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Harry Stack Sullivan (1892–1949), the founder of the interpersonal theory of mental illness, was born in Norwich, Upstate New York, the son of the only Catholic, Irish American family in the village. Although the modest farm that his family owned in this rural, economically struggling community may not have been the best environment for an introverted, alert, and bookish boy, Sullivan had several supportive figures in his youthful years, including a teenage boy with whom he established an unusually close emotional bond. This may have contributed to the significance that Sullivan would place on same-sex friends, or “chums” in his term, in his theory of interpersonal relationship, which he developed later in his life.

On a scholarship to attend Cornell University, Sullivan as a college freshman ...

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