Martha G. Welch, MD, has been named a Distinguished Life Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association. This prestigious distinction, the highest honor in the psychiatric profession, is awarded to outstanding psychiatrists who have made significant contributions to the field. Dr. Welch has dedicated her life to helping children and families overcome emotional, behavioral and developmental challenges.
Dr. Welch received her medical degree from Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons in 1971, and completed a Residency in General Psychiatry and a Fellowship in Child Psychiatry at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City. During her fellowship, Dr. Welch worked with children and families struggling with severe developmental, behavioral and emotional problems.
Through careful observation of these difficult situations she developed a new theory – that intensive nurturing interactions between the child and the parents could help overcome, and even prevent, many of the challenges that children and families face. Dr. Welch used this new theory as the foundation of her clinical work, both in her private practice and as Director of the Mothering Center in Greenwich, CT, which she founded in 1977.
Dr. Welch developed a deep understanding of what helped children and families. She saw how nurturing interactions rooted in emotional communication – including touch, talking, singing and eye-contact – could have a profound effects on emotional, behavioral, and even developmental challenges. She turned to basic and clinical research to find out why.
After more than 20 years of clinical practice, Dr. Welch returned to Columbia University to pursue research. She wanted to understand the biological mechanisms that underlie the emotional, behavioral and physical effects of nurturing interactions that she had observed in her clinical work. In 1997, Dr. Welch was appointed a faculty position at Columbia University’s College of Physicians & Surgeons where she is now Associate Professor of Psychiatry in Pediatrics and in Pathology & Cell Biology.
Together with Michael M. Myers, PhD, Dr. Welch established the Columbia Nurture Science Program to develop, test, and promote nurture-based therapies, rooted in rigorous scientific research, to help families everywhere use the healing power of nurture to address and prevent emotional, behavioral, and developmental difficulties. Dr. Welch has authored dozens of peer-reviewed journal articles, including basic research to understand the biological mechanisms of nurture and randomized clinical trials to understand the effects of intensive nurturing interactions on children and their mothers.
A New Approach
Together with Robert Ludwig, Associate Director of the Nurture Science Program, Dr. Welch has identified a new construct, emotional connection, and developed Calming Cycle Theory, which describes the mechanisms underlying emotional behavior. This theory is rooted in three seminal ideas:
- The autonomic nervous system plays a key role in the regulation of emotions and emotional behavior.
- Co-regulation of the autonomic nervous system underlies parent-child emotional connection.
- Establishing emotional connection addresses and prevents emotional, behavioral, and developmental problems.
Dr. Welch is collaborating with researchers and clinicians across the country and around the world to develop a deeper understanding of the biology of emotional connection, test ways to help families establish and maintain emotional connection, and make this support available to all families.
Dr. Welch will be recognized for her contributions to the field at the 2019 American Psychiatric Association annual meeting in San Francisco, CA, in May.