Interview with Prof. David Barlow

Prof. Barlow is a professor of Psychology and Psychiatry at Boston University and founder of  Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders. His research focuses on understanding the nature of anxiety and depression and developing new treatments for emotional disorders. He also developed the Transdiagnostic Treatment of Emotional Disorders david.barlow

What I enjoy most about my job as a researcher …  What I learned very early is that there is nothing I do not enjoy about my job! I love the process of discovery whether it derives from my own research, research by my students, or just reading about some interesting new psychological facts in the journals. Every day we live on the cutting edge of knowledge. I love teaching and particularly individual supervision where I can observe eager and energetic and very bright young people grow and mature before my eyes. I enjoy facilitating other people’s work through creating administrative entities that make it happen. And finally, I enjoy my clinical work where I can see patients and, with the best outcomes, change forever the course of their lives for the better.

The biggest challenge in my career so far was … In 1985 I decided to write a book that encompassed everything we then knew about anxiety. Since I did not know what I did not know I assumed that I already was familiar with the important literature. I was wrong. To write a comprehensive book I had to become familiar with all of emotion science which was not a prominent area at that time. I had to become familiar with the beginnings of neuroscience and a literature that was also not well focused at the time; and I had to delve deeply into the study of personality theory and temperament as well as all of the clinical material on the assessment and treatment of anxiety and related disorders. Instead of one year it took me three years to write that book (Barlow, D. H. (1988), Anxiety and its disorders, New York, New York, Guilford press). I revised this book in 2002 but that time enlisted the help of some of my close colleagues. But I was very fortunate, since if I had known how much work it would be I would not have undertaken the project . But since I did, my knowledge of anxiety broadened and deepened considerably and enriched my clinical research career.

One research project I will never forget is… In the late 1980s after developing some close friendships with several colleagues in psychiatry, we decided to apply to the National Institute of Mental Health in the USA for a large multicenter grant for a clinical trial examining the separate and combined effects of a psychological treatment for panic disorder with the then prevailing effective medication, a tricyclic antidepressant. There were numerous studies supporting the efficacy of the antidepressant but only a few  trials, mostly done by us, supporting the psychological treatment. After seven years of hard work working closely with my three collaborators and their teams at each location, we demonstrated that the psychological treatment was at least as good as the drug and furthermore, was more durable once the treatments were discontinued. This trial was published in 2000 in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) and greatly impacted health care policy.

What I look for in a student who wants to work under my supervision … In our doctoral program in clinical psychology at Boston University we receive between 700 and 800 applications each year for approximately 10 slots. Therefore, hundreds of our applicants are brilliant,  well accomplished and personable. But what I look for beyond that is someone who is organized, energetic, pays attention to details, and is able to complete projects. In the end it is these qualities that ensure success as a clinical scientist.

Student research could be improved by … A greater knowledge of the richness and utility of single case experimental designs that would enable many more clinically relevant research efforts.

Academically, I most admire … Although I never met him I have always been a big admirer of David Shakow, considered by many to be the father of clinical psychology in the United States. Back when it was not popular in the 1940s and 1950s, and from the prevailing psychoanalytic point of view at the time, he advocated tirelessly  for clinical psychology with a strong scientific base. He is credited with creating the Scientists-Practitioner role of training in clinical psychology.

I wish someone had told me at the beginning of my career … I am fortunate that on the whole I received good advice right from the start, but the best advice I received was to follow my heart in choosing my career path and not prevailing convention.

The largest changes in psychological science in the next 10 years will be … The benefits of psychological science are most fully realized from an integrative point of view. Until recently advances in clinical science were based on translating new findings from basic cognitive and behavioral science. In the next 10 years new applications will increasingly be based on translating findings from behavioral neuroscience in addition to cognitive science. With all of our new tools to examine brain function and structure, and with the knowledge that psychological interventions change brain function and structure, the next 10 years should see many exciting advances.


About the author

Jonas Haslbeck Jonas is a Senior Editor at the Journal of European Psychology Students. He is currently a PhD student in psychological methods at the University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands. For further info see http://jmbh.github.io/.

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