Episode 71

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Published on:

17th Apr 2023

But are you alive? Existential Psychotherapy with Eloise Skinner

Show Notes for The Aspiring Psychologist Podcast Episode: 71: But are you alive? Existential Psychotherapy with Eloise Skinner

Thank you for listening to the Aspiring Psychologist Podcast. One of my favourite things about the podcast is being able to introduce you to areas of psychology you may not have heard of before or may not know much about. Today is exactly that! I am joined by my guest, Eloise Skinner, a Trainee Existential Therapist. We hope you find it useful. I’d of course love any feedback you might have!

The Highlights:

  • (00:28): Welcome and intro to today’s episode
  • (01:25): Welcome to Eloise Skinner
  • (01:57): Eloise’s role and history
  • (03:07): Eloise’s training
  • (04:47): What does existential mean?
  • (08:00): An element of presence
  • (10:45):How to cope as an aspiring psychologist
  • (13:19): Giving yourself permission to take up space
  • (14:59): The frustration of therapy
  • (16:17): The freedom and choices in life
  • (19:00): How do you know when the time is right for existential psychotherapy?
  • (21:10): The practical arrangements for training in psychotherapy
  • (25:53): Eloise’s books including the brand new one
  • (27:30):Connecting with Eloise
  • (28:01):Summary and close

Links:

 Check out Eloise’s brand-new book: But are you alive? Here: https://amzn.to/3mxEUgG

 Connect with Eloise: https://www.eloiseskinner.com/ https://www.instagram.com/eloiseallexia/

 To check out The Clinical Psychologist Collective Book: https://amzn.to/3jOplx0

 To check out The Aspiring Psychologist Collective Book: https://amzn.to/3CP2N97

 Get £40 off a remarkable tablet here: remarkable.com/referral/4LJU-DJD8

 Get your Supervision Shaping Tool now: https://www.goodthinkingpsychology.co.uk/supervision

 Grab your copy of the new book: The Aspiring Psychologist Collective: https://amzn.to/3CP2N97

 Connect socially with Marianne and check out ways to work with her, including the upcoming Aspiring Psychologist Book and The Aspiring Psychologist Membership on her Link tree: https://linktr.ee/drmariannetrent

 To join my free Facebook group and discuss your thoughts on this episode and more: https://www.facebook.com/groups/aspiringpsychologistcommunity

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Transcript
Dr Marianne Trent (:

Hi, welcome along to the Aspiring Psychologist podcast. I am Dr. Marianne Trent, and I'm a qualified clinical psychologist. So I love introducing you guys to different areas where you potentially could work or gain experience along your route to wherever your ultimate career goal might be. And today's guest is going to talk with us about something you might not have heard of as it wasn't something I'd heard of before. We're going to be talking about training in psycho-analysis. And so I hope you find it a really useful episode. If you'd like to discuss any of the content in the podcast, do come along to the Aspiring Psychologist Community Free group on Facebook. Hope you find this useful and I'll look forward to catching up with you on the other side. Hi, welcome to the podcast, Eloise Skinner. Hi Eloise.

Eloise Skinner (:

Hi. Thank you so much for having me.

Dr Marianne Trent (:

Oh, you are more than welcome. Thank you for coming on. So we've been thinking a little bit of a little chat before about many things really about you having changed careers and about what you are doing currently. So we should introduce the fact that you are here currently because we're kind of looking at alternative, you know, methods for working in kind of mental healthy therapy roles. And that's what you are doing now, isn't it? Do you want to tell us a little bit about, about what you are doing?

Eloise Skinner (:

Yeah, absolutely. So as you said, I had a bit of a career change over the last few years. I started in corporate law, so I trained as a lawyer. I went to law school, so I studied law at uni and then qualified as a solicitor in the UK and or in England, Wales. And then I practiced law for about five years. And during the pandemic I had a bit of a moment where I was like, this is the time to make a change cos you know, everything else was so uncertain and it seemed like if there's any time to really uproot your life, it might be in the middle of or everything that was already happening. So then I decided to take a break. Actually, I sort of called it a break to myself so that I would have some ability to maybe come back if I wanted to. And yeah, in that break I started a business which is really around helping people find a sense of purpose and meaning. Also working with like schools and young people around those topics. And yes, I was also doing my training to become a psychotherapist at the same time. So that was, the training sort of helped me repivot my career from one to the other. It was like a nice bridge between going from one thing and then sort of helping me see that there was a different direction in the future.

Dr Marianne Trent (:

Brilliant, thank you. So yeah, that, that is some pivot, isn't it, from, from law lawyer to psychotherapist. How does the training for, for your psychotherapy work?

Eloise Skinner (:

So my training is part-time which means that it's kind of in terms of time commitment, it's one or two sort of like big chunks of time per quarter, let's say. So like it'll be three or four days every few months. And then those are, those were during the pandemic online . So a lot of it was just on Zoom to begin with. And then it started becoming in-person meetings. So we're back in person now, which is really nice actually. And you can imagine like a psychotherapy training as I'm sure your was as well, like really important to be with the rest of your group and sort of get to know them. So yeah, we are back in person and yeah, it's like these sort of long weekends slash like four or five day meetings and exams at the end of every module.

(:

And the way our training is structured in existential analysis is what they call the basic training, which is sort of an introduction to the topic and like sort of the basic framework of the field. And you get assessed on that and then you move into the clinical side, which is sort of how to apply it to different clinical situations. And that's where I am at the moment, right towards the end. So I have as we speak, I have two more modules and then I will be done. But I did the basic training, I think finished about last year, sy Clinical.

Dr Marianne Trent (:

Brilliant. So you are on the countdown now.

Eloise Skinner (:

Yes. Almost there. The end is sort of insight not quite yet, but almost.

Dr Marianne Trent (:

I see. So I'm gonna ask what feels might be a stupid question, but my only real understanding of the term existential comes from my upbringing where we used to watch something called Dawson's Creek. I dunno if you've ever watched it. Oh yeah. And it was, it was regarded as sort of an existential naval gazing series. And so that's really my only bolt on to that term. You know, and sometimes I still hear songs. I think all that would've made a great song for the soundtrack of Dawson's Creek, like, oh, you know, woe is me. Could you tell us a little bit more in a more UpToDate accurate reflection, not in involving Dawson's Creek, what existential psychotherapy is Eloise?

Eloise Skinner (:

Yeah, I love that . That's a great reference. Yes, so it kind of is about all of those feelings and all of those emotions as well. It's a really broad field actually, and it's still very much evolving. So it's a field of psychotherapy that has a lot of different sort of elements within it and a lot of different ideas and theories within it. And it really stems from, well, a couple of places. There's obviously existentialism as in like the branch of philosophy, which is sort of an inspiration for a lot of the work and theories. Try to apply that in a more practical setting or like help people through some of those issues. And then one central piece of body of work or essential figure in the field is Victor Frankel the author of Man Meaning where he kind of sets out logo therapy, which was his web of applying sort of more existential interpretations to psychoanalysis psychotherapy.

(:

And now it can be practiced in many, many different ways. I'm training in something called existential analysis, which is like a more specific part of existential therapy as a whole. But there are obviously lots of, lots of other ways to practice it as well. And really at the heart of it, it's about well it's about addressing the idea of the whole person and making sure that you are sort of encompassing the entirety of the person. So not just your mind or your body or you know, this kind of spiritual sense or you know, the soul as it was originally referred to, but the entirety of the person. So taking into account all of our experiences and our backgrounds and our histories and what we feel and think about things and how we react and sort of working with that as a whole.

(:

And then another idea, another central idea within the field is having this sense of yes to life, which was actually a title of one of Victor Frankl's books or a translated title, which is this sense of being able to have this sense of personal presence within your own life to be connected to your life, to be in dialogue with the, the way you live your life and the choices you make and being able to have this fundamental yes to like being here and doing the life that doing the life that you're doing. So those are, those are some ideas, but that's the field. It's very, it's much more, much, much more than that of course

Dr Marianne Trent (:

. So sort of the yes philosophy would be like ultimate mindfulness, like really choosing to mindfully be where we're at right now.

Eloise Skinner (:

Yeah, absolutely. It's an element of presence I think is really central to it like that. As you just described, I think you know, one of the quotes that's often sort of given in terms of this field and this nec isn't necessarily from , anyone in this field, I think it's sort of a summary of some of Victor Franco's thoughts and interpretations. But there's this idea that between like stimulus and response, you could have a gap where you then decide what you are going to do or decide your choices or decide your reactions to life. That quote's given around quite a lot, often attributed to Frankl, but it's sort of a summary of what he would've thought about the field. And yeah, so it's this idea that you have a sense of autonomy or like personal determination to craft your life in the way that you want. You have the ability to choose your responses to the things happen to you. And so it's very much, yeah, mindfulness I'd I'd say is a good way of describing it. And it does sort of associate itself with a lot of the more like yoga and meditation style, choose your life, be present in your life, you know be present in your body ideas as well. But just the different interpretation of that.

Dr Marianne Trent (:

I see. Thank you. I was listening to radio two, Jeremy Vine recently, and they were talking about whether it's ethical and whether it should be banned to bring cakes into shared offices. I dunno if you heard the programme and the theory was, you know, we've all been there, haven't we? You know, if if people in cake, you weren't necessarily looking for cake, you weren't necessarily gonna have cake that day, but when you see it, you know, you are more likely to eat it or, you know, but it's interesting to hear about you saying actually, you know, you do still have choices. It's not just stimulus and response mm-hmm. , there's something in between and you can hold onto your values and what is true to you.

Eloise Skinner (:

Yeah, absolutely. And I think that's a really central idea of the entire sort of philosophy behind this field is that you do have in every situation you have a choice or you know, you always have the ability to decide who you are and how you'll respond to certain things. This is kind of the fundamental freedom of the human being of the ability to decide how you're going to move through the world or how you're gonna react to things. And so yeah, in a situation like that, you, you can see, oh yeah, it might be a bit more challenging, but there's a huge space in which you can decide what you're gonna do, how you're gonna respond. And as you said, a lot of it is about values and where you stand and what your opinion is about certain things and how you feel about your position to life. So knowing those fundamental values I think is a really important part of sort of laying the foundations to make that choice later on.

Dr Marianne Trent (:

Great. And just thinking about our audience being aspiring psychologists, it can be really quite tricky to get into qualified professional psychology roots, and it can be really Oh, really frustrating, really just full of dismay along the way sometimes. Can you give our audience some advice from an existential perspective about how to cope with that uncertainty and how to cope with Yeah. Whatever's going on for them in their life right now?

Eloise Skinner (:

Yeah, wow. I think maybe one of the tools or one of the steps that you can take within this field is this idea of sort of safety and security in your own life or trying to cultivate a deeper sense of that. And there's a term that's used called fundamental trust, which is almost like your sense of trust or your sense of being present and safe and secure in the world. And I think that's one of the things that's always helped me through periods of anxiety is this knowledge that, you know, things change around you, things come and go, good and bad things happen, like stressful things happen and you know, the world sort of changes a lot. But ultimately if you can cultivate this sense of, I guess, fundamental trust in your own self and in your presence in the world, like your, the sense that you are able to be here, that you belong, that you're able to take up space, and that you are, you know, fundamentally quite grounded in the world, I think that can be a really helpful sort of perception to have of yourself as you kind of move through your life.

(:

And there are lots of exercises that they have to cultivate, this sense of trust. Things like sort of body focused exercises can be quite helpful. So there's an exercise called the armchair exercise where the student or the practitioner would sit in a chair with your feet on the floor and then you would sort of go through these steps of just bringing your awareness to the space, bringing your awareness to your body bringing your awareness to the sense of being like grounded and present. And then you can even use phrases like you know, I am secure, I'm grounded. Sort of almost like a mantra type phrase that you can just sort of like run through focus on your breath you know, in the sense of being like fully present and within your body and within your life. So there are a few variations on that exercise, but I guess the, the intention of it is to really feel secure and to cultivate like a greater sense of security in, in your life. I think things like that as well as like other body focus practises can be a real like bridge into that sense of being really secure and trusting in the world.

Dr Marianne Trent (:

Yeah. And there's definitely some sort of affirmation work in there as well which is something I've been finding quite useful lately actually. And I love, I love the idea of giving us up permission to take up space, take up room. I think often as women specifically I speak as a woman that's something that we are not necessarily, you know, and even when we're growing up we're told like, you know, don't wanna hear what you've got to say as a child, you know, often it's the adults that get to speak first and we just, we get used to to being small, not having opinions. And that can be tricky. It can be tricky in boardrooms, it can be tricky in conference rooms, it can be tricky in lecture theatres, you know, who am I to speak? What have I got anything worth saying? So I like that idea of empowerment. Yes, you have mm-hmm.

Eloise Skinner (:

. Absolutely. And I guess coming back to that sense of being within your own life and having this yes to life or this position to life where you are committed to, you know, doing the things that you want to do and making your choices and finding your freedom to craft and design your own life or respond to the things that happened to you, these are all ideas that kind of feed through into like all of those situations that you were talking about. It sort of starts with this really personal work where you might just be sitting in a chair being like focusing on your breath and your body and you know, it doesn't seem like a huge step to take, but over time that becomes sort of your position, your attitude and the way you interpret the world. And then you sort of feed that out into every single situation so that when you are in like a lecture hall when you are, you know, advocating for yourself in certain situations, those positions, those fundamental attitudes sort of feed back into your life.

(:

And it can be quite imperceptible. I think sometimes psychotherapy can be a bit frustrating if you are you know, someone who's undertaking psychotherapy because it's not always an immediate transformation and you can't see like as if you are going to the gym and like in two weeks you can do an extra press up or whatever . But with psychotherapy or these more like sort of personal focus practices, it's hard to see immediate sort of overnight transformations. And that could be a little frustrating. But yeah, I would say as someone who's been practicing this stuff for a while as a student of existential psychotherapy before I trained in that it definitely does, you sort of see it feed through into the rest of your life in a really satisfying and fulfilling way.

Dr Marianne Trent (:

Great. I was just thinking about some of the clients that we might work with and some issues that we see and some of the diagnoses that we might see and with something like PTSD, so post-traumatic stress disorder that's happened as a result of something really awful happening to somebody that's not their choice, but how do we work with them or kind of get them on board or formulate with them to help them think about their position and their choices.

Eloise Skinner (:

Mm-Hmm. . Yeah, and I think it's a really interesting example because there are a lot of times in life where our freedom if we think, oh, you have freedom of choice, you can wake up tomorrow and go for a run, or you can travel the world or whatever. Everyone's freedom is restricted in most people's freedom is restricted in some very, very practical ways. So you don't have the physical ability or you don't have the money or you know what, whatever, you don't have the circumstances that would allow for all of the choices that could be possible. So I guess when you're talking about a narrowed form of a narrowed field of freedom where you do have choices still, but they're drastically restricted in different ways or maybe you can't perceive all the choices or it seems like it feels like there isn't much choice available.

(:

I think Victor Frankl's work would really encourage sort of just focusing in on the places that you do have freedom still. So obviously a lot of his experience was formulated in the context of the concentration camps in Nazi Germany and you know, people didn't really have any, you know, freedom or autonomy in those situations. But what he was observing was people were able to carve out little pieces of choice or you know, the freedom to choose fundamentally your own responses to the things that happened to you is sort of the freedom of a human being. The freedom to decide, not the practical things that happen to you or the things that come your way, but the ability to respond to them in a certain way, like your attitude towards a situation, how you're gonna deal with it, that freedom still in any situation.

(:

And I guess that is a, something to hold onto if you are someone who feels like they've been stripped away of a lot of practical choices. And I mean, existential therapy is just one tool to be used alongside other things of course. So when you're talking about more complex clinical situations, definitely other therapies are helpful as well. But that perception of, okay, when we strip it right down, what do you have? If you don't have any other choices in the situation, you still have the ability to decide how you're going to respond to the things that happen.

Dr Marianne Trent (:

Yeah, okay. So we can respond right now even if we couldn't respond to how we chose or how we would want to to have done at the time.

Eloise Skinner (:

Right, right. Yeah. And there's a sense of sort of taking ownership of your choices in the moment. There's a lot of sort of biography type work where you're looking back at your past and seeing the things that have sort of formed you into who you are today. And as you said, even if you felt like there wasn't any choice in the past you did make choices that have sort of brought you to where you are. So you can take ownership of that as a part of your freedom as well. And then, as you said, making choices at the moment.

Dr Marianne Trent (:

Great, thank you. So who would be the ideal client for you and people in your, in your cohort and yeah, what, what problems and symptoms and kind of yeah, difficulties might they be experiencing in their life? How would they know that actually, you know, the thing they needed was existential psychotherapy?

Eloise Skinner (:

Yeah, it's a good question, especially because it's not that well known. So I think it takes a while for people to sort of come to the field or to find it, to stumble across it. I think obviously people, maybe this was my situation who were just really searching for some kind of depth and feeling like a, a little bit lost in their own lives. There's this phrase that Victor Frankl uses called the existential vacuum, which is when people sort of get trapped in this place where they can't see a sense of meaning and purpose which is really my experience of like sort of being, you know, everything is okay but it doesn't have any depth to it, so you're sort of just floating around thinking like what's the point in anything? And that was where I was when I sort of sought out these, this type of work and this has been really, really helpful for me.

(:

So people maybe in that situation where they can't really see a greater sense of meaning or purpose you can also use it in moments of more like, like crisis type situations. You know, a drastic loss of meaning or a transitional event, say like grief or career change might be one as well. Or physical changes to the body like illness or you know, other restrictions on your freedom, things like that where you're sort of trying to take back the presence in your life and reclaim it for yourself. But really I think Lego therapy especially the idea is that you don't have to be someone with a situation. You don't have to come with like, oh I've been divorced or you know, I'm going through this thing. Or you don't, you don't have to come with something that you are working through, you can just come and explore your life. Because I guess the sense is like every single person on the planet has a sense, has a sense of being present in their lives and making choices. And so you could always explore this work even if your life is like going really great . But yeah, it can be used in yeah, situations of more trauma as well in clinical settings as well.

Dr Marianne Trent (:

Great, thank you. A little bit of context is always useful and in terms of if people wanted to explore training and you know, how widespread is it and how do people access it? Is it self-funded? Could you tell us a little bit about the practical elements to it please?

Eloise Skinner (:

Absolutely. So for logo therapy, logo therapy, there are a few trainings around there's the Victor Franco Centre in Ireland I think is one of the main ones and they do courses that are like self-study and also like a bigger diploma course as well. That I think is all part-time. So I don't think any of it is like full-time on campus. And then from a more like academic background, I think there are a few universities that do sort of existential analysis, like degree type courses where you would actually go and study at a university level, obviously then I think you would need to convert it into a practicing qualifying course if you wanted to practice. But that could be like a nice way to learn about the topics. And then existential analysis is really centred in Vienna. So I'm training with yeah, centre for Existential Analysis, which is centred in Vienna but has now spread out to other places.

(:

Canada is, has a lot of existential analysis work, it's funny to see where it spreads to, but Canada, the uk Vienna and also sort of places like Russia as well. There's quite a lot of work out there in this topic. But yeah, my course is self-funded so I'm actually not sure what the situation would be if you took it as a second. I don't know too much about how the UK I imagine there's not much funding around, to be honest from what I know about the UK education system. But when I did my first degree, that was obviously then I used student finance and then this, I'm assuming there's some kind of support available, but I thought maybe it would be a bit too tricky and cos I'm working as well part-time I thought, okay, let's just try and fund it myself.

(:

And it has been quite difficult actually, . And I was saying to someone the other day, like, I cannot believe how expensive psychotherapy trainings are. Like it seems to cut a lot of people out of the profession because you know, you have to pay for like a practicing course and then obviously all of your hours as well as a trainee therapist. And yeah, you're practicing all of the things that come along with practicing for the first time. So yeah, it's a lot. I dunno whether your, I'm sure your listeners will have a much better sense of like how it can be done and if you need funding, but yeah, for me it's just been working alongside and struggling

Dr Marianne Trent (:

Thank you. The struggle is real and there's branches of professional qualified psychologists that also have to self-fund as well and it's just like, it's just, yeah, it seems massively unethical. Could you tell us what sort of settings existential psychotherapists might find themselves working in or where you might, where you might see or bump into them?

Eloise Skinner (:

Yeah, I think a lot of sort of more clinical psychotherapists who have had a basic training in other forms of therapy might have a little bit a sort of an idea of these therapies. So you might be introduced to it there through just a therapist that you're seeing or that you're working with. So yes, you can see it alongside or you can see it in clinical practice, in hospitals, in clinics just one-to-one with a therapist. It is used in places like schools sometimes. So there's a little bit of Accenture analysis that works with younger people especially in that transition from sort of more like school level to adulthood can be a really difficult and very existential time to be reflecting on who you are, where you are in the world, Dorson Creek kind of vibes.

(:

So you're thinking about what you wanna do and I think it could be really helpful there. I actually wish I would've had something during that period to support me in this kind of work. But yes, and then other places where, like you were saying earlier, sort of where your freedom is restricted a bit, I think that's where you see might see these therapies come in a bit more. So things like prisons or, you know, sort of medical situations where you're dealing with a loss of physical freedom, something like that. Grief counsellors as well or yeah, things like losses that you're going through. And it can also be used in situations of like PTs d or other clinical conditions, say people were returning from like a traumatic situation or even people returning from, well for Victor Branco situation, like the concentration camp. So the idea of wartime or a really traumatic situation that you're sort, sort of kind of rebuilding your life and finding your freedom after that. That

Dr Marianne Trent (:

Brilliant. Thank you. It's been a really interesting whistle stop tour through stuff that I certainly hadn't considered and it's always nice to, to shed some light on other areas of kind of mental health practices and things are going on in the wider world. So thank you so much for that. And I know that you've got a number of books under your belt and a new one coming out as well, haven't you? Could you tell us a little bit about those?

Eloise Skinner (:

Oh, thank you. Yes. so yeah, my first couple of books were sort of more like business focused books in law and then when I started a business and then this third one that is coming out is called, but Are You Alive Question Mark. And it's all about, it's kind of about these ideas actually. So , it's a good little summary of some of the existential analysis ideas, logo therapy, lot of Viktor Franco's work in there, some practical exercises but also some more sort of body focused stuff. So some yoga and meditation, mindfulness as you were saying earlier and trying to bring that together with some more spiritual things as well. So as part of my sort of journey to meaning and purpose I did spend a year training with the monastic community. So it's a lot of those practises and trying to sort of bring together the existential therapy side and also the monastic side and sort of practises to help you live deeper in everyday life. That's the idea.

Dr Marianne Trent (:

Amazing. Fly on the wall in the monastic community would be interesting, I'm sure.

Eloise Skinner (:

Yeah, yeah, hopefully.

Dr Marianne Trent (:

Brilliant. Where can people learn more about you or get hold of your books if they want to?

Eloise Skinner (:

Yeah most things are on my website, so if you put my name into Google, it's https://www.eloiseskinner.com/ You should find my website social media as well on Instagram, I'm https://www.instagram.com/eloiseallexia/ and yeah, that's kind of mostly where I'm at.

Dr Marianne Trent (:

Great. We'll obviously have your details in the show notes as well. Thank you so much for your time and helping us learn a little bit more about this really interesting area, Eloise.

Eloise Skinner (:

Oh, thank you so much for having me and I really enjoyed talking to

Dr Marianne Trent (:

You. Thank you. So there we go. My existential knowledge of Dawson's Creek, who knew that would come in useful one day. Thank you so much to our guest, Eloise. It was a pleasure to speak with her and very much looking forwards to reading her new book, which sounds fascinating when that's available. And what I will do is when the book is released, I will redistribute this podcast episode as well so that we can drum up some more support for her and her work. She sounds like a very busy person who's very good at achieving things, so hope you've found that useful. If you want any additional support or guidance to help you in your career as an aspiring psychologist, do consider coming along and joining us in the Aspiring Psychologist membership. If you've got any ideas for future podcast episodes, do just get in contact with me, come and connect and follow with me on socials where I am, Dr. Maryanne Trent everywhere. If you're watching on YouTube, please do take a moment to like the video and comment and of course subscribe to the channel. I will look forward to catching up with you very soon. Our next episode of the podcast is available from 6:00 AM on Mondays. Thank you for being part of my world and I will see you very soon. Take care

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The Aspiring Psychologist Podcast
Tips and Techniques to help you get on track for your career in psychology
Welcome to The Aspiring Psychologist Podcast with me, Dr Marianne Trent.

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Marianne Trent

Dr Marianne Trent is a qualified clinical psychologist and trauma and grief specialist. She also specialises in supporting aspiring psychologists and in writing compassionately for the media.