Charles Brenner, MD, 1991

Dr. Brenner reigned as dean of American psychoanalysis for nearly a half-century. A neurologist by training, Dr. Brenner applied to psychoanalysis a ruthless scientific intellect that helped clarify Freud’s canon for working therapists and students and eventually led him to formulate a theory of motivation that has had a profound effect on analytic treatment.

His 1955 book, “An Elementary Textbook of Psychoanalysis,” became a standard reference in training programs. His landmark text, written with Jacob Arlow, “Psychoanalytic Concepts and Structural Theory,” extended Freudean thinking to argue that patients should understand not only the mental barriers underlying their distress, but also exactly which thoughts were being blocked. In this book, the authors attempted to demonstrate the superiority of the structural theory of the mind over the topographic theory as outlined by Freud in “The Interpretation of Dreams.” The authors argued that the two theories are incompatible and should not be used interchangeably. They argued that that the structural theory is superior with regard to its explanatory value and logical consistency.

In a break from strict orthodoxy, Dr. Brenner argued that Freud’s concepts of the ego, the id, and the superego were only concepts and that the engine of human motivation was more like a psychological calculator, continuously computing ratios of pleasure versus pain.

Click here to read Dr. Brenner’s obituary in The New York Times.