Mary Madrigal, Psychology

Photograph of Mary Madrigal

Mary Madrigal

Psychology Student

Mary Madrigal, a psychology student, remembers that when she first came to Saybrook she wanted "to get my degree and get out."

"I liked that you could get an MA and apply it to your PhD, and that you could study while still working. I wanted to advance my clinical career. I didn't care that it was a humanistic school."

Her career has grown as much as she hoped for, and more – but she's grown as a person too, in ways she never expected.

"The professors challenged the people who took their workshops to look at patients as people – to look past their symptoms and think of them, not as a disease, but people. And that challenged all the professional experiences I'd had up to that point, which were to find the disease, label it, and move on," Mary says.

She went back to work, looked her patients in the eyes … and realized her professors were right. Her medical training had taught her to dehumanize the very patients she was trying to help.

"That changed everything," she says. "If their doctor sees them as a human being, it's easier for patients to get past their symptoms too: they have support to be 'John, who experiences schizophrenia,' rather than just 'schizophrenic in room 3.'"

Changing the way she saw her patients changed the way Mary practiced medicine, and eventually led her to expand the kind of patients she could help. Today, while working on her dissertation, she runs her own case management company – specializing in the cases of mentally ill people that no one else wants to touch.

"You know how there's a fire and everyone runs away, but the firemen runs to it?" she asked. "I'm kind of like that with these people. When government agencies are wondering 'who's going to deal with these people?' I'm the one that they call."

She finds that by applying her humanistic training – by seeing her clients as whole people rather than just their disease – she can make a difference where others fail. "There are hundreds of older adults who are no longer homeless because I was willing to work with them," she said. "I helped them get food, shelter, apartments, and reconnected them with their families, because I was able to start by looking at them as individual people rather than conditions to be solved."