HCN News & Notes

Austen Riggs Center Staff Receive Prestigious Achievement Award

STOCKBRIDGE — Donna Elmendorf, Dr. Claudia Gold, and Kate Jewson have been recognized for their work in the Human Development Strategic Initiative, receiving the prestigious Anna Freud Educational Achievement Award from the American Psychoanalytic Assoc. (APsaA) schools committee.

This annual award is presented to a person, school, or educational institution that furthers psychoanalytically informed work with educators, schools, and students in grades pre-K to 12. The prize and the accompanying honorarium will be presented during APsaA’s national meeting in February 2018. Founded in 1911, the American Psychoanalytic Assoc. is the oldest national psychoanalytic organization in the U.S.

In 2016, the Austen Riggs Center launched its Human Development Strategic Initiative, the goal of which is to bring a deep, psychoanalytic understanding of human development to address social problems in Berkshire County. In order to do so, the initiative is working in close partnership with existing community organizations, including the Chapter One initiative of Berkshire United Way, a broad community coalition of practitioners who interface with young children and families.

The program’s first project, the Discovering Your Baby Project, has as its centerpiece deepening the understanding and practice of infant mental health in Berkshire County through the use of the Newborn Behavioral Observations (NBO) system. The NBO, a clinical adaptation of the Neonatal Behavioral Assessment Scale (NBAS) developed by pediatrician T. Berry Brazelton, is explicitly designed not as an assessment, but as a relationship-building tool. The NBO is a family-focused intervention that can include mothers, fathers, siblings, and extended family. Thus far, a range of practitioners have been trained, including all maternity nurses at a local hospital (130 to 150 babies delivered each year), who have integrated the NBO into routine care.

According to Elmendorf, director of the Austen Riggs Center Therapeutic Community Program, Activities Program, and Human Development Initiative, “we recognize that the capacity for regulation of attention, behavior, and emotion that is essential for success in school is laid down in the moment-to-moment interactions between infants and their caregivers. All those working together in Berkshire County share a primary task of promoting healthy parent-infant relationships starting at birth.”

Gold, an infant mental health specialist, added, “families from the full range of socioeconomic backgrounds in our community may have struggled with generations of mental illness, substance abuse, or other adverse childhood experiences. As a small rural community, we are able to offer a population-based, rather than risk-based, intervention, normalizing and destigmatizing the challenges of the transition to parenthood.”

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