Ghosts, Angels & Goblins: ZERO TO THREE’s 2020 Lifetime Achievement Award Goes to Psychiatrist Alicia Lieberman - Early Learning Nation

Ghosts, Angels & Goblins: ZERO TO THREE’s 2020 Lifetime Achievement Award Goes to Psychiatrist Alicia Lieberman

Every year, ZERO TO THREE presents a Lifetime Achievement Award in recognition of “significant and enduring contributions to improving the lives of babies, toddlers and their families.” The presentation happens at the organization’s annual conference, which took place virtually earlier this month. The 2020 honoree is Dr. Alicia Lieberman, the Irving B. Harris Endowed Chair in Infant Mental Health and Vice Chair for Academic Affairs at the University of California San Francisco Department of Psychiatry.


Dr. Lieberman, who is also Director of the Child Trauma Research Program, is the author The Emotional Life of the Toddler (1995; updated 2017) and two books with Patricia Van Horn, Don’t Hit My Mommy and Psychotherapy with Infants and Young Children: Repairing the Effects of Stress and Trauma on Early Attachment. Born and raised in Paraguay, she attended the Hebrew University of Jerusalem for her undergraduate studies and then earned her Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins University.

👉 Read more: Behind the Mask: Alicia Lieberman Reflects on Trauma and Toddlers

During the award presentation, ZERO TO THREE Executive Director Matthew E. Melmed said that although English is not her first language, Lieberman “writes about babies in ways that people can really get.” He added, “You have touched the lives of millions of babies will never know your name.”

Ross Thompson, Distinguished Professor of Psychology at the University of California, Davis, and Immediate Past President of ZERO TO THREE’s Board of Directors, praised “her wisdom and ability to speak truth with compassion and clarity” as well as “the wisdom with which she articulates the experience of young children.”

In her remarks, Dr. Lieberman said that her dual Jewish and Latina heritage rooted her work and cited the influence of Selma Fraiberg, author of the 1975 paper titled “Ghosts in the Nursery”; William Harris, her co-author of the “response” to Fraiberg, “Angels in the Nursery”; and Stanley Greenspan, theoretician, diagnostician, clinician and former president of ZERO TO THREE.

Lieberman urged her virtual audience to seek “moments of grace in the magic of everyday moments.” To reinforce her point, she described how she and her grandson Sam have gone “goblin hunting” by phone during the pandemic. His advice to her, which she passed on during her remarks: “Keep your eyes wide open to make sure they don’t jump on you from behind.”

Praising ZERO TO THREE’S advocacy efforts, she asserted that the U.S. needs wise policies now more than ever to protect children’s health and attend to emotional needs. “The country will be stronger,” she said, “if we offer guardians and caregivers a stronger safety net.”

“Justice for children and families,” she concluded, “is the communal face of love.”

Praise from Top Voices in the Field

“Alicia Lieberman is a magnificently eloquent, wise and beautiful poet with words. She shares the science in a way that inspires results. Most importantly, she deals with the most difficult subject of trauma and abuse in positive ways that celebrate and build on the assets of those she works with and writes about. She is a pioneer and a leader among leaders in our field.”

Ellen Galinsky, Chief Science Officer
Executive Director, Mind in the Making
Bezos Family Foundation

“Every time I talk with Alicia I feel better, and she doubtless has this effect on everyone she meets. Alicia exudes warmth, wisdom, compassion and understanding. These skills and character traits have helped to make her a beloved clinician, ingenious scientist and influential human being who enhances all of the people, things and ideas she touches.”

Andrew N. Meltzoff, co-director,
University of Washington Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences
Professor, Department of Psychology
Job and Gertrud Tamaki Endowed Chair

“Dr. Lieberman is a giant trained by giants (Drs. [Mary] Ainsworth, [Stanley] Greenspan and [Selma] Fraiberg) — and a most compassionate one at that. Dr. Lieberman’s brilliant and groundbreaking work addressing trauma in infants and young children, including developing new theoretical insights and an evidenced based, widely used treatment approach, Parent Child Psychotherapy, has positively affected the lives of millions of children and their parents. Never one to rest when the healthy development of children is at stake, Dr. Lieberman most recently has drawn on her expertise in attachment theory and infant mental health to focus on resiliency factors, helping clinicians to identify the angels in adults’ childhoods, those who were reliable and safe, as well as the ghosts, as a pathway to preventing the intergenerational transmission of trauma. Her humanity is as significant as is her eminence; she is someone who exudes care for others and leads with gravitas and deep commitment to her work.”

Catherine Monk, Ph.D.
Professor of Medical Psychology
Departments of Obstetrics and Gynecology, and Psychiatry
Director, Women’s Mental Health @Ob/Gyn
Columbia University Medical Center
Research Scientist VI, New York State Psychiatric Institute

“Alicia Lieberman brings compassion and wisdom to her important contributions to understanding infants and toddlers who have experienced traumatic experiences and developing ways to help them heal through positive relationships. She has wisely helped so many learn that young children’s behavior has meaning and shared the important concept of ‘angels in the nursery’ showing the influence of positive early experiences that can help parents and caregivers develop strength and self-confidence to deal with adversity. She continues to be an inspiring leader, innovator and mentor in our field.”

Joy D. Osofsky, Ph.D.
Paul J. Ramsay Endowed Chair of Psychiatry
Barbara Lemann Professor of Child Welfare
Departments of Pediatrics and Psychiatry
LSU Health Sciences Center

“Berry Brazelton asked Texan pediatrician Sally Provence, as he watched her ‘dance’ with a newborn, ‘How do you get inside that baby’s mind?’ ‘Well,’ she replied, ‘Isn’t there a baby inside each of us?’ Like Berry Brazelton, this is one of Alicia Lieberman’s many gifts: she understands young children’s experiences of trauma and violence from the inside. Through her poetry, passion, rigor and the child inside of her, Alicia brings us along to join children, helping them overcome fear, find hope and heal.”

Joshua Sparrow, MD
Executive Director, Brazelton Touchpoints Center at Boston Children’s Hospital
Associate Professor, Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School​

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