Perinatal Pathways of Columbia University

Catherine Monk

Catherine Monk, PhD, is Associate Professor in the Departments of Psychiatry, and Obstetrics & Gynecology, and Director for Research at the Women’s Program, Columbia University Medical Center. 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’.

Elizabeth Werner

Elizabeth Werner, PhD, is an Assistant Professor of Behavioral Medicine in the Department of Psychiatry, Columbia University Medical Center/New York Presbyterian and a Consultant for the Women’s Program, 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 theNational 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.

Julie Spicer

Julie Spicer, PhD, is a postdoctoral fellow in cognitive affective neuroscience and behavioral medicine whose research focuses on the consequences of stress on long term health, with a current emphasis on early life exposures. In the prenatal and early postpartum periods, there is rapid maturation of both neural and physiological systems in offspring. The developmental success of these systems has long term impacts on health, and maternal stress can affect such success. Working with time series data from functional magnetic resonance imaging and ambulatory blood pressure monitoring as well as longitudinal measures from the endocrine and immune systems, she examines how maternal stress-related psychological processes connect to biological responses, behavior and infant health outcomes in the prenatal and early postpartum periods. This work has implications for the current pervasive national problem of socioeconomic health-related disparities. Dr. Spicer received a PhD in Psychology with a specialization in cognitive affective neuroscience from Columbia University in 2011. Her postdoctoral work has been funded through the T32 mechanism of the National Institute of Mental Health, the Sackler Institute for Developmental Psychobiology, the Irving Center for Clinical and Translational Research, the Herbert H. and Ruth S. Reiner Fund, and the Nathaniel Wharton Fund of Columbia University.

Hanna Gustafsson

Hanna Gustafsson, PhD, is a Herbert H. and Ruth S. Reiner Postdoctoral Research Fellow working in the Monk lab. Her research interests center on the impact of stressful and frightening experiences on families with young children, as well as the psychobiological mechanisms through which stress may impact fetal and child development. She received a PhD in Developmental Psychology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Mayumi Okuda Benavides

Mayumi Okuda Benavides, MD, is a psychiatrist trained in Bogotá, Colombia and at Columbia University Medical Center. 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. She has been seeing patients at the Bronx Family Justice Center since April of this year. Her research has focused on the epidemiology of addictions and violence.

Laraine McDonough

Laraine 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 Liu

Grace 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.

Sophie Foss

Sophie Foss, M.A., is a second-year doctoral student in Clinical Psychology at Long Island University, Brooklyn. She has been involved in the lab’s research since 2010, primarily working on the Teen Study. Her graduate research investigates the intergenerational transmission of risk related to exposure to trauma and violence, prenatal nutrition, and behavior in pregnant women and their children. She plans to pursue this line of research throughout her doctoral training and beyond. She also conducts psychological assessments and psychotherapy with adolescents and young adults, and plans to continue her clinical work, specializing in neuropsychological assessments with children.

Angelie Singh

Angelie Singh, M.P.H., M.S., is 4th year medical student at the Medical School of International Health at Ben Gurion University of the Negev, in collaboration with Columbia University. She is conducting NIH supported research on nutrition, metabolic disorders and epigenetic outcomes during pregnancy. Angelie first became interested in nutrition and women’s health while studying for her MPH and MS in Human Nutrition at Columbia University. She met the Monk lab through her thesis work, which focused on dietary intake and mental health during pregnancy, and she has been under Dr. Monk’s mentorship since. Angelie is also passionate about global health and international development and has worked as a researcher on community nutrition programming, treatment of acute malnutrition and mercury exposure in West Africa. She received her BA in Political Theory and Constitutional Democracy and BS in Physiology from Michigan State University.

Sierra Kuzava

Sierra Kuzava, B.A., graduated from Columbia University in 2012 with a degree in psychology. She coordinates a longitudinal study examining the epigenetic mechanisms implicated in prenatal stress exposure and fetal and infant biobehavioral outcomes. Her interests include the neurobiology of prenatal and early life stress, childhood risk and resilience in the development of psychopathology with an emphasis on the role of parenting and attachment, and environmental and biological influences on temperament. Sierra will begin a PhD in Clinical Psychology in the fall of 2015.

Preeya Desai

Preeya Desai, B.A., graduated from Barnard College in 2012 with a major in psychology. She coordinates a study that examines social circumstances, parenting techniques and infant neurobehavior in pregnant women at risk for postpartum depression. She is interested in impact of prenatal stressors on women’s mood and on children’s physical, mental and emotional development in the formative early years of life. Her interests also include the biological mechanisms of cognitive disorders and mental illness and the ways in which we can better detect and treat them. Preeya plans attend medical school and focus on treatment through the lens of the intersection of medicine and psychology.

Marina Weiss

Marina Weiss M.F.A., coordinates two pilot studies. The first investigates the effects of a prenatal care program called Centering Pregnancy and a music-based intervention program called The Lullaby Project on fetal and infant development. The second assesses the introduction of clinical psychiatric care into a resource center for survivors of intimate partner violence. Marina graduated from Amherst College with honors, and holds an MFA in poetry from New York University. She will finish Columbia’s postbaccalaureate program in psychology in 2015. Marina is interested in the environmental and neurobiological factors at play in trauma and recovery as well as the mechanisms of action of therapy and creativity. She plans to apply to PhDs in Clinical Psychology.

Ashley Rainford

Ashley Rainford, B.A., graduated from Wesleyan University in 2013 with a major in Psychology. As a recipient of a National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) diversity supplement, she currently works under the mentorship of Dr. Monk in a post-baccalaureate training. She co-coordinates a study in the Monk lab about stress, mood, and nutrition in pregnant adolescents and its effect on the child’s brain, cognition, and development through two years of age. Her research interests include mental health and neurobiological development during pregnancy as well as trauma and its affect on mother-infant attachment styles. She plans to receive her Ph.D. in clinical psychology.

Alida Davis

strong>Alida Davis, B.A., graduated from Williams College in 2014 with a degree in Chinese and Psychology with highest honors. Her undergraduate thesis explored the effects of categorical and spatial organizational cues on young children’s working memory. At the Monk Lab she coordinates a study that looks at the effects of maternal prenatal stress and poor nutrition on infant cognitive development. She is currently excited about research questions that ask about the ways in which ethnicity and culture may affect women’s experiences during pregnancy. She is also interested in the ways in which environmental and biological factors during and after pregnancy may affect children’s cognitive development and reactivity and regulation in early childhood.

Blaire Pingeto

Blaire Pingeton, B.A., is a research assistant in the Monk Lab. She coordinates a study that investigates environmental and genetic differences in serotonin development through neuroimaging. Specifically, the Conte study explores serotonergic development in infants whose mothers take SSRIs during their third trimester, as well as in relation to genetic variance in 5HT signaling polymorphisms. Blaire completed her undergraduate degree at New York University, and is finishing up the postbaccalaureate program in Psychology at Columbia University. She is interested in the intersection of biological, environmental, and cultural factors in development and their power to predict attachment styles and personality. Looking forward, Blaire plans on applying to Ph.D. programs in clinical psychology.

Current Volunteers

Leslie Bermingham, Mariana Budge, Leigh Cooper, Allison Corbin, Hosung Im, Caitlin Hoopes Kelliher, Samantha Breland Moody, Charlotte Pfeffer, and Sarah Weinstein.