Frontiers of Infant Psychiatry - Vol. 2

By Justin D. Call; Eleanor Galenson et al. | Go to book overview

In Memoriam—Selma Fraiberg
(1918-1981)

In her lifetime, Selma Fraiberg was referred to as "one of the world's leading authorities on how to read and respond to messages of need in those too young to speak for themselves." She referred to herself and her team of colleagues as "intermediaries" with respect to the baby, but her life work from the beginning of her professional career was always in the area of intermediation: as an analyst between the young patient and his or her disturbing inner world, as a developmental guide for the bewildered, immature mother and her infant, as a pair of understanding eyes between the blind and the outer environment, and as a rescuing intervener between children and the perils to which they are exposed.

Our common interests brought us together on a variety of panels devoted at times to child psychoanalysis, at times to vicissitudes of parenthood, at times to the vulnerabilities and resiliencies involved in preventative work. When I introduced her as the speaker for the first academic lecture of the Association for Child Psychoanalysis, she reviewed for us the work in progress at her new center in San Francisco. It always seemed to me that wherever she spoke and wherever she went she generated enthusiasm for her work and a dedication to the special vision of the infantile predicament that made her known throughout the world. After listening to her, one had the impulse to go and carry out this very important and necessary work, and it came as no surprise that her cardinal role in the field of infant mental health was recognized, in the year of her death, by the Dolly Madison Award. The citation recognized that her work was "unique in this century," and that "her insights into the needs and functioning of the very young, the handicapped, and their parents crossed the disciplinary lines of the helping professions," and that through her publications, she had accomplished "the rare feat of communicating directly, clearly, and understandably, yet without oversimplification." Her prose was indeed so clear that it seemed deceptively easy to grasp her ideas and become wise like her without prodigious effort. Two of her greatest communicative talents, in fact, lay in making the unconscious conscious, in the classic psychoanalytic sense, and in making the obscurities and complexities of the human condition clear, concise, and comprehensible to the majority of readers and listeners.

If we take a look at what she did for infant psychiatry alone, it appears to represent a number of professional lifetimes. She was able to accomplish so much only because she built up and maintained and encouraged interdiciplinary teams. In summary, it is an impressive record.

In her work with blind infants, apart from

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