“Harry Stack Sullivan and Anton T. Boisen: Comrades and Revolutionaries in Psychotherapy” by Raymond J. Lawrence

Review by Robert H. Munson

 

The adage “History is written by victors” contains more truth when stated, “History is written by victors... in pencil.” The past is re-visioned and evaluated by each generation. The views of the victors of the moment do not necessarily hold sway years later. Sometimes, history needs to be updated to reveal what has been missed.

Raymond Lawrence’s newest book seeks to rewrite history by revealing the titular men and how they were both critical to the formation of the CPE (or CPT) movement and pastoral psychotherapy. As part of that movement since the 1960s, and co-founder of the College of Pastoral Supervision and Psychotherapy (CPSP), Lawrence has been involved with the attempt to redirect clinical chaplaincy and pastoral counseling away from some forms that are, at worst, limited to prayers, rituals, and kind words. Part of that effort is to draw attention to the historical roots of the clinical pastoral movement. The book also emphasizes the key role that Sigmund Freud had on Sullivan and Boisen. It seems fair to say that the book shows the clinical pastoral movement as gaining its psychological foundation from Freud, its sociological innovations from Sullivan, and its theological vitality from Boisen.

Two words come to my mind when reading the book--- HERITAGE and LEGACY. The clinical pastoral movement has Anton Boisen and Harry Stack Sullivan as part of its rich heritage. Boisen arguably was the ‘father’ of CPE/T. He brought psychotherapy to pastors, and in turn brought pastors into the psychiatric wards to learn and minister. Sullivan was a great innovator in psychology. He expanded on the “talking cure” from its original focus on intrapsychical issues in dealing with neuroses in particular, to interpersonal issues now also addressing psychoses. Boisen and Sullivan communicated frequently and met periodically, and appeared to have had both a professional and congenial, although private, relationship. Both of them sought psychotherapy for the masses by moving it away from being only done by professionals. While not an expert on Freud or Sullivan, it does seem to me as if the clinical pastoral movement has more in common with the style and methodology of Sullivan than Freud. Others I am sure are more competent to say than I.

If these served as important movers in the heritage of CPE/T, their legacies are more complex. Anton Boisen had the misfortune, perhaps, of living too long. He lived to a point where he was out of touch with the movement he founded, and today is known more as a figurehead for the movement. Sullivan had a different sort of misfortune. He seems to have died too soon, as he was becoming more influential. Many of his ideas, especially the interpersonal and social methods and principles are well- ingrained in psychology, although often credited to others. Sullivan today is known mostly as a name--- a member of the so called “Neo-Freudians”--- with little official recognition for his role in psychology. Additionally, their attempt to move psychotherapy away from a practice of the elite few only for those who could afford them, seems further than ever from reality.

Lawrence’s book has an idiosyncratic structure. It goes back and forth between talking about Boisen, Sullivan, Boisen and Sullivan together, and then towards questions on their beliefs regarding sexuality, pleasure, and intimacy, and how these seemed often to be in stark contrast to their own personal practices (and each other), and finally to some of the close relationships Sullivan had with others. The structure leads to some level of repeating, as different sections go over similar ground. Regardless, it is an enjoyable read as Lawrence, sometimes humorous, sometimes acerbic, and always opinionated, brings the past into the present. Clearly the author is seeking for the clinical pastoral movement to 

change. I don’t believe he is trying to bring the movement back to the 1920s or 1930s. Rather, by emphasizing Boisen and Sullivan, Lawrence wants to challenge the history that has been passed down to us. With a new understanding of the past, we have hope of a new vision for the clinical pastoral movement--- written, of course, in pencil. 

Bob Munson is a layman, and with his wife Celia, are missionaries to the Philippines, and located in Baguio City. Their training center was the first in the Philippines to join with CPSP, some fifteen years ago.