Fireside chat with Dr. Luana Marques

A Clinical Psychologist at Harvard Medical School, Dr. Luana Marques is passionate about bringing science-driven strategies for addressing avoidance to all. On Mental Health Day 2023, Dr. Luana sat down with Jamie Singleteary from Within Health to discuss her new book, The Bold Move, and her mission to help people “be comfortable with discomfort.”

Dr. Luana’s career path

“If we choose a career that aligns with the way our brain thinks, we tend to try and do much better.”

At age 15, Dr. Luana moved from a rural setting to live in the city with her grandmother, who soon noticed that her granddaughter was struggling with anxiety. Her grandmother began taking her on outings to the mall to engage with strangers in the food court, in what Dr. Luana would later recognize as akin to exposure therapy. 

Dr. Luana saw parallels in how her grandmother helped her when she was working as a volunteer for a study into exposure therapy. Later, as she completed her Ph.D. in clinical psychology, she realized that the skills her grandmother pushed her to learn at 15 were backed by science and universally essential in overcoming life’s obstacles. 

These skills in reliance empowered her as Former President of the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, Associate Professor at Harvard Medical School, and Founder and Director of Community Psychiatry PRIDE, the premier research lab at Massachusetts General Hospital.

Throughout her career as a researcher, clinician, author, and speaker, Dr. Luana has been relentless in her mission to equip everyone everywhere with the skills to thrive and live out their dreams. This is why she developed ‘The Bold Move’.

The Bold Move

“[The Bold Move] Is the best therapy I’ve ever had because I got to share with the world my struggles, having seen domestic violence…what does that do to my brain? How did I overcome what I saw? I get to talk about the adversity as a Latino woman in a majority white system (like Harvard), and of course, share lots of clinical cases and examples, but in a way that brings strategy.”

With such a long waitlist for her services during the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. Luana felt she needed to do something different as she simply could not help everybody, despite doing 200 webinars on the first day of the pandemic. 

Furthermore, Dr. Luana felt she was at a point in her life where she felt it was necessary to share her story, and so came “The Bold Move: A 3-Step Plan to Transform Anxiety into Power.” Using real-life stories and practical exercises, Dr. Luana’s critically acclaimed book shares her clinically proven method for overcoming psychological avoidance to move toward a bold life. 

With unflinching honesty, expertise, humor, and compassion, "The Bold Move" offers Dr. Luana’s groundbreaking, transformative approach that can work for anyone. Briefly, the informative book:

  • Outlines the many forms of psychological avoidance can take
  • Helps you recognize the thinking patterns that cause you to feel anxious and worried
  • Shows you why a “just do it” mentality doesn’t work
  • Helps you strategize ways to align your values with actions so you can take everyday steps to be your best self for yourself

What is psychological avoidance?

“It’s not a book about anxiety; it’s a book about avoidance.”

Psychological avoidance refers to a response to a perceived threat that brings instant emotional relief but has negative consequences in the long term.1 For example, you notice in your inbox an email from someone you’ve had a negative interaction with in the past. Suddenly, you’re heart is pounding, you feel a cold sweat on your upper brow, and a wave of nausea washes over you. So, you shut down your emails and tell yourself you’ll go back to it later. 

Essentially, the avoidance (i.e., ignoring the email) provides fast and temporary relief from discomfort while keeping you stuck in a loop of anxiety and avoidance in the long run. Consistently evading challenges over time teaches the brain that the only way of handling difficult situations is to avoid them rather than confront them. This reinforces our avoidance instincts. 

The persistent reliance on psychological avoidance hinders our ability to live a fulfilling life while also stunting our personal and professional growth. As Dr. Luana explains in her book, to break free of the cycle of anxiety and avoidance, we need to recognize avoidance patterns and practice tolerating discomfort.

  • Recognize avoidance patterns: By becoming more mindful of our behaviors and recognizing when we’re engaging in avoidance, we can begin to understand and confront our avoidance patterns. 
  • Practice tolerating discomfort: Like exposure therapy, this involves intentionally putting ourselves in uncomfortable situations and learning to endure the discomfort without engaging in avoidance. This is a difficult strategy, which should be done gradually and with compassion. Challenging yourself consistently will help retrain your brain to manage discomfort and break free of the avoidance cycle. 

By acknowledging our discomfort and leaning into it instead of running from it, we can better engage with life’s challenges and enjoy a more Bold Life. However, it’s important to remember that making “bold moves” can be small little steps that feel like giant leaps for you. 

If you’re interested in learning more about Dr. Luana’s strategies for challenging avoidance, her book, “The Bold Type: A 3-Step Plan to Transform Anxiety into Power,” is available in all major bookshops now. You can keep up with her latest webinars, speaking engagements, and more through her website and social media channels.


  1. Marques, L. (2023). What is psychological avoidance? Psychology Today. Accessed Nov 2023.