REVIEW of Raymond J. Lawrence’s Book:
Harry Stack Sullivan and Anton T. Boisen
Comrades and Revolutionaries in Psychotherapy
International Psychoanalytic Books, New York, 2022
by Charla Hayden
I found Raymond Lawrence’s new book very engaging – partly because I had some previous exposure to Sullivan’s writings and was curious to know more, but also because I had been introduced to Anton T. Boisen’s work during my decade of group relations work using A. Kenneth Rice’s conference learning model to serve the College of Pastoral Supervision and Psychotherapy (established in 1990). This “here and now” group and systems experience was initiated by a connection made by Jack Lampl, who had been serving as the President of the A. K. Rice Institute for some years, and my several decades of engagement in “group relations” conferences, training, and writing.
Lawrence’s book explores how and by whom a significant connection between spiritual, psychological, and somatic pursuits were joined in the significant and exploratory friendship of Sullivan and Boisen. Some of the very positive elements of this book include: documentation of sources at the end of every chapter, the wide lens Lawrence uses to describe the times these men lived and worked in: the social settings, the connections, and the institutions his principal characters were nurtured in and/or rejected in.
Lawrence also frames his story with lots of relevant events, such as the characters’ training and education at a variety of institutions, the elements of modernity that emerged more fully during their times, including the difficulty of openness about sexual predilections, issues related to surviving on meager incomes, and social rejection of the characters as colleagues with similar though unusual characteristics, including emotional “breakdowns.”
Lawrence’s sequencing of his subject matter puzzled me, and I ended up not reading his book from front to back but rather by navigating among the chapters so I could find a path that suited me, i.e., I read it “cafeteria style.” This suited me and did not hinder my enjoyment of this book.
So here are some slight critiques:
- This work is on the boundary between being a reference book and a good story.
- The author freely offers his personal interpretations – without clarity about where supportive data came from.
- The chapters often don’t “dance well” in their sequence.
- There is probably a short monograph in Chapters 9 and 10 since they seem to me like a kind of afterthought here.
For those who are interested in Sullivan and Boisen and their relationship, this book is a gem in spite of its flaws. I think it’s worth a read.
Harry Stack Sullivan and Anton T. Boisen, Comrades and Revolutionaries in Psychotherapy by Raymond J. Lawrence can be purchased in paperback on Amazon.
Charla Hayden is a long-time authority and consultant in the Tavistock tradition and the A.K. Rice Institute. She currently lives in California.