"Like Adolescence, the transition to motherhood is quite a change."


- Aurélie Athan, Ph.D.

Education, Theory & Practice


Aurélie Athan, Ph.D. is a psychologist and faculty member at Teachers College, Columbia University. She has been reviving the term matrescence for over a decade. Her work advances the concept of matrescence through education, theory, and practice. She understands women's development as mothers holistically, both their thriving and distress. Her courses and certificate program are firsts in Reproductive Psychology. She is in private practice and offers consultation to professionals working with mothers. Last heard saying: "We all have a psychological relationship to our reproductive life, from menstruation to menopause and everything in between."



Teachers College, Columbia University

Ph.D. Clinical Psychology

Licensed Psychologist



Email: athan@tc.Columbia.EDU
Phone: (646) 745-8263
Address: New York City, NY

 The more people spreading the word  Matrescence , the better.

The more people spreading the word Matrescence, the better.

Spread the Word

Why wait another 20 years to deconstruct outdated paradigms or revive classic ones? Start using the word matrescence today and teach someone about this concept.  As an educator, Dr. Aurélie Athan knows the power of words to help people understand things in a new way.  She originally applied the term in 2010 to clinical mental health in order to provide the field with a nonpathological description and to build upon existing theoretical frameworks for this common developmental experience. Read her conversations on the lack of language and paradigms for mothers to describe their psychological and physiological experiences.

 Calling future maternal care providers - get certified!

Calling future maternal care providers - get certified!


Teachers College, Columbia University in New York City offers the first State approved certificate program - a world-renowned training ground for those interested in learning the next wave of theories and practices to improve the lives of parents and mothers. The specialization track on Reproductive & Maternal Well-being will prepare researchers, educators, practitioners and activists through online and in person course work in Perinatal Mental Health, Women & Mental Health, and Helping Professionals Working with LGBT Families and Dr. Athan's seminal course Matrescence: Developmental & Clinical Implications since 2010.

  Matrescence  shouldn't stay in the Ivory Tower- read more!

Matrescence shouldn't stay in the Ivory Tower- read more!


The subject of matrescence has spurred publications that honor the psychological experiences of mothers through qualitative or quantitative research methods as well as discussions on other topics related to gender roles, reproductive life, spirituality and sex education.

 Our laboratory follows Trends in Research & Funding

Our laboratory follows Trends in Research & Funding

A Lab is Born

In 2012, the Maternal Psychology laboratory was started with no funding and a small, dedicated group of graduate students who came together with a common goal: study mothers as a subject of interest in their own right through a research agenda. Lab members began to familiarize themselves with previous scholarship in maternal mental health and then generated questions of their own. They found an overemphasis on perinatal distress and psychopathology with few articles written on normative adjustment during the transition to motherhood. The laboratory instead became committed to illuminating examples of resilience in addition to risk during the perinatal window and advanced the term matrescence. Matrescence, like adolescence, includes important bio-psycho-social-spiritual changes from hormones to identity.

 First graduate Psychology course to focus on  Matrescence

First graduate Psychology course to focus on Matrescence

first Course

In 2010, the first course solely dedicated to matrescence, the psychology of mothers from a developmental perspective, was originally launched under the name Mother-Child Matrix. Ten students signed up thinking it would be a class on maternal-child attachment theory. After their initial surprise that it would solely focus on the mother's experience, they began learning this nascent field of Reproductive & Maternal Psychology. Eight years later, coursework on Perinatal Mental Health was also created. This training is offered every year and has graduated hundreds of students - many of whom have placed the mother at the center of their professional interests and work. These remain the only graduate level courses of their kind nationally.

Mother of Mothers

An Origin Story

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During my years in Clinical Psychology, I was unable to find good explanatory models for the psychological transition to motherhood. I completed an extensive literature review of all of the scientific studies in the past 25 years, in a variety of disciplines, including psychology, psychiatry, medicine, nursing and others. This revealed a strange neglect of focus on mothers themselves without the impact on their children, and the vast majority spoke about their risk for illness with few other perspectives. In the end it was the work of a medical anthropologist who also coined the word "doula", Dana Raphael, whose work held the answer. In her writing, I found a conceptual basis for my own theoretical work and immediately applied it to clinical health to expand the conversation to include the whole spectrum of experience from stress to wellness---the possibility of resilience and even flourishing. Matrescence deserved a revival and "matrescence like adolescence" became my new narrative to educate others both in and out of the classroom. These efforts culminated in others finding their way back to matrescence. On Mother's Day of 2017 it reached the public and was popularized by others such as the New York Times article: The Birth of a Mother. For all who walk this path, we owe first and foremost a debt to our Mother of Matrescence, Dana Louise Raphael (1926–2016).

The critical transition period which has been missed is matrescence. the time of mother-becoming...Giving birth does not automatically make a mother out of a woman...The amount of time it takes to become a mother needs study. 
— - Dana Raphael, Matrescence, Becoming a Mother, A New/Old Rite de Passage (1975)
Childbirth brings about a series of very dramatic changes in the new mother’s physical being, in her emotional life, in her status within the group, even in her own female identity. I distinguish this period of transition from others by terming it matrescence to emphasize the mother and to focus on her new life style.
— - Dana Raphael, The Tender GIFT: BreastfeedinG (1973)


Aurelie Athan, Ph.D.

The term “matrescence,” coined by anthropologist Dana Raphael in the mid-’70s and brought into common use in psychology by clinical psychologist Aurelie Athan, head of the maternal psychology lab at Columbia University, describes a woman’s transition into parenthood. The term deliberately evokes the passage into adulthood — adolescence — though the two aren’t exactly on equal footing in our collective consciousness.

- Erin Zimmerman, The Cut (2018)


Perhaps reviving the conceptual term matrescence, coined by and borrowed from anthropologist Dana Raphael (1975), would be most apt within the landscape of maternity. Much like adolescence, it is an experience of dis-orientation and re-orientation marked by an acceleration of changes in multiple domains: physical, psychological, social, and spiritual. We are indeed indebted to the early ‘maternal developmentalists’ who aptly characterized motherhood in its multi-dimension and dynamism, both the oppressive and the liberating—the dichotomous phenomena that are often the hallmark of any major life transition. Their perspectives equalized and served to normalize, rather than pathologize, the 'mixed-feelings’ of women.

- Aurélie Athan, Feminism & Psychology (2015)

Athan & Reel argue that there is little interest or up-take of research in the psychology of mothers or maternal development per se. They call for a study of ‘matrescence’, to explore women’s lived experience of becoming and being mothers, to challenge the pathologisation of women’s ‘mixed feelings’ about mothering, and to normalise more complex and varied experiences of motherhood than just fulfilment or illness narratives enable.

- JANE CALAGHAN, Feminism & Psychology (2015)

Athan has helped put matrescence — a term coined by the late medical anthropologist Dana Raphael — front and center in the larger discourse. She helped create TC’s new curriculum in Reproductive & Maternal Well-being (including) her own “Mother Matrix: Developmental and Clinical Implications...

- Early Risers, TC Today Alumni Magazine (2016)

Mothers’ experiences are largely invisible because we haven’t asked, “What is this like for you?” Generally, in psychology, the best practice is to understand what’s normative and what the challenges, expectations and setbacks are for a given subject. Then we try and understand the risk factors for when things go off course. We can’t begin to understand why things go wrong for some mothers if we don’t understand the whole passage. We also only focus on motherhood within a very limited time frame from conception to childbearing and then, that’s about it.

- Every Mother Counts, Interview (2016)

We must give a nod to Dr. Raphael. She coined the term “matrescence” and by doing so gave us the word to imagine a new, unexplored territory. Motherhood, like adolescence, is a stage of human physical, psychological, social, and spiritual development. Unfortunately, women’s experiences of this transition remain one of most under-developed areas of scholarship and training. Each year I revive “matrescence” in my classroom to awaken students and enlarge their scope of understanding from a simple focus on the child. Mothers may form the cornerstone of our most precious theories, yet the process of becoming a mother has not been examined sufficiently despite the fact that we all, every living being, Are brought forth by one. There also remains a stronghold of maternal psychopathology and crisis as the core area of interest, with fewer formulations mapping out both the costs and benefits of the psychological work that is undergone. Understanding the birth of a mother can hopefully allow a more wholistic view of this adaptation and with it new fields of study can be born. The creation of more research laboratories and coursework such as my own on Maternal Psychology and Reproductive Mental Health and Wellbeing, while at their infancy, can help the next generation of scholars and practitioners to get started.

New York Times, Comments (2017)

Last fall, Hansen took The Mother Matrix, taught by Aurelie Athan, director of TC’s Maternal Psychology Laboratory. Athan is a leader in the fledgling field of “matrescence,” which views the transition to motherhood as a developmental phase like adolescence and other periods of major physical change. Her course is part of a broader initiative, The Sexuality, Women, & Gender Project (SWG)... Hansen says about Athan's class, “We read articles, mostly from the nursing field. We interviewed mothers. It was exciting, because growing up you see a lot of images that don’t reflect what it feels like to be female. TC is creating a counter-narrative.

- Diversity Hits the Books, TC Today Alumni Magazine (2014)