SFPRG deeply mourns the passing of our founder and friend. Joseph Weiss, developer of Control Mastery Theory and co-founder of SFPRG, died on Sunday, November 7th, 2004. A memorial was held December 5th in the Presidio, attended by over 300 people. Donations may be made to: SFPRG – Joe Weiss Memorial Fund, in lieu of flowers. An obituary follows. Links to remarks from the memorial are at bottom of the page.

Joseph Weiss, MD, a San Francisco psychoanalyst and pioneering researcher on the psychotherapeutic process, died at his home in San Francisco on November 7th from complications of lung cancer. He was 80.

Joseph Weiss devoted his career to developing a scientific approach to the study and treatment of psychological problems. An observer by nature, he developed an early interest in paradoxical human behavior patterns. Noticing that his mother cried at the happy endings of movies, he developed the idea that people warded off painful feelings until it was safe to face them, – e.g., after the lovers who had been separated were reunited. His first clinical paper, “Crying at the Happy Ending”, published in 1952, contained essential ideas about safety that were central to the development of his theory over the subsequent decades.

Dr. Weiss began his formal investigations of the therapeutic process by studying detailed transcripts of psychoanalytic treatments. With his long-time collaborator, Dr. Harold Sampson, Weiss formed the Mt. Zion Psychotherapy Research Group (now the San Francisco Psychotherapy Training Center and Clinic). Together they pioneered the use of empiric scientific method to rigorously test hypotheses concerning how psychoanalysis and psychotherapy work.

As a result of their studies they formulated the Control Mastery theory, so named because of its emphasis on adaptive unconscious mental processes and the patient’s motivation towards mastery of his own attitudes and behaviors. Central to the theory are the ideas that the patient develops unconscious maladaptive beliefs as a result of traumatic experience, formulates an unconscious plan to overcome these pathogenic beliefs, and tests the therapist as a way to disconfirm them.

In 1986, Weiss and Sampson published a groundbreaking book called “The Psychoanalytic Process: Theory, Clinical Observations and Empirical Research”. Weiss later published the highly acclaimed book, “How Psychotherapy Works”, which has been translated into many languages and is one of the best-selling texts available on psychotherapy.

Dr. Weiss trained and influenced hundreds of mental health professionals in the Bay Area and throughout the world. Until his recent illness, he maintained an active clinical practice, provided consultation to numerous therapists, taught a weekly conference, and conducted an ongoing seminar on psychotherapy research. Dr. Weiss was also a Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at the University of California San Francisco. His students continue to teach his ideas and to conduct research on the principles of psychotherapy.

Dr. Weiss was a creative and original artist; his paintings and cartoons reflect his fresh and irreverent view of the world. In addition, he was an avid tennis player and jogger.

Joseph Weiss was born in Cincinnati, Ohio on March 3, 1924. He received a B.S. in Mathematics from Harvard College in 1945 and graduated from the University of Cincinnati’s medical school in 1947.