Dr. Hicks received a dual-title Ph.D. in Social Work (Clinical Concentration) and Infant Mental Health from Wayne State University. She is also a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. While at Wayne State, she was chosen to be a Predoctoral Fellow within the Merrill Palmer Skillman Institute for Lifespan Development. She specializes in perinatal and infant mental health, and specifically focuses on investigating resiliency factors and interventions that improve wellbeing during pregnancy and postpartum for the whole family system. She is passionate about supporting ways to integrate evidence-based methods into behavioral health settings, ensuring that no family is left behind. This not only includes transdisciplanary collaboration, but also promoting interventions that are culturally-competent, trauma-informed and most of all useful and effective to ALL parents and their children.
Dr. Hicks utilizes a true biopsychosocial approach to her research. Methodologies include quantitative, qualitative, biobehavioral (cortisol, testosterone, MRI, EEG, and respiratory sinus arrythmia), and dyadic observations.
Dr. Hicks is currently a researcher at University of Colorado in Boulder as part of the Renée Crown Wellness Institute. She is working with Sona Dimidjian, Ph.D., Zindel Segal, Ph.D. and Lee Cohen, M.D. on a study that investigates if a web-based Mindfulness intervention (MBCT for pregnancy) can improve depressive relapse in pregnant women.
She completed a two-year, postdoctoral fellowship in the Neurodevelopmental Research Program with Elysia Davis, Ph.D., and Benjamin Hankin, Ph.D. Within this fellowship she is collaborating on a large, NIMH R01-funded research project called, The Care Project. This research examines the effects of lowering depression, via Interpersonal Therapy, in pregnancy on the development of the baby, essentially testing the fetal programming hypothesis. Much research reports the connection between mom’s stress in pregnancy and the infant’s stress response. Additionally, risk factors (such as cognitive control and negative valence) emerge in infancy that are connected to later child and adolescent psychopathology. The hypothesis is that by intervening early in pregnancy and improving mental health in the mom, it will affect the developing infant beginning in-utero at a biological level that then carries forth improving the family system environment and ultimately reduces later psychopathology. The Care Project includes research measures such as cortisol, CRH, EEG/ERP and infant fMRI, quantitative surveys, and structured diagnostic interviews.
As an expansion of the Care Project, Dr. Hicks is leading research to include the secondary caregiver. Research has identified that secondary caregivers are an important buffer of maternal depression, however little is known in how this parent’s trajectory of mental health emerges over the perinatal period and how this effects development of the infant. She is current investigating this through a longitudinal study with the secondary caregiver. This study will answer how secondary caregiver’s mental health symptoms emerge during pregnancy and postpartum, how this is related to birth outcomes (i.e. preterm birth, low birth weight) and how this contributes (along with mom’s mental health) to their infant’s early brain development (MRI, EEG/ERP, Eye Tracking) and what kind of resiliency factors may protect these caregivers (mindfulness, self-compassion) from exposure to stress.
Dr. Hicks is also the creator of Mindful Mamas: A Mindfulness-Based Prenatal Yoga Teacher Training program. She has taught her program internationally and recently contributed a book chapter for the Handbook of Mindfulness Interventions (due to be released in May 2018 by Routledge Press). She is trained and teaches Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy and is very passionate about offering these interventions in a trauma-informed way to populations that have experienced trauma. Her research includes understanding how mindfulness and self-compassion may be a potential resiliency factor for expectant and new parents.
She works hard to integrate her work into the community, ensuring that the her research is translatable and useful to community members. She is the Denver Coordinator for Postpartum Support International, serves on the Colorado State Perinatal-Depression Related Advisory Board, and is a volunteer Labor Doula at Denver Health. These experiences allow her to create truly translatable clinical research. She regularly consults with organizations looking to expand what they offer to pregnant and postpartum families.