorate. The therapist’s neutrality translated into detachment and idealization, which only caused a re-traumatization. Thus Ferenczi abandoned the drive model and began focusing on the attachment and early maternal deprivation and trauma. He began realizing that patience needed a corrective and connective emotional experience. He focused on reducing the anxiety level by creating a safe and non-threating atmosphere, allowing the patient to feel safe, to experience his threating thoughts in the confines and warmth of the therapeutic space.

In defeating idealization, Sullivan believed that through the psychiatric inquiry the distorted idealization will be diminish and a mutuality will be created. Frenenczi, however, approached the issue quite differently. He believed that through the expression of his countertransference with the patient, the patients will begin to feel a sense of mutuality, and a de-idealization between them will begin. Therefore disclosing his/hers counter-transferential feelings became a central part in building the equality.Fromm-Reichmann, believed like Sullivan, that neurotic and psychotic are not a qualitatively different, rather a quantitative difference is what differentiates them. It is the degree and difficulty with living that categorizes them.


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