Wayne State Distinguished Social Work Professor honored for career contributions to practice with children and adolescents

Jerrold Brandell, distinguished professor and associate dean for faculty affairs at the Wayne State University School of Social Work, has been honored by the American Association for Psychoanalysis in Clinical Social Work (AAPCSW) with its first-ever Selma Fraiberg Award for Excellence in Practice with Children and Adolescents and Their Parents. The award, which was presented on March 24 at the AAPCSW’s Biennial National Conference in Baltimore, recognizes an active AAPCSW member who has dedicated his or her career to practice with children and adolescents and contributed to the field through teaching, presenting, and writing.

A practicing clinical social worker for nearly 40 years, Brandell completed his psychoanalytic training with the Michigan Council for Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy in 2002. He has drawn on his extensive experience as a child, adolescent and adult psychotherapist and psychoanalyst in the publication of 13 books, as (founding) editor-in-chief of Psychoanalytic Social Work, and as an editorial board member of Clinical Social Work Journal and Bulletin of the Michigan Psychoanalytic Council. He has taught for nearly 34 years, joining the Wayne State School of Social Work faculty in 1992 and heading the development of the M.S.W. program’s psychodynamic track and the doctoral program’s concentration in clinical scholarship.

In selecting Brandell for its inaugural award, AAPCSW cited his work in the area of therapeutic storytelling as a key contribution to the field of child and adolescent practice. Specifically, Brandell has developed and disseminated “reciprocal storytelling,” a therapeutic framework in which client and therapist take turns creating imaginative stories as a means to explore emotional conflicts, disturbing fantasies, and other anxiety-laden material.  Through the process, a child may express unsettling wishes, fears, and defensive adaptations, while the therapist, having discerned the dynamic meaning of the child’s story, responds within the metaphor of the child’s story with a different version offering therapeutic insights and more adaptive solutions.

“Children are born to play and fantasy play is the repository for the work of children. By extension, storytelling is an aspect of children’s play that comes naturally and that’s what Jerry has capitalized on with reciprocal storytelling,” said Karen Baker, past president of the AAPCSW and co-chair with Wendy Winograd of the organization’s Child and Adolescent Committee, which created the award. “This is a significant contribution, one that Jerry has taught countless clinicians not only through his book Of Mice and Metaphors but through lectures and workshops all over the world.”

Brandell, who has been recognized as a distinguished practitioner by the National Academies of Practice, has taught reciprocal storytelling in Greece, Crete, Spain, China, and France, and as a visiting professor at the Zurich University of Applied Sciences in Switzerland, Lund University School of Social Work in Sweden, and The University of Canterbury, in Christchurch, New Zealand. He said he is pleased that his work and receipt of the award – named after Wayne State alumna Selma Fraiberg (MSW ’40), a social worker-psychoanalyst and pioneer in the infant mental health movement – has helped advance AAPCSW’s goal of giving child and adolescent practice greater prominence within a field that has historically emphasized work with adults.

“Child psychoanalysis was something of a stepchild in the psychoanalytic movement, and psychodynamic child and adolescent therapy has only gradually acquired equal footing with the treatment of adults,” Brandell said. “Developing an alliance with children in therapy can be far more difficult than it is with adults, but work with children can be far more impactful. Early interventions can rewrite the path of development, particularly in children who have experienced significant trauma, and prevent serious psychopathology in adulthood.”

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