Smart Foundation helps candidate study end-of-life ‘Existential Maturity’
Sometimes patients say striking things like: “Cancer is the best thing that ever happened to me.” And patients' loved ones say things like: “Accompanying him on his last journey is the most inspiring thing I have ever done.”
Sometimes palliative care clinicians say equally odd things. Like: “I could never find the vitality that we have in palliative care in another medical discipline; it comes from the people we care for.”
Comments like these across a career in medicine inspired Linda Emanuel, MD, PhD, a candidate in the Institute Psychoanalytic Education Program’s Child Analysis Committee, to investigate what she has come to call “existential maturity.” She coined the phrase to refer to a state she’s observed in patients old and young who are facing their own or another person’s mortality.
“Existential maturity is a state of balance in which the essential, integrated reality is death. That reality can be unspeakably painful, but it is in place with the rest of life and the greater world,” Emanuel says. “This way of being seems particularly capable of love, finds or creates meaningful value, tenderness, and acceptance, even along with other emotions that may be passionate, turbulent, and pained.”
Grant Support; Partners
Emanuel recently received support from the Smart Family Foundation and the International Psychoanalytical Association to work with children and adults who have terminal cancer in order to explore what existential maturity feels like experientially and how psychotherapists can assist in achieving the state.
Other partners in the project include the Supportive Oncology Services at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, Ann and Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital, and the Institute.
Emanuel came to the Institute with deep expertise in palliative care and a research interest in understanding what moves people when mortality seems near.
Many times, she says, “inhibitions that impeded loving relationships before would lift, and people become freed to relate and love fully.” She also observed that often people have not known how to think about death and as they learn how to do so they achieve needed skills in approaching it.
The partners in the research project will work together to produce insights that they expect will be reported in papers based on cases of children and their family members with whom they work.
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Schools Initiatives’ Major Gift Energizes Other Donors, Too
Photos: top, New School in the Heights, Houston; bottom, Montessori School of Englewood, one of the locations where Institute Schools Initiatives staff provide services
We were honored this summer to learn board members at Houston’s recently closed New School in the Heights chose to support the work of our Schools Initiatives. These programs are among only a few options for therapeutic services to children who live in communities where the effects of trauma, violence and poverty persist.
The New School in the Heights board invested $150,000 to honor the legacy of their founders, Diane Manning, PhD and the late Arthur J. Farley, MD, who sought to integrate psychoanalysis with education. The New School in the Heights had used a psychoanalytic approach to help students with social-emotional challenges.
This was one of the largest gifts the Institute has received. Manning and her fellow board members encouraged the Institute to leverage their support by asking existing donors to give for the Schools Initiatives. To date, 43 additional donors have made special gifts to the Institute totaling nearly $13,000 toward our goal of $20,000 for the project this fall.
Since 2008, clinicians working with Chicago Institute for Psychoanalysis’ Schools Initiatives, a project of our children's clinics have provided group and individual therapy to children in four schools in Englewood and two other challenged Chicago communities. Graduate student interns gain valuable experience working in these programs. This forms part of our mission to provide professional training in the theory and practice of psychoanalysis and psychotherapy and apply these principles to therapeutic services for the public.
If you would like to support this work, you can do so by donating online at chicagoanalysis.org.
Montessori School of Englewood shows how social-emotional support helps kids
1) After spending its first five years sharing space in other school buildings, Montessori School of Englewood settled into its own space at 6936 S. Honore last spring.
2) Kelly Frazier-Wawire is director of social and emotional support at the school.
Staff at Montessori School of Englewood
knew they would do things differently when they decided to open one of the first public schools in the nation to offer free Montessori education in an underserved, high-needs community. One way they have differed from other schools is by providing wraparound social and emotional supports for students.
Since the school opened in 2012, Chicago Institute for Psychoanalysis has been there to help: clinicians have provided individual psychotherapy on a weekly basis to more than a dozen of the school’s 300 children aged 6 to 12, located at 69th and Honore in Chicago’s West Englewood neighborhood.
As a public charter school, Montessori School of Englewood receives public support as well as private support from foundations and individuals. Clinical services from partners such as the Institute are a key component of that support, school staff say.
“From the very start of the school, the psychosocial needs of the students have always been at the fore of our programming,” says Kelly Frazier-Wawire, LCSW, director of social and emotional support at the school. “It’s always been understood that this was going to have to be an essential integrated component of the school.”
Nearly all the 300 students at the Montessori School of Englewood are categorically considered “at-risk” due to poverty, exposure to familial or neighborhood trauma, and/or beginning school with inadequate school readiness.
Trauma has touched many students as well as school staff who live in the area, Frazier-Wawire says. Psychodynamic psychotherapy is part of the school’s eclectic approach to helping children and the school community that also draws from cognitive behavioral therapy, restorative justice, and other influences.
She and another social worker are at the school full time, with a third joining this fall. Their goal is to make the entire school trauma-aware. With clinical support from the Institute and other sources, the social and emotional support team can work with 50 children one-on-one plus students who are in groups.
Frazier-Wawire helped develop that programming initially as an an Education Pioneers Fellow while completing her master’s degree at University of Chicago Social Service Administration School in the summer of 2012, before the school opened. She already knew of the Institute from a previous stint at Juvenile Protective Association, where both Center for Child and Adolescent Psychotherapy Director and faculty member Denia Barrett and her husband, Institute board and faculty member Tom Barrett, were consultants.
In addition to clinical support, Frazier-Wawire says, the Institute’s director of child services, Denia Barrett, has provided regular on-site consultation and support: “She has been a fantastic mentor. We process a lot when she comes in [and] we learn a lot from each other.”
Five years in, Frazier-Wawire, who has been asked to present on her methods to other educators, says that others can take a lesson from Montessori School of Englewood’s way of doing things: “One of the things I love about the school is we want to do this really well here, and our primary focus is here -- but we also want people to know that we are doing something very unique and special and we want to share. It’s also about sharing and supporting kids [all] across Chicago.”