Perinatal Pathways: Staff


Catherine MonkCatherine Monk, PhD, is a Professor in the Departments of Psychiatry, and Obstetrics & Gynecology, and Director for Research at the Women’s Program, Columbia University Medical Center, as well as Co-Director of the Sackler Parent-Infant Project and the Domestic Violence Initiative, and a member of Columbia’s Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Council. Trained as a clinical psychologist, she spends the majority of her time on research, and a small percent treating patients, most of whom are women experiencing depression or anxiety related to perinatal issues (fetal anomaly, stillbirth, preterm birth, concerns about their own traumatic childhoods in relation to becoming a mother). Dr. Monk’s research brings together the fields of psychopathology, developmental psychobiology, and perinatal psychiatry to focus on the earliest influences on children’s developmental trajectories—those that happen in utero—and how to intervene early to prevent mental health problems. She collaborates with colleagues to include biological and psychological processes in her research, e.g., using MRI techniques to study variation in brain development related to prenatal maternal factors such as distress and poor nutrition, examining gene expression in placentas related to similar maternal variables. Several of these projects are funded by the National Institutes of Mental Health, as is an intervention study titled ‘Behavioral Change in the Mother/Infant Dyad: Preventing Postpartum Depression’.
More information: Current Research, Publications, Curriculum Vitae, and Contact Information


Elizabeth WernerElizabeth Werner, PhD, is an Assistant Professor of Behavioral Medicine in the Department of Obstetrics & Gynecology, Columbia University Medical Center/New York Presbyterian and serves as the Senior Director of Research Operations in the Perinatal Pathways lab. Dr. Werner is the Lead Supervising Clinician in the PREPP program, a clinical research trial aimed at preventing Postpartum Depression, and a Consultant for the Women’s Program in the Department of Psychiatry at Columbia University Medical Center. Dr. Werner oversees all of the clinical research studies in the Perinatal Pathways lab and serves as the Lead Clinician in the PREPP program, a clinical research trial aimed at preventing Postpartum Depression. Dr. Werner is a Co-Investigator on several projects funded by the National Institutes of Mental Health, and has published papers on a variety of topics in the fields of perinatal psychiatry and developmental psychobiology. She was selected as a National Institute of Health CHIPS fellow (Child Intervention, Prevention, and Services) and as a New York State Office of Mental Health Policy Scholar. In addition to her research, Dr. Werner, a clinical psychologist, maintains a clinical practice through Columbia Doctors. Dr. Werner specializes in the treatment of mood disorders and stress management, particularly working with women during the perinatal period.


Marisa Spann Marisa Spann, PhD, MPH, is an Assistant Professor of Medical Psychology in the Department of Psychiatry. Dr. Spann is a clinical neuropsychologist with specialty training in developmental neuroimaging and perinatal epidemiology. She obtained her PhD in clinical psychology at George Washington University. She went on to pursue a clinical neuropsychology postdoctoral fellowship at Yale University School of Medicine in the Department of Neurosurgery. During this time she obtained her masters of public health at Yale School of Public Health. She transitioned to a NIH-funded T32 research postdoctoral fellowship in Translational Child Psychiatry at Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC). Since diagnostic mental health symptoms are not obvious before preschool to school age, the overarching goal of Dr. Spann’s research is to identify prenatal and infant biomarkers of emerging mental health risk. Her research focuses on how prenatal immune-activating exposures, such as maternal infection, medical conditions, and environmental stressors affect fetal and infant brain (structure and connectivity) and mental health (attention and behavioral reactivity) development. She is involved in ongoing epidemiologic studies utilizing international birth cohorts and clinical studies at CUMC that investigate the role of maternal immune activation during pregnancy as measured by maternal blood/sera on development from the fetal period to childhood. Isolating developmental markers that cut across child psychiatric disorders during this early period of development will help ensure identification of a greater number of children at risk. Her research has been funded through the Gray Matters (Department of Psychiatry at CUMC), Whitaker Developmental Neuropsychiatry Scholar (Marilyn and James Simons Family Giving), TRANSFORM KL2 Mentored Career Development (Irving Institute for Clinical and Translational Research at CUMC and NIH), and Arts & Neuroscience Fellowship (Italian Academy for Advanced Studies in the America at Columbia University) awards.


Clare McCormack, B. Psych (Hons), PhD, has been a Herbert H. and Ruth S. Reiner Postdoctoral Research Fellow with in the Monk lab since 2016. She is also the 2018 Robert A. Burt Presidential Scholar in Society and Neuroscience with the Center for Science and Society at Columbia University. Her research involves using mixed methods approaches to studying effects of maternal stress and trauma on mental health in the perinatal period, brain changes over pregnancy, and intergenerational transmission of trauma effects. Clare completed her PhD in Public Health in 2016 at the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre in the at the University of New South Wales, Australia. Her doctoral research focused on alcohol use behavior during pregnancy, and the effects of prenatal alcohol exposure on infant cognitive development.


Caroline TrumpffCaroline Trumpff, PhD, researches the impact of deficits in maternal nutrition during gestation on fetal, newborn, and child outcomes such as heart rate variability, brain structure and function, and cognitive and behavioral development. She is also interested in how epigenetic modifications of gene expression in the placenta can mediate the effect of poor prenatal nutrition on child outcomes. Caroline received a doctorate in Psychological Sciences from the Université Libre de Bruxelles (ULB, Belgium) in 2015. She completed her doctoral research as a scientific collaborator at the Belgian Scientific Institute of Public Health (WIV-ISP) in the Department of Epidemiology on the “Surveys, Lifestyle and Chronic Illnesses” team. Her doctoral thesis investigated the impact of iodine deficiency during pregnancy on the cognitive, psychomotor, and psychosocial development of preschool children..


Mayumi Okuda BenavidesMayumi Okuda Benavides, MD, is Director of the Gambling Disorders Clinic at New York State Psychiatric Institute and has served as Chapman Perelman Fellow in Psychiatry at the Bronx Family Justice Center since April, 2014. A psychiatrist trained in Bogotá, Colombia and at Columbia University Medical Center, Mayumi is bilingual in English and Spanish. Her earliest work with survivors of the ongoing conflict in Colombia inspired her to pursue the treatment of trauma and recovery in both research and clinical practice. Her research has focused on the epidemiology of addictions and violence. Her current work is focused on the integration of mental health services for survivors of intimate partner violence in non-specialty settings.


Laraine McDonoughLaraine McDonough, PhD, completed her doctoral studies at the University of California, San Diego. Her interest in cognitive psychology expanded from her initial interests in infantile amnesia and categorization to the acquisition of concepts about objects, causality, number, space and time and how language acquisition influences such cognitive development. She has investigated these topics developmentally by testing infants, young children (including those with autism), college students and aging adults. Her current interests include how we represent knowledge such that we can formulate metaphors to discuss complex ideas such as time. Since her hire at Brooklyn College in 1998, she has mentored and is continuing to mentor several graduate students.


Grace LiuGrace Liu, MA, is the Data Manager in the Division of Behavioral Medicine in Psychiatry at Columbia University Medical Center. Grace provides comprehensive data services for the Division including data collection design, data quality checking, data reporting and data customization utilizing SAS, Excel/VBA, and other analytical packages. She also maintains and updates REDCap software and software/database installation supporting all users from the Division. Grace Liu holds a M.A. in Geographical Informational Systems and previous worked as analyst in nonprofit sector.


Preeya Desai, B.A., is currently a doctoral student in Clinical Psychology at Long Island University-Brooklyn. She has been in the Perinatal Pathways lab since 2014, where she started by coordinating a study that examines social circumstances, parenting techniques and infant neurobehavior in pregnant women at risk for postpartum depression. Her graduate research investigates the childhood correlates of rejection sensitivity in pregnancy, as well as the development of pathological personality structures from an attachment perspective. Preeya’s clinical interests include psychotherapy and parent-child dyadic work.


Ashley Rainford B.A., is is currently a doctoral student in Clinical Psychology at the City College of New York (CUNY). Ashley graduated from Wesleyan University in 2013 with a major in Psychology, and was the recipient of a National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) diversity supplement with the mentorship of Dr. Monk. She has been in the Perinatal Pathways lab since 2013, where she coordinated a study that looked at the effects of adolescent mothers’ prenatal stress and nutritional status on infant cognitive development. Her research interests include mental health and neurobiological development during pregnancy as well as trauma and its effect on mother-infant attachment styles.


Deirdre Clifford, MSW, graduated from University College Cork, Ireland in 2010 with a Masters in Social Work. Since graduating, Deirdre has experience in the area of Child Protection both in the United Kingdom and Australia. Deirdre worked with the Department of Health and Human Services in Melbourne, Australia from 2013 to 2016, as an Advanced Child Protection Practitioner within a Case Management Reunification Team and managed a large case load of families with different levels of complexity. Since joining the Monk Lab in March 2017, Deirdre has been the administrator of both the Domestic Violence Initiative Team and Columbia Women’s Program (Department of Psychiatry). Deirdre also participates in weekly meetings with Clinicians from the Family Justice Centres, who provide supportive services for survivors of domestic violence, elder abuse and sex trafficking located in all five boroughs. Deirdre is currently in the process of obtaining her Licensed Master Social Work (LMSW).


Maia Lauria, B.S., graduated from Fordham University in 2017 with a degree in Integrative Neuroscience. She coordinates the PREPP R01 study that examines a behavioral intervention combining psychoeducation, parenting techniques, and mindfulness for pregnant women at risk for postpartum depression. Born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, she will help coordinate the study for both English and Spanish speaking participants. She is interested in how prenatal environmental stressors impact fetal and infant brain development. Her other research interests include the molecular mechanisms underlying memory and learning. She plans to attend graduate school in cognitive neuroscience.


Anika Mitchell, B.A., graduated from Williams College in 2018 with degrees in Neuroscience, Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, and Public Health. She coordinates the NIH ECHO study that examines the intergenerational impact of the acculturation process in three generations of Puerto Rican families living in the U.S on aspects of neurodevelopmental, cardiorespiratory, and risk for obesity. Anika is interested in studying connections between social structures and neurobiological developmental trajectories in vulnerable populations. Further, she is interested in understanding how epigenetic modifications to stress systems impacts risk for psychopathologies, attachment, maternal-infant dyadic health, and immune system development. She plans to attend graduate school in developmental neuroscience.


Alexandra O’Sullivan, B.A., LLB (Hons) graduated from The University of Adelaide (Australia) in 2012 with dual degrees in law and media studies. After practicing as an attorney, Alexandra returned to school in 2018 to study psychology. She now assists in the coordination of the NIH ECHO study, which examines the intergenerational effects of parental disadvantage in minority communities. Alexandra also assists in the administration of the PREPP R01 clinical study, which examines the impact of a behavioral intervention for women at risk of postpartum depression on women’s mood, parenting style and child development. Alexandra is particularly interested in the relationships between domestic violence, perinatal depression and mother-infant bonding, and the intergenerational neurodevelopmental effects of violence. Alexandra plans to attend graduate school in clinical psychology.


Anna Seraikas, B.S., graduated from Union College in 2016 with a degree in Psychology. She coordinates an NIH funded grant investigating the intergenerational transmission of deficits in self-regulatory control. She is involved in the collection, processing, and analysis of both neuroimaging and clinical data. Her research interests lie mainly in investigating the neural mechanisms that underlie pediatric anxiety and OCD. She is particularly interested in the effect that early life adversity and anxiety have on brain development, and in turn, the use of different interventions to examine treatment outcomes and trajectories through adulthood. Anna plans to attend graduate school in clinical psychology.

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