Harry Stack Sullivan: Energy and Interpersonal Relationships

Harry Stack Sullivan: Energy and Interpersonal Relationships

Piyali Chakrabarti

“Reading Sullivan is an acquired taste that requires an extremely active and critical engagement with the flow of his ideas”*.


Harry Stack Sullivan (1892-1949) was an American psychiatrist. He was born in upstate New York, into an Irish Catholic home. Sullivan was known primarily for his theory of interpersonal relations. The key figures in this movement were Harry Stack Sullivan, Erich Fromm, Karen Horney, Clara Thompson & Frieda Fromm-Reichmann. Sullivan was strongly influenced by the work of Adolf Meyer. He theorised Personality as to manifest in interpersonal situations through interactions and experiences. Sullivan defined Personality as to be a temporal phenomenon which is shaped by the relationships that are shared with other people.


Personality was conceptualised as an energy system with energy existing as a tension between two broad categories of needs (i.e. needs for satisfaction and needs for security) or as energy transformations (i.e. a person’s behaviour that addresses our needs). Balance between needs for satisfaction and needs for security is postulated to be a critical determinant of one’s emotional well-being. Two broad needs are as follows:


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Piyali ChakrabartiPiyali is a Singapore Registered Psychologist (SRP) and an Approved Supervisor recognized by the Singapore Psychological Society. She completed her M.Phil in Medical & Social Psychology (specialization in Clinical Psychology) after completing her Masters in Applied Psychology. She is a Certified Choice Theory Reality Therapist (CTRT) through the William Glasser Institute of USA. She is also trained in Cognitive-Behaviour Therapy (CBT). Besides being a Psychologist at Scott Psychological Centre, Piyali continues to offer her services part-time at the Cerebral Palsy Alliance Singapore where she had previously served as Head of the Psychology Department. Her career in mental health and clinical psychology has given her experience in counseling and therapy with diverse populations across a wide range of institutional settings like hospitals, private practice, special education centers, and schools. Piyali is experienced with supporting clients from Singapore and abroad. Having resided in different countries, she is keenly aware of the challenges and potential adjustment issues that expatriates and their families may face when settling in Singapore. Her clinical interests lie in managing anxiety and depression as well as issues related to lifestyle and relationship changes for adults and children. Apart from providing direct clinical services to clients, Piyali is passionate about developing the competency of budding psychologists through providing clinical supervision. She is also involved in teaching Psychology courses, such as, Diploma & Master level. Recognizing the effectiveness of different intervention modalities, she also conducts workshops.

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