The Analytic Observer

Newsletter of the Chicago Psychoanalytic Society

Chicago Psychoanalytic Society | June 1998 Newsletter

PR Remarks

by Mark Smaller, Ph.D.

I was going down the elevator recently and ran into a colleague who asked how things were going. It was a couple of days after we had so much success contributing our expertise and understanding to the media after the tragic Jonesboro, Arkansas shooting.

This incident also occurred on day after a nine year old boy here in Chicago was stabbed while witnessing his mother being beaten to death by her boyfriend. I described to my colleague some of our efforts and expressed my belief that the Society and the Institute were no longer the best kept secrets in Chicago, but that we were providing invaluable service to the community with our expertise. The media here in Chicago had functioned in this comforting way for the community, offering attempts at explanations, and ways to approach the subject of these horrible events with children. My colleague was a bit hesitant in his response. He then said, "Well, I’m not sure what’s being accomplished with all this". I asked what he meant.

"I worry this king of media coverage sort of cheapens the product."

I was confused.

"Cheapens the product?" I asked.

"Well," he continued, "I’m not sure what these sound bites really can do for us."

I was speechless. This was a colleague who I had assumed, because of his activity in the Society and Institute, would have been extremely supportive of our efforts. We were leaving the building and therefore I was unable to have him explain further.

Driving down Lake Shore Drive, I found myself repeating out loud to myself, "Cheapens the product". What did that mean? The best I could come up with was that these PR efforts were somehow beneath the stature or dignity of the Institute, Society and psychoanalysis. "Cheapens the product."

The next day Martha left me a message to call Mrs. Smith (we’ll call her). She had read my Letter to the editor in the Sun Times entitled "Listening Can Save a Child’s Life". When I called Mrs. Smith, she explained that she was worried about her grandson Jackson. Jackson was five years old and having problems in school. He had a bad temper and was not learning or keeping up with the other kids. He was having trouble for some time. The school social worker said he was ADD and wanted to start him on medication. Mrs. Smith didn’t think he needed that.

She though he was having some problems and maybe I could help. I said that maybe she wanted to have Jackson evaluated and we could see what the trouble was. I described our child clinic. She seemed receptive. Then I asked how his parents would feel about coming for help with Jackson. "Oh," she said, "Jackson never had a father and his mom died two years ago".

I paused, then inquired and found out that Jackson’s mother had been murdered when he was three. She thought for a few seconds and said that most of his problems seemed to start not long after that. Recently, he talked about how his mother had just gone away but that she would be back any day now. No one at school had ever asked Jackson about losing his mother.

I explained to Mrs. Smith about our Barr Harris Clinic, how we worked with children and their families when there was a parent loss like she described. I then went on to ask how she was doing, that she had lost her daughter and that must be so painful for her. She began to cry and said that everyday she can’t stop thinking about her daughter and she knows how Jackson must feel. She said she felt she couldn’t talk to anyone about it.

The next day, Mrs. Smith and Jackson were seen at our Barr Harris Clinic at Little Company of Mary.

Cheapens the product? It seems to me that if our PR efforts accomplished only providing an opportunity for Jackson and his grandmother to get the help they need, that we can provide, the very best help, then our effort, our time and money spent on PR would be well worth it. I believe we have this incredible product, but it has been our past isolation and disconnection from the community that has not only cheapened it, but almost taken the product off the shelf for good. Not only does Jackson and his grandmother benefit, but also the school teacher, the principal, the school social worker who benefit from a consult with one of our Barr Harris staff. Then that social worker decides he or she wants more training and comes to one of our programs, or becomes an analyst and joins our Society, etc. etc. Our services and programs become more and more known directly from a result of our clinical interventions. Our commitment to PR is essential if psychoanalysis, the Institute and Society are going to grow and prosper into the next century. That’s our goal.

Chicago Psychoanalytic Society | June 1998 Newsletter