The Sullivanians: Sex, Psychotherapy, and the Wild Life of an American Commune

Farrar. Jun. 2023. 432p. ISBN 9780374600396. $30. HIST
Therapists Jane Pearce and Saul Newton founded the Sullivan Institute, named after neo-Freudian Harry Stack Sullivan, in 1957. Stille (international journalism, Columbia Univ.; The Force of Things) interviewed 60 former institute members to construct the most authoritative account of counterculture family re-engineering gone wrong. The interviewees tell many things. For example, they said commitment-free and frequent sexual relations were the norm. Children, often declared the source of postpartum psychosis and frequently sent to boarding schools where they suffered mistreatment, were communally raised with loose to no parental bonds. Eventually, Newton replaced Pearce with a series of polygamist marriages and became controlling and sexually abusive towards his patients. Yet the commune thrived until the AIDS crisis in the 1980s and didn’t disband until 1991. A generation of commune children were left to process abuse; some didn’t know who their birth parents were. The widespread fallout is engrossing and mesmerizing.
VERDICT This gripping tale of an attempted societal shift will entrance readers. Well-researched and accessible, its broad appeal makes it a necessary part of sociology and psychology collections.
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