Faculty Profile: Hridaya Sivalingam, Ph.D., creating a humanistic education for humanistic counselors

Hridaya Sivalingam, Ph.D.

Hridaya Sivalingam, Ph.D.

Her eyes become half-moons when she smiles.  Her whole face lights up, as if to convey her happiness and impart it upon all those around her.  She is the newest addition to the Saybrook University faculty and she broadens the dimensions of the new MA in Counseling program, which expands the current MFT program to greater heights.  Her name is Hridaya Sivalingam, PhD, and her passion is in creating a mindful, humanistic approach for developing humanistic counselors.

Dr. Sivalingam attended Elmira College where she received a BA in Psychology, then progressed to the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, where she received an MS in Counseling and Educational Development, as well as a PhD in Counselor Education and Supervision.  Her spiritual meditation practice shapes her counseling approach and she brings this rich background to Saybrook.  Here, she plans to integrate the tools of breath therapy, dance movement and spiritual contemplation into talk therapy in an experiential method for her students.

Saybrook is not the first to benefit from the laser-vision ideals of contemplative pedagogy in educating future counselors.  Dr. Sivalingam previously worked at the college counseling center at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro, as well as Plymouth State University in New Hampshire, where she became the clinical program director by her second year.

She has presented for the Center for Contemplative Mind in Higher Education conference and is a member of the Center for Contemplative Mind in Society.  She embraces mind-body therapies, co-facilitated a certification in Breath Therapy and used her internship experience with a dance movement therapist to give greater understanding to how body carriage movement connects with psychological well-being.  She integrates all these elements into her teaching, to create a rich, diverse counselor preparation education program.

Dr. Sivalingam is deeply committed to helping counselors understand their identity and to become more at ease with that identity while being careful not to superimpose their own values and narrative on their clients.  Contemplation and mindfulness in the therapeutic presence is a key focus for her. She is dedicated to creating supportive and creative learning environments for her students in order to assist them in developing their identity, while teaching empathy for clients in order to reduce therapist burnout.

In particular, Dr. Sivalingam finds that compassion for the client mitigates professional exhaustion.  She gives an example of this by mentioning how visualizing the client as healthy can aide the counselor in finding alternative and creative ways to assist the client.   She believes this can be accomplished through a contemplative approach.  “Our own knowing, hunches and ideas can guide counseling,” she said.  This leads to a new way of considering the client, and consequently, empowering the client into healing.

To do this, Dr. Sivalingam uses contemplative pedagogy to prepare the person of the counselor.  The tools and strategies she uses are evidence-based, self-reflective and experiential teaching oriented toward learning as a community.  Her goal is to build a climate where people feel comfortable and safe enough to bring their full selves into the classroom, in order to facilitate disclosure with the rest of the class, a familiar milieu for Saybrook students.

When asked about one particular client in which she had made a memorable impact, Dr. Sivalingam recounted the story of a student working on her undergraduate degree.  The client came from a very chaotic home and was challenged to feel stability in her environment.  “She was so used to that chaos, it seemed to follow her.  She found it in her dorm relationships.  She found it in her sorority relationships and her academic relationships,” said Dr. Sivalingam. “One of the things I feel really excited about is having been able to be a steady person to see and value her; something she hadn’t experienced.”  Through counseling over several semesters and years, the student began to value who she was and what she brought without expectation from others.  It was a good example of the humanistic ideal of valuing the person as self-healing.  It helped the client transform herself through steady confidence, which allowed her to go from being withdrawn and nearly abandoning her academic goals, to obtaining leadership roles in the academic community by the end of her undergraduate education.  She became more self-reflective and open to more authentic and valuable relationships with others.  “That was one client I was really proud of,” she said.

Although Dr. Sivalingam loves the face-to-face method of teaching, the Saybrook technology allows so much more flexibility for encountering students at a distance.  “We are at a point now where the technology can work closely as true, interpersonal interaction, rather than relying on email or text or audio, so the new ideas of working with this technology.  I’m excited for Saybrook to be one of the places that has a really rich learning environment that just happens to be using technology to create it.  That’s one of the things I’m excited about… to join my colleagues in putting our creative minds together to let this be a really awesome learning experience,” she said.

Along with co-creating the new MA in Counseling program with Saybrook, Dr. Sivalingam has been busy co-creating in a real, tangible way.  She is the new mother of a three month-old son!  She lives with her husband and infant son in Tempe, Arizona.