A Ghost in Contemporary Theory: Selma Fraiberg’s Social Work Identity and Her Contributions to Modern Psychoanalysis

Abstract

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.

References

  1. 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.

    Google Scholar 

  2. 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.

  3. Atwood, G. E., & Stolorow, R. D. (1993). Faces in a cloud: Intersubjectivity in personality theory. Lanham: Jason Aronson.

    Google Scholar 

  4. 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.

    Google Scholar 

  5. 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.

    Google Scholar 

  6. 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.

  7. Brown, C. W. (n.d.). Selma Fraiberg, 1918–1981. Jewish Women’s Archive. JWA.org.

  8. Chess, S. (1986). Early childhood development and its implications for analytic theory and practice. American Journal of Psychoanalysis, 46(2), 123–148.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  9. 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.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  10. Crown, N. J. (2009). Introduction. Journal of Infant, Child, and Adolescent Psychotherapy, 8(1), 1–6.

    Google Scholar 

  11. 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.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  12. 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.

    Google Scholar 

  13. 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.

    Google Scholar 

  14. Ennis, T. W. (1981, December 22). Selma Fraiberg dies at 63; an authority on early childhood. New York: The New York Times.

    Google Scholar 

  15. 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.

    Google Scholar 

  16. Feldman, R. (2012). Oxytocin and social affiliation in humans. Hormones and Behavior. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.yhbeh.2012.01.008.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  17. 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.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  18. Fraiberg, L. (1987). Preface. In Selected writings of Selma Fraiberg. pp. xxv–xxvii. Columbus: Ohio State University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  19. Fraiberg, S. (1950). On the sleep disturbances of early childhood. Psychoanalytic Study of the Child, 5, 285–309.

    Google Scholar 

  20. Fraiberg, S. (1959). The magic years. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons.

    Google Scholar 

  21. Fraiberg, S. (1978). Psychoanalysis and social work: a reexamination of the issues. Smith College Studies in Social Work, 48, 87–106.

    Google Scholar 

  22. Fraiberg, S. (1980). Clinical studies in infant mental health. New York: Basic Books.

    Google Scholar 

  23. Fraiberg, S. (1982). Pathological defenses in infancy. Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 51(6), 612–635.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  24. 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).

    Google Scholar 

  25. 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).

    Google Scholar 

  26. 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).

    Google Scholar 

  27. 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).

    Google Scholar 

  28. 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).

    Google Scholar 

  29. 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).

    Google Scholar 

  30. 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.

    Google Scholar 

  31. 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).

    Google Scholar 

  32. 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.

  33. Herman, J. (1992). Trauma and recovery. New York: Basic Books.

    Google Scholar 

  34. Holinger, P. C. (2000). Early intervention and prevention of psychopathology: The potential role of affect. Clinical Social Work Journal, 28(1), 23–41.

    Google Scholar 

  35. 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.

    Google Scholar 

  36. Hunt, N. (2007). A builder of bridges: Nigel Hunt interviews Prof. Airi Hautamäki. thepsychologist.bps.org.uk.

  37. Kanter, J. (2017a). Selma Fraiberg’s magic years. Durham: American Association for Psychoanalysis in Clinical Social Work Newsletter.

  38. Kanter, J. (2017b). Selma Fraiberg’s unconventional psychoanalytic education. Durham: American Association for Psychoanalysis in Clinical Social Work Newsletter.

  39. Kanter, J. (2018). Selma Fraiberg on social work education. Durham: American Association for Psychoanalysis in Clinical Social Work Newsletter.

  40. 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.

  41. 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.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  42. Loewald, H. (1960). On the therapeutic action of psycho-analysis. The International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 41, 16–33.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  43. 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.

    Google Scholar 

  44. Mosher, P. (2008) Letter from the United States. International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 89(6):1109–1122.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  45. Richards, A. (1999). A.A. Brill and the politics of exclusion. Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 47, 9–28.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  46. Salomonsson, B. (2015). Extending the field: parent-toddler psychotherapy inspired by mother- infant work. Journal of Child Psychotherapy, 41(1), 3–21.

    Google Scholar 

  47. Selective Bibliography of Selma Fraiberg. (1982). 1945–1982. Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 51, 636–641.

    Google Scholar 

  48. 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.

    Google Scholar 

  49. 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.

    Google Scholar 

  50. Slade, A. (2006). Reflective parenting programs: theory and development. Psychoanalytic Inquiry, 26(4), 640–657.

    Google Scholar 

  51. 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.

    Google Scholar 

  52. Stone, J. (2001). Final Report. https://www.churchilltrust.com/au/media/fellows/Stone_Julie_2001.pdf.

  53. Terr, L. (1992). Too scared to cry. New York: Basic Books.

    Google Scholar 

  54. Terr, L. (2003). Childhood traumas: an outline and overview. Focus, 1(3), 322–334.

    Google Scholar 

  55. Tosone, C. (2004). Relational social work: Honoring the tradition. Smith College Studies in Social Work, 74(3), 475–487.

    Google Scholar 

  56. Trevarthen, C., & Aitken, K. J. (2001). Infant intersubjectivity: research, theory and clinical applications. Journal of Child Psychiatry, 42(1), 3–48.

    Google Scholar 

  57. 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.

    Google Scholar 

  58. Wallerstein, R. (1986). Selma H. Fraiberg, Psychiatrist: San Francisco. Content.cdib.org..

  59. Ware, C. J. (2004). Yoga in a partial hospitalization program: The effects on at-risk youth. Princeton: DePaul University, ProQuest Dissertations Publishing.

    Google Scholar 

  60. Weatherston, D. J. (2001). Relationships for learning: Early Head Start infant mental health in Jackson, Michigan. Zerotothree.org, Feb. 10, 2010.

  61. Winn, M. (1983, May 8). The loss of childhood. The New York Times.

  62. 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.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Leslie Cummins.

Additional information

Publisher’s Note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

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

Download citation

Keywords

  • Attachment
  • Trauma
  • Selma Fraiberg
  • Clinical social work identity
  • Social work education
  • Psychoanalysis
  • Casework