UW News

May 31, 2007

Elaine Franks

It’s nearly impossible to draft a job description that adequately portrays what Elaine Franks does at the Behavioral Research and Therapy Clinics (BRTC). Formally she’s the administrative coordinator, but that title doesn’t come close to doing her justice.

“She’s the glue that holds together this research lab that is responsible for hundreds of lives,” said Marsha Linehan, psychology professor and director of the clinics which research and help patients with borderline personality disorder, a complex psychological condition. The disorder is notoriously difficult to treat and patients with the condition often are suicidal and/or have a substance abuse problem.

No task seems too large or small for Franks to handle efficiently and with compassion. She is an event planner, gatekeeper, mother figure to undergraduate and graduate students, travel agent, lifeline and, most recently, recipient of a 2007 Distinguished Staff Award.

Often she finds herself in the role of a therapist, even though she is not a trained mental health professional.

Routinely when the phone rings in the BRTC it is Franks who “soothes and reassures callers, generates hope and coordinates evaluations and treatment referrals,” according to Linehan.

More than 50 phone calls and more than a dozen e-mails from desperate parents looking for help for their suicidal child or from suicidal individuals flow through Franks’ filter in an average month.

“These calls can be extremely difficult to take,” said Linehan. “Each story is somehow more tragic than the previous. The distress, helplessness and hopelessness of these calls could lead someone to become jaded. Not Elaine! … It is not uncommon to receive word from clients about the ‘excellent therapy’ they received on the phone from Elaine. Her innate skill and compassion allow her to serve as a lifeline to my patients and their families.”

“I feel compassion for the families crying out and people asking for help,” said Franks. “I think I was meant to be in this particular lab.”

Franks worked as an occupational therapist for 13 years at a Southern California hospital before moving to Washington in 2000. Shortly before leaving the hospital she experienced the tragedy of suicide when a co-worker killed herself.

“It was an extremely stressful and sad situation and I didn’t get over it for two years because I was very close to her.”

She joined the UW first as an hourly employee and then as a part-time secretary in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilization before the job in the BRTC opened up. She didn’t know the opening was in a clinic that dealt with suicide, but knew it would be a challenging one when her old boss in California excitedly exclaimed, “You have an interview with Marsha Linehan!”

Franks believes that she’s won the award for her clinic. “I’m thrilled for the lab. I don’t know if everyone in the UW community knows what we do here, but I hope my winning lets people know about our work. This award should be for everyone here — Marsha, the scientists, the graduate and undergraduate students and the staff.”

“The basis for nominating Elaine for this award is the contribution that she has made to BRTC, our students, our department and the public,” said Linehan. “Without her, none of us could have accomplished the things that are moving the field forward and influencing people’s lives.”