Sigmund Freud and Harry Sullivan Theories – A Comparison of Two Mental Health Theories

Within the past century, mental health theories have emerged as part of a wider strategy by medical experts to aid in the diagnosis of psychiatric ailments and determining the type of care needed. Mental health theories are now an integral part of care systems and proved instrumental in the development of ideal therapies for patients. This paper, therefore, seeks to compare and contrast mental health models presented by Sigmund Freud and Harry Sullivan in order to gain insight on their propositions.

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Sigmund Freud was an Austrian national of Jewish descent born in 1856. His parents were keen on his education and ensured that he joined the University of Vienna before finally becoming a licensed physician. Freud was soon known for his groundbreaking medical techniques that sought to improve the quality of care provided to patients with psychiatric disorders. One such strategy focused on the introduction of equilibrium to the human psyche to treat neurotic symptoms. Today, he is best known for authoring Studies in Hysteria and The Ego and the Id which introduced innovative ideas in psychiatry.

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            Sigmund Freud introduced the Psychoanalytical Theory to explain various aspects of mental health in humans. In this theory, the mind is divided into three distinct layers; the conscious, preconscious and unconscious. The first layer is responsible for the prevailing awareness, the second functions as a shadow of actual consciousness while the third stores fundamental memories (Gelfand & Kerr, 2013). It was through this model that Freud sought to treat patients with turbulent emotions by exploring the unconscious mind. His idea of “free association” was meant to explore the depth of his patient’s mind and expose any repressed memories

            The field of nursing has benefitted greatly from Feud’s contributions. His theory is particularly invaluable to the practice since it now aids practitioners gain a better understanding of human developmental stages and phases where mental health issues are likely to develop (Taylor, 2019). For instance, a medical practitioner reviewing a child thought to be within the autism spectrum would use these stages to assess their behavior and strike a correlation. This would then allow them to prescribe appropriate care and a fitting implementation plan.

            On the other hand, Harry Stack Sullivan was an American theorist born in 1892 in Norwich, New York. His path in medical sciences began in 1917 after enrolling in the prestigious Chicago College of Medicine and Surgery to pursue a bachelor’s degree. Soon, Sullivan became a household name within the medical circles and a regular contributor to mental health matters. Owing to his expertise in psychiatry, Sullivan founded the Washington School of Psychiatry in 1937 and greatly influenced American psychoanalysis.

            Sullivan is renowned for his Interpersonal Theory which focused on the undercurrents existing between individuals. His initial assessment of these subtleties led him to conclude that social forces buffeting an individual were responsible for the mental disorders they ended up developing. One of the key ideas presented in his theory was that the mother was at the crux of personality development in children (Conci, 2012, p. 12). The absence of a mother in a child’s life was linked to constant anxiety disorders and may impact their self-esteem negatively. His “hands-on” treatment of mental health disorders, therefore, sought to treat inappropriate perceptions linked to an individual’s angst. Sullivan’s theory is hailed for developing a workable relationship between nurses and patients receiving a prescribed intervention. Nurses are now capable of applying the theory when treating bouts of anxiety to reinforcing comfort and a sense of well-being in sufferers.

            A major correspondence between the Psychoanalytical and Interpersonal theory is the use of developmental phases to explain the human psyche and trace origins of psychiatric disorders. Freud’s “free association” strategy during therapy follows the client’s development stages from the Oral (Id), Anal (Ego), Phallic (Superego), Latency to Genital Phases. Similarly, Sullivan drew links between psychiatric disorders and stages of development in children. He linked personality to Infancy, Childhood, Juvenile, Preadolescence, Early Adolescence and Late Adolescence stages capable of impacting individual’s mental health. The major difference between the Psychoanalytical and Interpersonal theory was the attitudes adopted by their originators regarding anxiety. Freud opined that anxiety in individuals with psychiatric originated internally as a result of personal distress. Sullivan, on the other hand, linked anxiety to problems with social interaction and other interpersonal issues. It is noteworthy to acknowledge that Sullivan initially aped Freud’s psychoanalytical theory to model theory. He later improved this theory by linking psychotic episodes to stages of development in a child which eventually linked anxiety to social interactions. In finality, I believe that Sullivan’s theory is best suited for modern psychiatry. It focuses expressly on interpersonal aspects of mental health problems which is also why the theory is fundamental when seeking to explain personality.

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