David H. Barlow, Ph.D. | Biography

Brief biography reprinted (with some updated citations) from:
American Psychologist
(Barlow (2000), 55 (11), 1245-1263).

Accompanying invited article on occasion of the award for Distinguished Scientific Applications of Psychology 2000 American Psychological Association

David Harrison Barlow was born in Needham, Massachusetts, a suburb of Boston, in 1942.  His father left for World War II just prior to his birth and was shot out of the sky while strafing railroads over Germany. Thereafter, his young mother and he moved in with his maternal grandparents, where Barlow began an idyllic period growing up in Boston, enjoying the undivided attention of three adults, all supremely confident that he would be an enormous success at something.  Under the influence of a sports-obsessed grandfather and uncle, and with early exposure to the Boston Red Sox and Boston Bruins, Barlow assumed that future success would be found in professional sports, an assumption that was strengthened when Barlow’s Needham Little League team made it all the way to the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, in 1954. Barlow did not know at the time that, at the age of 12, this would be the pinnacle of his athletic career. Fortunately, Barlow also liked to read, mostly fiction, and a rigorous Catholic private school education with a classical curriculum, including six years of Latin and two years of Greek, reinforced his love of the written word and the precision with which ideas could be expressed. During this time, Barlow spent long periods on nearby Nantucket Island where the last of his relatives were concluding an unbroken period of 300 years of living year round on the island. These relatives sparked in Barlow an appreciation of his strong and deep ties to the island that was to become the venue for his most productive periods of writing.

At the University of Notre Dame, where athletic and scholarly pursuits were wonderfully integrated, Barlow became fascinated with literary insights into the often self defeating behavior of fictional characters. This led to a period of intense study and reading of psychoanalytic characterizations of literary figures, and ultimately to Barlow’s commitment to a career in psychology. To meet graduate school requirements, Barlow enrolled in a summer course at Boston College taught by Joseph R. Cautela.  That summer, while immersed in the laboratories of experimental psychology,  Cautela persuaded Barlow that only through a reliance on the slow but inexorable progress of science could the applications of psychological principles to human problems truly advance.  In 1964, after graduating from Notre Dame, Barlow continued his study with Cautela at Boston College.  Cautela also arranged for Barlow to spend most of 1966 working with Joseph Wolpe (who received the American Psychological Association’s Award for Distinguished Scientific Applications of Psychology in 1979), on the hunch that behavior therapy might provide one mechanism for introducing psychological science to the clinic.

After marrying Beverly Colby, the Barlows finally left Boston in 1966 for the University of Vermont.  Emboldened with a firm belief in the scientific base of clinical psychology but with few, if any, programs espousing that philosophy, Barlow was fortunate to come in contact with Harold Leitenberg at the University of Vermont, who had teamed up with Stewart Agras from the psychiatry department to begin an intensive program of clinical research.  With Leitenberg’s training and experience in the laboratories of animal operant psychology and Agras’ British-trained empirical approach to psychiatry, these collaborative efforts resulted in what, at the time, was an innovative approach to clinical research.  This approach emphasized repeated measurement and functional analyses in individual participants, which came to be called single case experimental designs (e.g., Agras, Leitenberg, & Barlow, 1968; Barlow & Hersen, 1973; Barlow, Nock & Hersen, 2009). It was also in Vermont that Barlow began a long collaboration with fellow student John P. Wincze.

When Stewart Agras decided it was time to accept a position as a psychiatry department chair in 1969, he invited Barlow, who was just finishing his doctoral degree, to join him.  Agras and Barlow finally settled on the University of Mississippi Medical Center, a small department with few established programs where Barlow, fresh out of school himself, was asked to develop a clinical psychology internship program.  While at Mississippi, Barlow had the good fortune of collaborating with excellent colleagues such as Ed Blanchard, Gene Abel, and Michel Hersen, in addition to Stewart Agras.  He continued to develop his research program in anxiety and sexual disorders and received his first National Institute of Mental Health grant to study the psychological aspects of sexual dysfunctions and deviations.  During this period, his children were born: Deneige in 1971 and Jeremy in 1973.  After his promotion to professor of psychiatry in 1974, he had begun to miss New England and relocated to Brown University in February of 1975 with a joint appointment as professor of psychiatry and psychology.  Here, Barlow was asked once again to create an internship program and recruited his old friend John Wincze to help.  In the spring of 1975, five students took a large risk by choosing to attend a program not yet in existence, and Barlow will always wonder if the future success of Kelly Brownell, Toy Caldwell-Colbert, Steve Hayes, Carol Landau, and Peter Monti had anything to do with their willingness to take a gamble.

Barlow’s research on sexuality and anxiety continued at Brown University, as did the development of his ideas on the integration of science and practice (e.g. Barlow, 1981; Barlow, Hayes, & Nelson, 1984).  Nevertheless, his research productivity diminished somewhat at Brown because it was necessary for him to attend to administrative and political issues in a large department of psychiatry, and Barlow decided in 1979 that it was time to relocate to a setting that allowed a more complete focus on clinical research.  At the State University of New York at Albany, where he was to stay for 17 years, Barlow joined his friend and colleague from his Mississippi days, Ed Blanchard.  Barlow and Blanchard together initiated the Center for Stress and Anxiety Disorders which became a large federally funded research clinic. It was here that the major themes of Barlow’s research were fully elaborated.  Early research on the nosology of anxiety and mood disorders, in collaboration with Peter DiNardo and later Tim Brown, resulted in new conceptualizations of generalized anxiety disorder and panic disorder (e.g., Barlow, Blanchard, Vermilyea, Vermilyea, & Di Nardo, 1986).  These developments were communicated through Barlow’s membership on the anxiety disorders work group for the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (3rd ed., revised; DSM-III-R)) and later on the task force for DSM-IV.

Barlow’s experimental psychopathology research focused on the nature of anxiety as evidenced in men, and later in women, presenting with sexual dysfunction.  This particular paradigm afforded an easily quantifiable output of the influence of cognitive and affective components of anxiety in the form of psychophysiological measures of sexual arousal, which could be manipulated without patients’ awareness.  This program of research resulted in a model of the process of anxiety, manifested as sexual dysfunction (Barlow, 1986). Also during this time, Barlow and his colleagues, particularly Michelle Craske, developed new treatments for anxiety and related disorders, most notably a new psychological approach to treating panic disorder that has been positively evaluated and widely accepted (e.g., Barlow, Gorman, Shear, & Woods, 2000).  Programmatic research on anxiety during the 1980s resulted in a book pulling most of these ideas together (Barlow, 1988), which was revised in 2002.  It was here also that Barlow began a close collaborative relationship with Mark Durand, resulting in a textbook on abnormal psychology.  In 1993, during a term as president of the Division of Clinical Psychology, Barlow developed task forces and other mechanisms to emphasize and communicate the empirical support for psychological treatments to psychologists and to the public at large, and these ideas merged with the growing mandate for evidenced based practice (Barlow, 2004).

In 1996, after an absence of 30 years, Barlow returned to Boston to become professor of psychology and psychiatry, director of clinical programs, and director of the Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders at Boston University (CARD).  The very next year, Barlow, had the good fortune to fulfill a long-planned year at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, where he updated his theory on the origins of anxiety disorders such as panic disorder with invaluable insights and contributions from colleagues and friends Mark Bouton and Sue Mineka (Bouton, Mineka, & Barlow 2001). In 2007 Barlow relinquished the last of his administrative duties and became Director Emeritus of CARD while retaining his professorial duties and refocusing on his research.

With the Boston Red Sox across the street and the Boston University ice hockey team and the Boston Bruins close by, life had come full circle.  Boston affords Barlow long sojourns with Beverly to the beaches of Nantucket Island and frequent reunions with his now grown children, who have added immeasurably to his life.  He continues to marvel that one could build a successful career and actually be paid for the endlessly fascinating endeavor of applying scientific principles of psychology to the relief of human suffering and the enhancement of human functioning.