Victor J. Teichner, M.D.

Victor J. Teichner, known to all as “Vic,” had a classic 20th century American life-story. The only child of Jewish immigrant parents, William, who emigrated as a teen from Vienna, Austria after World War One, and Sonya, who emigrated, also as a teen, from Russia, during the same era, Vic was a native New Yorker. He was born October 22, 1926, three years before the Great Depression that was so much a part of the sociocultural milieu of his Brooklyn childhood. He was one of the fortunate depression-era children, because his father had been educated as a civil engineer, and worked in a stable design job for the New York City subway system throughout the years when the nation struggled; nonetheless, he was highly aware that others were less well-off, something his socialist-oriented parents were careful to teach him.

Attending public schools in Coney Island, in a rigorous environment, Vic excelled in math and science (a classmate at Lincoln High School later went on to win a Nobel Prize in science,) and also took piano lessons, showing a special gift for jazz and “pop.” As a young teenager, he earned money by selling magazines door-to-door, with great success, perhaps due to his very engaging personality and his ability to speak a few phrases in Italian in the Italian neighborhoods, as well as a little Yiddish in the Jewish neighborhoods. At age 15, he rounded up a small pop-song band, and played hotels in the Catskills in the summers and bar mitzvahs in the winters.  Taught tennis by his father, Vic became a superb and avid player, highly competitive, with excellent sportsmanship. Music and tennis remained lifelong passions for Vic, and, as with all his endeavors, he committed to them with spirit, delight, and effort.

Of all of Vic’s high school accomplishments, the one of which he was most proud came at Lincoln High School where, after intensive lobbying on his part, the school’s annual Freedom Medal was awarded to Paul Robeson, the great opera singer, actor, athlete, and civil rights advocate.

Vic went on to college, first at Brooklyn College, after World War Two, at the University of Wisconsin. Turning 18 in 1944, he had volunteered for the U.S. Navy, and was sent to radio school. The war had ended before he could be sent to serve in a combat zone, and as part of the Navy Reserve, he was able, after a shortened college career, customary at that time, to attend medical school at Temple University. Following graduation, he returned to New York, interned at Harlem Hospital, and then began a psychiatry residency. Once again, war intervened, and he was recalled to active duty in the Korean War; despite his young age, with only 3 months of psychiatric training, he was loaned to the Army to serve as Chief of Psychiatry at the U.S. Army Hospital in Fort Devens, MA, where he was able to receive informal supervision from two Harvard psychiatrists who served as consultants. Following that assignment, for two years Vic served as a Navy doctor, commissioned a Captain, in Newport, RI and San Diego, CA. He fondly remembered his service, in no small part because of the availability of tennis courts in both locations!

No doubt, Vic’s gifts as an administrator were honed in these “trial by fire” experiences in the military; however back in New York, he returned to the role of a first year resident in Psychiatry at Bellevue Hospital, and post-residency, completed his psychoanalytic training at the Columbia Psychoanalytic Center for Training and Research.

Vic entered full-time private practice and joined the psychiatric faculty at Columbia. In 1972, he was recruited to move to New York Medical College, where he became the Director of the Department of Psychiatry at Metropolitan Hospital. He served in that role for the remainder of his life, with great success and enormous popularity. He was elected Chairman of the Directors of Psychiatry in Municipal Hospitals, serving from 1973-79, became a Professor of Clinical Psychiatry at New York Medical College, as well as a Training and Supervising Psychoanalyst in its analytic institute. Vic was also elected President of the NYCDB-APA and Editor of the Bulletin of the Association for Psychoanalytic Medicine. He was a founding Assistant Editor of the Journal of the American Academy of Psychoanalysis, and served on many committees of the Academy. At the time of his death, he had just become the President of the American Academy of Psychoanalysis.

Vic was a dedicated clinician; he continued his private practice, before and after his hours at the hospital. He also published in the areas of confidentiality of psychiatric treatment (he was a founding member of the National Commission on the Confidentiality of Medical Records,) transcultural psychiatry, and ethics.

Known for his superlative administrative skills—he worked tirelessly within the hospital and with the City of New York to improve the delivery of psychiatric services—-Vic was equally admired for his abilities as a teacher and clinician. He had a rare ability to communicate the principles of clinical psychodynamic work to medical students, residents, and faculty, in a way that emphasized adaptability, the primacy of the individual patient over the theoretical model, respect for each patient, and the joy and satisfaction inherent in the clinical work. He inspired many young psychiatrists to careers that included psychodynamic approaches and often, psychoanalytic training. He fostered the professional careers of many, and at a time when women were working toward equality in the field of hospital psychiatry, he promoted outstanding young women psychiatrists to important departmental positions.

It was a great loss to the profession, as well as a personal loss for many, when Vic died on May 3, 1983, at the age of 56, of severe complications of surgery for a GI malignancy, which had been undiagnosed until just one day before his exploratory surgery. He had fought valiantly for a month in Intensive Care, before his remarkable energy, which he had brought to every endeavor in his life, finally failed. He is survived by his wife, Gail W. Berry, M.D., a long-time member of the AAP/AAPDP, and his sons, William Teichner and Alexander Berry.

Those who remember Vic visibly brighten at his name, and speak of him as a lively, communicative, and inspiring teacher, a tireless and diplomatic administrator, and a deeply intuitive, empathetic, and remarkable clinician. He was also unpretentious, accessible, and great fun to be around. The Victor J. Teichner Award has been anonymously endowed by an extremely generous patient of Vic’s who deeply wished to memorialize Vic in this most appropriate way. 

The American Academy of Psychodynamic Psychiatry and Psychoanalysis
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