Member of Adelphi University’s 10 Under 10
Eliza Wierzbinska ’10, a student in the clinical psychology doctoral program at the Derner Institute of Advanced Psychological Studies, has found her niche. It’s in maternal and reproductive psychology which, she explained, doesn’t yet exist as a separate field.
“Just like we have the term ‘adolescence,’ there is a term coined by anthropologist Dana Rafael called ‘matrescence’—the process of becoming a mother. It is such an important developmental phase in a woman’s life, yet it hasn’t been given nearly enough attention,” she said. “It’s part of my dream to contribute to creating a division in maternal and reproductive psychology in the American Psychological Association.”
As a research assistant in the laboratory of maternal psychology at Teachers College, Columbia University, she was part of a team that worked on a systematic review of literature on maternal mental health, exploring where mothers appeared in the literature and how they were spoken about in psychology. “There is not enough attention paid to the mother’s own experience, what’s going on with her, and how her experience is impacting her own life,” she said. That’s exactly what Wierzbinska wants to change through her Ph.D. research.
“I’m interested in working with the mom first, investigating her maternal experiences. Many women don’t feel supported enough through the journey of motherhood and that can be isolating. And when you’re isolated, you are subject to things like depression. This will affect her and her baby’s well-being,” she said. “If we can better support women through their journeys, especially motherhood, I feel like we can make significant changes in their lives and subsequently in the lives of their children.”
Wierzbinska has already gained valuable experience in this area at the Seleni Institute, a nonprofit organization that provides clinical care, online information and research funding for women’s reproductive and maternal mental health. She completed fieldwork there and, following her internship, was hired in a position to support the clinical staff. “I had the opportunity to work closely with women dealing with child loss, infertility, attachment issues, parenting struggles and grief,” she said.
It was as an undergraduate psychology major at Adelphi that Wierzbinska decided what her career path would look like. “I always knew I wanted psychology and that one day I wanted to be a clinician or a professor, but I didn’t hone in on what area that would be in until Adelphi.”
She laughed that, before Adelphi, she didn’t know feminism existed. “I grew up in a very European culture where you were prescribed roles. What was expected of you was based on your gender, and I didn’t think anything of it,” said Wierzbinska, who immigrated to the United States from Poland when she was four. After taking several classes related to feminism and gender and speaking with her professors about these topics in great length, she said her perspective completely changed.
Her interest led her to create an independent course with Professor Janice Steil on power, gender and sexuality. “I fell in love with women, gender and sexuality studies,” she said. “It was an experience that opened up my eyes to so many things.”
“Adelphi motivated me to reach higher and challenged me to take the knowledge of women’s health that I received in the classroom and bring it out into the real world and to start conversations about these vital issues,” she said. “My Adelphi experience made me want to make a difference and create positive change.”
After graduating from Adelphi she entered a master’s program in clinical psychology at Teachers College, Columbia University, which had an emphasis on clinical research on women. During the next several years, she took every opportunity to gain as much experience in maternal and reproductive mental health as she could. She worked as a research assistant at Yeshiva University and New York Presbyterian Weill Cornell; interned at the Museum of Motherhood, where she spearheaded a project that focused on sexual traditions worldwide; volunteered as a recreation group therapy leader on the in-patient Eating Disorders Unit at the New York State Psychiatric Institute; contributed to research and policy programs on health, reproductive rights, and sexuality at the National Council for Research on Women; and served as a peer counselor at the Barnard Rape Crisis/Anti-Violence Support Center.
In 2015, to further her education and training, she returned home to Adelphi, this time as a doctoral student. A major reason she said she was drawn to Adelphi’s program was because of the support she received as an undergraduate, which she knew she could count on again at the graduate level.