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C. Brooks Brenneis

Drs. C. Brooks Brenneis (L) and George Rosenwald (R)

George Rosenwald Graduate Student Research Award

Dr. C. Brooks Brenneis is an alumnus (1967) of the Department’s Doctoral Program in Clinical Psychology. He recently retired from his career as a Professor of Psychology at the University of Wisconsin and as a practicing clinical psychologist. In our interview with him, he reminisced that the values and epistemic approaches promulgated by the U-M Psychological Clinic during his time at U-M were foundational to his professional and personal development. Within the ranks of the faculty, Brenneis believes that none exemplifies the values of the old Clinic better than Dr. George Rosenwald, who was a clinical supervisor until the 1980s and a member of the Department’s academic faculty until 2000. To honor Rosenwald and the Clinic and to support future research reflecting their values, Brenneis established the George Rosenwald Graduate Student Research Award in 2021.

Brenneis reflects: “Those years at the Clinic were very formative, and I wanted to express my gratitude in a tangible way. It also gives me no end of pleasure to honor George as a person of great character and personal warmth, who represents so much of what we are all grateful for from those days. It’s also a measure of gratitude for the many other things my wife and I got during our stay in Ann Arbor.”  

Of the values the Clinic prized, it may be said that many arose from a characteristically 20th-century psychoanalytic zeitgeist. But at least one of the Clinic’s core values represents something larger—pertinent not just across theories, eras, or disciplines, but across every domain of human experience: the nearly universal interest in life stories, whether in the form of case histories, biographies, or the stories people tell to explain their own salient feelings and beliefs. The psychoanalytic approach taught at the Clinic emphasizes listening to such stories nonjudgmentally, actively and, as the name implies, intensely analytically.

“The notion of encouraging the unfolding of someone’s personal narrative is a big part of what we learned at the Clinic and continue to practice in our professional lives,” says Brenneis. “Your job as a clinical psychologist is not necessarily to prescribe some set of behaviors or actions but to listen to the story of a person’s life. That turns out, I believe, to be much more therapeutic. When people come to your office, what they are often really looking for is someone to connect with their personal experience.”  

Rosenwald agrees that the exploration of life histories has immense value in the treatment of emotional and mental disorders, but he believes its value also extends much further. His research, as well as the research of many of his students, has focused on reaching a better understanding of certain general phenomena through the interpretive exploration of and abstraction from individuals’ specific engagements in them. The Multiple Case Study method, formulated by Rosenwald in the 1970s, has served these investigators well.  

“Psychology has always dedicated itself to testing causal and other hypotheses with quantitative methods to establish empirical regularities,” says Rosenwald. “And although I, too, have published scientific papers using experimental methods, I eventually became dissatisfied with the field’s exclusive reliance on these methods. I became more interested in understanding people’s perceptions of the meaning of their actions and experiences and in teasing out the general reality that people refract through the lenses of their own individual experiences and histories. For instance, why are young couples often ambivalent about having a child? Or why are many middle-aged professionals frustrated in midcareer? The stories told by participants in a study are often widely discrepant and yet reflect both cultural values and general tensions in our society. The search for these overarching objectivities is of interest because it opens a window to the constitution of life in our world and our society, to the possibility of its analysis, and to the eventual design of ameliorative programs.”

Inspired by gratitude to the Clinic and to Rosenwald, as well as by a desire to support future studies of the kind Rosenwald initiated, Brenneis donated $10,000 to establish the George Rosenwald Graduate Student Research Award. The award will provide $2,000 annually to a graduate student who submits the strongest qualitative dissertation research proposal, with a particular emphasis on proposals focused on life narrative research. 

When informed of this donation, Rosenwald expressed his profound gratitude – not only for the personal honor done to him but for the support of an enterprise that means a great deal to him.  He joins Brenneis in the hope that the award will encourage students in the Department to continue producing and publishing innovative qualitative work that moves the field forward.

Further, Brenneis and Rosenwald hope that other alums will feel motivated to contribute. If $25,000 in funding can be secured, the expendable fund will be converted to an endowment, the annual earnings from which would continue to support qualitative research for many years to come. 

If you are interested in contributing, you can do so by visiting the fund’s giving page here (link).