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One Comment on “Charles Fisher Interview by Arnold Richards Complete”
Thank you for the interview with Charles Fisher. Fisher tells us that he “always had a pathological bias toward truth.” I would like to correct certain inaccuracies in his account.
Fisher says that what happened in Sullivan’s ward for schizophrenics at Sheppard Pratt “became kind of a scandal, although it’s never really been written up.” It has indeed been written up quite a bit. Kenneth Chatelaine (1981) interviewed the last surviving people who had worked on Sullivan’s ward, and published their descriptions of the ward in his book. The ward was also discussed by me (Blechner, 1995, 2009). Finally, historian Naoko Wake (2005, 2006) was able to obtain the clinical records of the ward and published her findings, including verbatim clinical interviews between Sullivan and the patient’s on the ward. They are extraordinary documents that have major implications, not just for clinical approaches to psychotic patients, but concerning the analyst’s openness to countertransference analysis and its clinical usefulness (Blechner, 2009).
While Fisher says the ward was a scandal, it was also a clinical landmark. Sullivan was famously skilful at making a connection with very cut-off patients; it was said that when he spoke with schizophrenics, they no longer sounded schizophrenic. Sullivan also developed milieu therapy; every aspect of living in the ward was carefully thought out to lessen the patients’ anxiety and help them find new pathways to secure living.
The patients in Sullivan’s ward were all gay men. By sheltering these patients from a homophobic world, Sullivan lessened their enormous anxiety and helped them to get better. To this day, as far as I know (Blechner, 2008), we have not followed up on the profound implications of that work – to determine to what extent psychosis is made worse by any kind of prejudice, and to what degree removing psychotic patients from a prejudicial environment can have a very positive effect on their psychopathology.
Blechner, M. (2005) The gay Harry Stack Sullivan: Interactions between his life, clinical work, and theory. Contemporary Psychoanalysis, 41:1-19.
Blechner, M. (2008) The Role of Prejudice in Psychopathology and Psychoanalytic History. Presented at the conference “New Psychoanalytic Perspectives on Prejudice: Making a Difference in Society,” October 18, 2008, New York, NY.
Blechner, M. (2009) Sex Changes: Transformations in Society and Psychoanalysis. New York: Routledge.
Chatelaine, K. (1981) Harry Stack Sullivan: The formative years. Washington, DC: University Press of America.
Wake, N. (2005) Private Practices: Harry Stack Sullivan, Homosexuality, and the Limits of Psychiatric Liberalism. Ann Arbor, MI: ProQuest.
Wake, N. (2006) The full story by no means all told: Harry Stack Sullivan at Sheppard-Pratt, 1922-1930, History of Psychology, 9: 325-358.
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