Dr. Annie Zimmerli-Haskel ՚86 P՚20՚22՚25 was one of 27 Berkshire alumni to participate in Berkshire’s Pro Vita by leading a virtual class this winter. Taught alongside Cynthia LaPier, associate director of counseling, Take a Pause: Mindfulness for Life offered students an opportunity to explore healthy ways to navigate stress and discomfort.
A private practice psychologist for over 20 years, Zimmerli-Haskel knew as an undergraduate that working with children would be the focal point of her career. She earned her B.A. and M.A. in Child Study and Human Development at Tufts before a three-year stint at the Walker School Residential Treatment Program in Needham, Mass. Nearly a decade later she received a doctorate in psychology (PsyD) from the Illinois School of Professional Psychology.
When reflecting on this past year, Zimmerli-Haskel has seen the pandemic create real obstacles for children around social interactions. She believes that re-acclimating may prove challenging as children rebuild their social and emotional skills. There have been some silver linings, too. For one, she feels that the year has been an opportunity to “reset” for many families and is hopeful that the slower pace can help them maintain a better life balance when things eventually begin to feel more normal.
Alumni who participate in Pro Vita bring their unique perspective and insight into life beyond the Mountain. In return, the opportunity to connect with today’s students fills them with a sense of satisfaction and pride. For as much as Berkshire has changed since many alums have graduated, the School’s essence—educating the whole child and developing in each a sense of confidence—remains firmly intact.
Zimmerli-Haskel has witnessed this firsthand through the eyes of her children: Tess, who graduated in the Class of 2020, Sam, a fifth former, and Eli, her youngest, who begins his Berkshire journey in the fall. This affirmation has been especially heartening for Zimmerli-Haskel and her husband, Jim, also a Berkshire alum from the Class of 1986. Go Bears!
Read the Q&A below to learn more about Zimmerli-Haskel and her affinity for Berkshire and Pro Vita.
What inspires you to continue teaching during Pro Vita?
I LOVE teaching mindfulness. It is such a powerful intervention, and if I can teach someone some new skills to cope with day-to-day stress, I find it extremely gratifying. The kids and the adults that I teach these skills to are willing to be present and open in the class in a way that I experience as both heartwarming and powerful. I loved teaching Pro Vita last March at Berkshire! I wish I could have been in person this year. There is so much I want to teach, and one hour is not enough. I will be back under the mountain again for Pro Vita!
How has the pandemic impacted your work as a psychologist?
Turning to telehealth for therapy appointments has been challenging. The younger kids I work with have had a more challenging time staying focused and interested in the work we do, and there is limited ability to play while we talk, which is important for them. Teenagers have an easier time and tend to use a video relationship pretty well, though there is a loss of connection when a relationship is entirely on video.
Now that a year has passed, I have had to develop new relationships that are totally online, and that is a little more challenging, especially in terms of developing rapport. But, I do find that this age group can really use therapy well, even if it’s virtual. The flexibility is certainly a plus too. I can check in with my own family between appointments so that touchpoint is a nice benefit. For those kids who had a harder time connecting virtually, I decided to make the effort to work outside, in the backyards of some of my patients—appropriately socially distanced, of course—and I think that has made a big difference. Parents have been very grateful of that effort.
In what ways is your Berkshire experience present in your life today?
My Berkshire experience is present in my life through my kids, who are Bears too. Every time I drive on campus, I can tap into my 16-year-old self, and I feel the positive vibes that I experienced as a student. I think that my years under the Mountain changed the trajectory of my life and contributed to my foundation of confidence. I learned and experienced the formative power of close and trusting relationships and see that with my children’s experiences too. I am grateful Berkshire is the same school, at its core, as it was when I was there — valuing each person for who they are and finding ways to strengthen and build kids up in many different ways.
What are your fondest memories of your time under the Mountain?
Hanging with friends, talking with teachers, hiking the trails, being myself, and feeling like I mattered. More specifically, playing basketball, horseback riding with the team (yes, there was a team back then), prefect meetings, and Mr. Morley’s Spanish class.
If you could offer any piece of advice to today’s students, including your son Sam ՚22, what would it be?
Enjoy every minute, don’t take it for granted, and push yourself to try new things because Berkshire will support you to try something even if you doubt your ability or it’s a new experience. Life after Berkshire is not as forgiving or as supportive, so be in the moment and try it all.