Seidenberg Prize highlights psychoanalytic psychotherapists who care for people in prison
Winners of the Seidenberg Prize for psychoanalytic perspectives on problems of incarceration propose a new way to train corrections officers and offer a critical perspective on over-incarceration in the U.S.
“The Seidenberg Paper Prize demonstrates the value of psychoanalytically-informed psychotherapy as a clinical approach and way to understand our world,” says Chicago Psychoanalytic Institute President Erika Schmidt. “This prize shows how these ideas work within prisons with incarcerated men and women as well as guards responsible for their care. It exemplifies our field’s dedication to advancing knowledge of human beings—their feelings, thoughts and behavior—and to improving people’s lives.”
Winners below, abstracts, author bios and access to the articles available here.
Stephanie Gangemi, LCSW, Behavioral Health Programs Manager of the El Paso County (Colorado) Sheriff’s Office will receive the first prize of $15,000 for her paper:
“Are They Mental Health or Behavioral?” Toward Object Relations Translation for Corrections Officers
Gangemi argues that corrections officers are increasingly relied upon to manage the mental health needs of the sickest inmates but often are provided with inadequate training on etiology, effective interventions and how to manage their own severe reactions to this population. She recommends that training for corrections officers can and should integrate psychoanalytic theories, in particular, object relations theory and illustrates how translation of these concepts can be applied.
Elizabeth (Beth) Kita, LCSW, PhD, a clinical social worker in public/private practice and lecturer at University of California-Berkeley, will receive the second prize of $5,000 for her paper:
“They Hate Me Now, But Where Was Everyone When I Needed Them?” Mass Incarceration, Mass Projective Identification, and Creating Containers That Hold
Kita suggests mass incarceration serves a psychological function for society in the form of a collective projective identification defense against anxieties related to dependency, precariousness and perpetration. Kita uses a psychoanalytic lens to explore the phenomenon of mass incarceration and the traumatogenic conditions of prisons.
“Our paper prize asked for practical solutions that didn’t involve changing the whole system,” says Prudence Gourguechon, MD, a faculty member at the Institute who chaired the judging committee. “Kita offered a brilliant overview, and Gangemi had a practical angle. We wished we could have given two first-place prizes.”
The Institute plans to form an online community for the paper authors to exchange ideas in the coming year, and is exploring opportunities to publish several of the essays and hold a symposium. They also hope to share the winning papers with public officials.
Twenty-six papers received
The Seidenberg Paper Prize was created by the Chicago Psychoanalytic Institute with support from Dentons Law Firm. Senior Counsel Harold C. Hirshman, also an Institute board member, helped lead a pro bono federal class-action suit, Rasho v. Walker, that led to a 2016 consent decree in which the Illinois Department of Corrections agreed to invest millions in facilities and staffing to provide mental-health services to 11,000 inmates dealing with mental illness.
Hirshman worked with the Institute to create the prize, earmarking funds from attorneys’ fees awarded to the firm and co-plaintiffs Equip for Equality and Uptown Peoples Law Center. In his research related to the case, he says, none of the sources he read offered much of a sense of compassion for the people in prison.
Thinking back to his own experience of psychoanalysis with therapist Harry Seidenberg, the late former dean of the Chicago Institute, Hirshman believed the discipline had something to offer: “I thought it would be possibly helpful if a question were posed to the analytic community: what can be done to reduce hostility or create a sense of common humanity between the prisoners and the guards?
“I went to Erika, who was willing to give it a try. But she didn’t want me to have any exalted ideas,” Hirshman says. “She told me, ‘well, maybe we’ll get three papers.” In fact, the prize attracted widespread national and international attention in four months from the November call for papers to the March 1 deadline. Twenty-six papers were submitted by authors from Argentina, Denmark, Ecuador, England, Israel, Italy, and Peru as well as around the U.S.
News of the call spread rapidly thanks to a network of dozens of psychoanalytic institutes around the U.S., American and International psychoanalytic associations and academic scholars who assisted in distributing the call for papers. The rapid response and range of papers received underscore the continued relevance of psychoanalysis for clinical treatment and interpreting the world around us.
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