Sheila Youngson 1954-2020

Embracing contradictions and being uniquely yourself… a tribute from Jude Boyles, Gillian Proctor and Gillian Hartley

Sheila Youngson, a clinical psychologist and university lecturer sadly died in hospital in Leeds at the age of 65.

Sheila grew up in Edinburgh and did a master’s degree in psychology at the University of Aberdeen and undertook training in clinical psychology at the University of Edinburgh from 1979-1981. Sheila worked as a clinical psychologist in the NHS from 1981, focusing on children and young people. After Sheila moved to Leeds, she took up her final clinical post as a consultant clinical psychologist at the paediatric renal unit at St James Hospital, where she worked from 1998 until 2010. Within the medicalised environment of the hospital, she worked with persistence and sensitivity to introduce her person centred approach to the emotional needs of the children she worked with, their families and staff on the unit. She won the trust and respect of all.

Alongside her clinical work, Sheila was a Deputy Clinical Director on the Doctorate in Clinical Psychology training programme at the University of Leeds from 1995 until her retirement in 2012. She was the major steer for a significant shift in culture in clinical psychology in Leeds, from the ‘scientist practitioner’ model dominant in clinical psychology, to a concomitant focus on the ‘reflective practitioner’.

Her clarity and adamance about her own ethical principles and theoretical grounding was as crucial to her as respecting and trying to understand the positions that others came from and not imposing her views on others. She was clearly and quietly herself. The basic principle that was woven throughout her work was of her commitment to the uniqueness of the individual and the fear of this being squashed or controlled. She co-edited a book in 2009 with Jan Hughes; Personal Development and Clinical Psychology.

Sheila became aware of the extent and impact of child sexual abuse in the course of her work and she wrote about ritual abuse at a time when there was a professional risk in doing so.

Sheila was fiercely independent and self-sufficient. She enjoyed the company of close friends and was loyal. She had an important role in many professional communities, but rarely followed the party line. Sheila knew about oppression from her own experience as being both disabled and lesbian; she was acutely aware of how systems of power exclude people and fought to counteract this in her spheres of influence. She didn’t seek to simplify but to hold complexity, embracing contradictions. She was renowned for her phrase ‘share the dilemma’, which was her common response to supervisees and students asking how to deal with any ambivalence about choices of what to say or do with clients.

Sheila’s ashes will be scattered at Loch Linnhe, her favourite place in the world. 

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