Re-examining the work of Selma Fraiberg, an early psychoanalytic social worker, reveals the prediction of two dominant strains in contemporary psychoanalysis: attachment theory and the study of trauma. On the hundredth anniversary of her birth, reading her papers is a reminder of clinical social work’s natural partnering with psychoanalysis. As American psychoanalysis has moved away from its primary focus on intrapsychic conflict toward relational models, it has incorporated the sine qua non of clinical social work: the person-in-environment. Fraiberg’s original identity as a social worker strongly informed her research, casework, writing, and approach to education, and forecast current strains in American psychoanalysis. Reclaiming Fraiberg’s unique contribution should cement both her rightful place as a psychoanalytic pioneer and as an originator of clinical social work identity, as well as the influence of clinical social work on American psychoanalysis.
This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Price includes VAT for USA
Subscribe to journal
Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.
This is the net price. Taxes to be calculated in checkout.
Aiello, T. (1998). The influence of the psychoanalytic community of émigrés (1930–1950) on clinical social work with children. Child and Adolescent Social Work Journal, 15(2), 151–166.
Antonio, R. D. (2009). A group intervention model for women diagnosed with cancer during the prenatal or postpartum period. Proquest Dissertations and Theses. Massachusetts School of Professional Psychology.
Atwood, G. E., & Stolorow, R. D. (1993). Faces in a cloud: Intersubjectivity in personality theory. Lanham: Jason Aronson.
Barlow, J., Bennett, C., Midgley, N., Larkin, S. K., & Wei, Y. (2016). Parent-infant psychotherapy: a systematic review of the evidence for improving parental and infant mental health. Journal of Reproductive and Infant Psychology, 34(5), 464–482.
Benitez-Bloch, R. (2012). Integrating the internal and external worlds of clinical social work. In E. Ruderman & C. Tosone (Eds.), Contemporary clinical practice: The holding environment under assault (pp. 29–40). New York: Springer.
Bernstein, E. (2006, Oct 24). Health: Infant psychotherapy grows up to be a trend; research gives boost to baby treatments as do fearful parents. Wall Street Journal, pp. 31.
Brown, C. W. (n.d.). Selma Fraiberg, 1918–1981. Jewish Women’s Archive. JWA.org.
Chess, S. (1986). Early childhood development and its implications for analytic theory and practice. American Journal of Psychoanalysis, 46(2), 123–148.
Cicchetti, D., Rogosch, F. A., Toth, S. L., & Sturge-Apple, M. L. (2011). Normalizing the development of cortisol regulation in maltreated infants through preventive interventions. Development and Psychopathology. 23.3.:789–800. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0954579411000307.
Crown, N. J. (2009). Introduction. Journal of Infant, Child, and Adolescent Psychotherapy, 8(1), 1–6.
de Camps Meschino, D., Philipp, D., Israel, A., & Vigod, S. (2016). Maternal-infant mental health: Postpartum group intervention. Archives of Women’s Mental Health. 19.2.:243–251. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00737-015-0551-y.
Dozier, M., Bernard, K., & Roben, C. K. P. (2018). Attachment and biobehavioral catchup. In H. Steele & M. Steele (Eds.), Handbook of attachment-based interventions (pp. 27–49). New York: Guilford Press.
Emde, R. N. (1987). Selma Fraiberg: Essayist, clinician, and scientific pathfinder. In L. Fraiberg (Ed.), Selected writings of Selma Fraiberg (pp. vii-xxi). Columbus: Ohio State University Press.
Ennis, T. W. (1981, December 22). Selma Fraiberg dies at 63; an authority on early childhood. New York: The New York Times.
Feldman, R. (2007). Maternal versus child’s risk and the development of parent-infant and family relationships in five high-risk populations. Development & Psychopathology, 19, 293–312.
Feldman, R. (2012). Oxytocin and social affiliation in humans. Hormones and Behavior. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.yhbeh.2012.01.008.
Fonagy, P., Steele, M., Moran, G., Steele, H., & Higgitt, A. (1993). Measuring the ghost in the nursery: an empirical study of the relation between parents’ mental representations of childhood experiences and their infants’ security of attachment. Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 41, 957–989. https://doi.org/10.1177/000306519304100403.
Fraiberg, L. (1987). Preface. In Selected writings of Selma Fraiberg. pp. xxv–xxvii. Columbus: Ohio State University Press.
Fraiberg, S. (1950). On the sleep disturbances of early childhood. Psychoanalytic Study of the Child, 5, 285–309.
Fraiberg, S. (1959). The magic years. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons.
Fraiberg, S. (1978). Psychoanalysis and social work: a reexamination of the issues. Smith College Studies in Social Work, 48, 87–106.
Fraiberg, S. (1980). Clinical studies in infant mental health. New York: Basic Books.
Fraiberg, S. (1982). Pathological defenses in infancy. Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 51(6), 612–635.
Fraiberg, S. (1987). Further considerations on the role of transference in latency. In L. Fraiberg (Ed.), Selected writings of Selma Fraiberg (pp. 338–361). Columbus: Ohio State University Press. (Original work published 1966).
Fraiberg, S. (1987). Legacies and prophecies. In L. Fraiberg (Ed.), Selected writings of Selma Fraiberg (pp. 439–445). Columbus: Ohio State University Press. (Original work published 1974).
Fraiberg, S. (1987). Libidinal object constancy and mental representation. In L. Fraiberg (Ed.), Selected writings of Selma Fraiberg (pp. 27–64). Columbus: Ohio State University Press. (Original work published 1969).
Fraiberg, S. (1987). The muse in the kitchen: A case study in clinical research. In L. Fraiberg (Ed.), Selected writings of Selma Fraiberg (pp. 65–99). Columbus: Ohio State University Press. (Original work published 1970).
Fraiberg, S. (1987). Psychoanalysis and the education of caseworkers. In L. Fraiberg (Ed.), Selected writings of Selma Fraiberg (pp. 412–438). Columbus: Ohio State University Press. (Original work published 1961).
Fraiberg, S. (1987). Some aspects of casework with children. In L. Fraiberg (Ed.), Selected writings of Selma Fraiberg (pp. 388–411). Columbus: Ohio State University Press. (Original work delivered 1952).
Fraiberg, S. H., Adelson, E., & Shapiro, V. B. (1975). Ghosts in the nursery: A psychoanalytic approach to the problem of mother/infant relationships. Journal of the American Academy of Child Psychiatry, 14(3), 386–422.
Fraiberg, S. H., Shapiro, V., & Adelson, E. (1987). Infant-parent psychotherapy on behalf of a child in a critical nutritional state. In L. Fraiberg (Ed.), Selected writings of Selma Fraiberg (pp. 137–165). Columbus: Ohio State University Press. (Original work published 1976).
Hautamäki, A. (2014). Transmission of attachment across three generations—ghosts and angels in the Finnish nursery. In A. Hautamäki (Ed.), The dynamic-maturational model of attachment and adaptation—theory and practice. http://www.helsinki.fi.
Herman, J. (1992). Trauma and recovery. New York: Basic Books.
Holinger, P. C. (2000). Early intervention and prevention of psychopathology: The potential role of affect. Clinical Social Work Journal, 28(1), 23–41.
Huebner, C. E., Dunlop, M. L., & Case, A. (2004). Containing violence: A case study illustration of Bion’s container-contained model as applied to mother-infant intervention. Clinical Social Work Journal, 32(2), 141–157.
Hunt, N. (2007). A builder of bridges: Nigel Hunt interviews Prof. Airi Hautamäki. thepsychologist.bps.org.uk.
Kanter, J. (2017a). Selma Fraiberg’s magic years. Durham: American Association for Psychoanalysis in Clinical Social Work Newsletter.
Kanter, J. (2017b). Selma Fraiberg’s unconventional psychoanalytic education. Durham: American Association for Psychoanalysis in Clinical Social Work Newsletter.
Kanter, J. (2018). Selma Fraiberg on social work education. Durham: American Association for Psychoanalysis in Clinical Social Work Newsletter.
Lieberman, A. F., Chu, A., Van Horn, P., & Harris, W. W. (2011). Trauma in early childhood: Empirical evidence and clinical implications. Development and Psychopathology. 23.2.: 397–410. doi:http://dx.doi.org.proxy.library.nyu.edu/ https://doi.org/10.1017/S0954579411000137.
Lieberman, A. F., Padron, E., van Horn, P., & Harris, W. W. (2005). Angels in the nursery: The intergenerational transmission of benevolent parental influences. Infant Mental Health Journal, 26(6), 504–520.
Loewald, H. (1960). On the therapeutic action of psycho-analysis. The International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 41, 16–33.
Mayers, H., & Siegler, A. L. (2004). Finding each other: Using a psychoanalytic-developmental perspective to build understanding and strengthen attachment between teenaged mothers and their babies. Journal of Infant, Child, and Adolescent Psychotherapy, 3(4), 444–465.
Mosher, P. (2008) Letter from the United States. International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 89(6):1109–1122.
Richards, A. (1999). A.A. Brill and the politics of exclusion. Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 47, 9–28.
Salomonsson, B. (2015). Extending the field: parent-toddler psychotherapy inspired by mother- infant work. Journal of Child Psychotherapy, 41(1), 3–21.
Selective Bibliography of Selma Fraiberg. (1982). 1945–1982. Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 51, 636–641.
Shapiro, J. R., & Applegate, J. S. (2000). Cognitive neuroscience, neurobiology and affect regulation: implications for clinical social work. Clinical Social Work Journal, 28(1), 9–21.
Shapiro, V. (2009). Reflections on the work of Selma Fraiberg, a pioneer in the field of social work and infant mental health. Clinical Social Work Journal, 37, 45–55.
Slade, A. (2006). Reflective parenting programs: theory and development. Psychoanalytic Inquiry, 26(4), 640–657.
Sohye, K., & Strathearn, L. (2017). Trauma, mothering, and intergenerational transmission: a synthesis of behavioral and oxytocin research. The Psychoanalytic Study of the Child., 70, 200–223.
Stone, J. (2001). Final Report. https://www.churchilltrust.com/au/media/fellows/Stone_Julie_2001.pdf.
Terr, L. (1992). Too scared to cry. New York: Basic Books.
Terr, L. (2003). Childhood traumas: an outline and overview. Focus, 1(3), 322–334.
Tosone, C. (2004). Relational social work: Honoring the tradition. Smith College Studies in Social Work, 74(3), 475–487.
Trevarthen, C., & Aitken, K. J. (2001). Infant intersubjectivity: research, theory and clinical applications. Journal of Child Psychiatry, 42(1), 3–48.
Valente, D., Theurel, A., & Gentaz, E. (2018). The role of visual experience in the production of emotional facial expressions by blind people: a review. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 25(2), 483–497.
Wallerstein, R. (1986). Selma H. Fraiberg, Psychiatrist: San Francisco. Content.cdib.org..
Ware, C. J. (2004). Yoga in a partial hospitalization program: The effects on at-risk youth. Princeton: DePaul University, ProQuest Dissertations Publishing.
Weatherston, D. J. (2001). Relationships for learning: Early Head Start infant mental health in Jackson, Michigan. Zerotothree.org, Feb. 10, 2010.
Winn, M. (1983, May 8). The loss of childhood. The New York Times.
Winnicott, D. W. (1947). Further thoughts on babies as persons. In The child, the family, and the outside world (pp. 85–97). London: Penguin, 1991.
Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.
About this article
Cite this article
Cummins, L. A Ghost in Contemporary Theory: Selma Fraiberg’s Social Work Identity and Her Contributions to Modern Psychoanalysis. Clin Soc Work J 47, 363–371 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10615-019-00698-z
- Selma Fraiberg
- Clinical social work identity
- Social work education