my alumni experience

Healing Mind and Spirit

Pastoral Psychologist Barbara Livingston '82

We think of psychology as being concerned with the mind, while questions of spirituality and the soul are addressed by religion. But can psychology and religion be applied together in a course of healing? Barbara Livingston '82 would certainly say yes. As a pastoral psychotherapist, she successfully incorporates issues of faith and belief in the treatment of her patients.

A spiritual person with a background in the United Church of Christ, Barbara felt drawn to ministry from an early age. Just as strong, though, was her interest in psychology. After being charmed by New London during a visit from her native Greenwich, Conn., Barbara enrolled at Colby-Sawyer, majoring in Child Psychology. Her senior year internship at Children's Hospital led her to Boston, and she has lived in the area ever since.

Barbara received her Master of Divinity from Boston University School of Theology, training to become a parish minister, but it wasn't to be. “Chaplaincy really wasn't where my heart was,” she recalls. “I wanted to integrate the pastoral and spiritual into treating people who were suffering.”

To that end, Barbara completed her Doctor of Ministry in Pastoral Psychology, followed by post-doctoral training at the Boston Institute for Psychotherapy. She credits her decision to pursue a doctorate to the encouraging influence of several Colby-Sawyer faculty, including professors Jean Wyld and Donald Robar, and former Dean of Students Virginia Johnson. “Colby-Sawyer gave me a great springboard,” she says.

Helping People Make Positive, Lasting Change

Now in private practice, Barbara says she is living the dream that started at Colby-Sawyer—to help people make positive and lasting change in their lives. About 60 percent of her patients are interested in exploring ideas of spirituality or faith in their treatment. Often it is a result of dealing with a loss—the death of a loved one, say—which leads to that most difficult of questions: How could God let this happen?

For the last several years, Barbara has also been part of a group seeking to assess the psychological fitness of candidates for the clergy. Fueled in large part by the sex abuse scandals of the past decade, the group has developed a new method to gauge the mental health of ministers. The pilot program, which involves intensive supervision over the course of an academic year, is on the cutting edge.

“In mainline denominations,” explains Barbara, “no one else in the country is doing this.” An article on the group's findings is slated for publication in 2009 in the “Journal of Pastoral Care & Counseling.”

In her work, Barbara is committed to exploring the connections between mind and soul. Her diverse training, in matters of the psyche and the spirit, has given her a unique insight into helping others.

“You have to treat a person holistically,” she insists. “I work with those who want to get well, who don't simply want a band aid.” For her patients wrestling with emotional and faith issues, Barbara Livingston in truly a godsend.

-Mike Gregory