Marie DiCowden, Psychology

Photograph of Marie DiCowden

Marie DiCowden

Psychology Faculty

People don't heal in isolation.

Marie DiCowden remembers that as she hurries from practicing at her community health program in Florida to meetings with Congressional representatives and committee in Washington D.C..

In Florida she runs a local health organization, the Biscayne Institute of Health & Living, that cares for hundreds of people, from young children to the elderly: they offer the community wellness programs, health education, integrative primary care programs, and rehabilitation; they have a school on premises to serve special needs children and youth so that their school and health care treatments are integrated at the same site; and they train graduate level health care providers from many disciplines in health care and integrative medicine.

"The idea is that we have a center where people don't just come when they're sick, but that provides for the needs of themselves, and their family, at all times," she says. "It's integrated into the school and the medical programs, and we have a number of activities that extend beyond physical or mental issues into health issue broadly." In Washington she is frequently called upon to consult on new models of affordable health care … like the one she created in Florida. Recently, after she developed and chaired a public field hearing in Florida to address the health care crisis, Congressman John Conyers (D-MI), and Congresswoman Hilda Solis (D-CA), attended as honorary chairs.

"We need to be focusing on health, not medicine, and interdisciplinary care provides the best delivery system," she says during the rare moment she can catch a breath. Whether she's talking to the next generation of doctors or current federal legislators, she tries to tell them the same thing … something she knows is essential to finally reforming health care in America, making it both affordable and higher quality: people don't heal in isolation. They heal as part of a community where their health is valued.

Marie discovered that more than 20 years ago when she was a clinician at the University of Miami School of Medicine, working in Orthopedics and Rehabilitation. Everyone there did their jobs well, and yet somehow "many people with rehab needs came back 6 months later and were worse than when we'd started."

That, Marie realized, was because their "healing" was separated from the community they lived in: they would come in to the doctor's office to get better, then go back to their real lives, and the two would rarely connect the way they needed to.

She decided to do something about it by providing better rehabilitative care out in the community.

Her teaching and work with physical therapy attracted the attention of community neurosurgeons who were having the exact same problem with their patients: people with brain injuries weren't getting better because there was no connection between their therapy and their lives. The need for care in the community was critical, and the doctors made her an offer: "If we raise the money, will you develop a program community based like yours for our patients, too?"

She said yes – and has been running the Biscayne Institutes since that day. "It was quite a struggle for a number of years to explain to people what we were doing," she remembers. "Now people seem to get it and what the need is."

Today Biscayne Institute is a full-fledged community program with multicultural programs, educational offerings, health care services and training. It's the frequent recipient of state and federal grants, but that's not enough. Marie says it's time to take it to the next level, and develop this model for communities across the United States.

"We're hoping that our success will leverage the funds to duplicate this throughout a larger population," she says. "We're laying the groundwork for new centers in places as disparate as Alaska and San Francisco."

She teaches at Saybrook because it embodies that spirit of tomorrow that she thinks the medical profession desperately needs.

"I've always felt that Saybrook has been a very forward looking institution with faculty who are ahead of the curve in many ways," she says. "They've been leaders in integrative health, in understanding that social responsibility and spirituality are both important focuses of effective medicine. They've been in the same position I have … advocating 20 years ago for models that are finally becoming mainstream today … and of course that's something I want to be involved with."