Sitting at their desks at opposite sides of their cozy office, clinicians Mary Marchesani and Maddie Mercier are doing something their jobs do not regularly entail: talking about themselves. They speak about their backgrounds, detail what a typical day looks like for them, and offer each other praise. They often answer questions together, switching off voices, but continuing the same stream of thought. It is clear that they are a strong unit, knowledgeable about their jobs and used to thinking out loud with each other. At BHMA, the two clinicians operate as a supportive function, helping students to meet their goals and to grow socially and emotionally. Marchesani and Mercier wear many different hats—meeting with students, teaching classes, serving as 1:1 aides, consulting with outside providers, running weekly student support meetings, attending conferences, and communicating with parents. They do it all with grace.
Mary Marchesani, M.Ed, is from Connecticut, and attended Eastern Connecticut State University. She was quickly captivated by her Introduction to Psychology class, and went on to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in psychology and criminology. Following undergrad, Marchesani spent time working at the River Street Autism Program before attending Springfield College for her master’s in clinical mental health counseling. She worked at BHMA as part of her graduate internship before being hired as a clinician in December 2015. She was inspired to work in a setting like BHMA following her time recovering from a car accident, when she came to understand firsthand that people with injuries and disabilities have different hardships, but still a lot to overcome. One of Marchesani’s greatest accomplishments at BHMA is the creation of a class called Disability Awareness, an initiative she started for second-year students. The class provides a space for students to talk about their own experiences, and to learn about different disabilities. As Marchesani says, the class has led to “a lot of ‘aha’ moments where students could better understand others.”
Maddie Mercier, LCSW, a South Hadley native, grew up seeing the Troupe perform at her school, and has thus long been familiar with the important work that happens at BHMA. As she claims, she has always been the go-to person for people in times of conflict, and she used that as motivation to enter the field. Mercier graduated with a bachelor’s degree in social work from Sacred Heart University, and earned her master’s in social work a year later from Springfield College. Like Marchesani, Mercier interned at BHMA as part of her graduate internship, and served as a job coach and residential assistant before being hired as a clinician in June of 2016. Mercier credits the diversity of the work at BHMA as making the job so appealing to her. She claims one of her favorite parts of the job is looking at the macro level and thinking about the progress the first-year students, her first class, have made. As she says, “it is fun to see the growth, and know that you and the rest of your team were a part of that success in your own ways.”
Interacting with students is a central part of the clinicians’ job, done predominantly through individual sessions and weekly classes. Marchesani and Mercier serve as a resource for students in times of conflict and distress, and they make themselves available to students in need. From therapy, to couples counseling, to behavioral intervention, Marchesani and Mercier provide a wide variety of supports to students on an individual level. Classes, run as student-driven groups, are mostly social/emotional based, and usually require a planned curriculum. Teaching classes is one of Marchesani’s favorite parts of her job; “it is face time with people” she puts simply. Class offerings include Men’s Health, Women’s Health, and Disability Awareness. This summer also welcomes new pilot classes, including Adulthood and Aging, and Healthy Relationships. In Mercier’s Adulthood and Aging class, she has recently covered the topics of social norms and stereotypes, and encourages the students to guide the conversation in a natural direction. Both clinicians reflect positively on the flexibility of their job, as it allows them to try new things and offer different types of classes, like those this summer. In whatever capacity students interact with the clinicians, it is evident that they truly value the role Marchesani and Mercier play at BHMA. As student Michela aptly describes, “They are both awesome people and are very supportive.”
Marchesani and Mercier also have an important role when it comes to the continuity of student support. The clinicians see themselves as the bridge between Life Skills and Residential Life, or day and night staff. The carry over between departments falls to them, as they are as close to a middle person as there is, says Mercier. Communicating with others and holding weekly staff-wide meetings allows for all departments to be on the same page and work as a team. Life Skills and Residential Life help to execute behavior plans and other individualized student-based policies. Though Marchesani and Mercier do not get to see the success of their efforts every day, the results of the group approach are clear every Friday afternoon when students perform at Variety Hour. The work of each department comes together, and as the clinicians say, it is amazing “to see the light our students have when they are performing.” That brightness has made Marchesani and Mercier emotional on more than one occasion. The moving display that happens in the Great Room at the end of each week is a reminder to the clinicians of why they do what they do, and a testament to the support they provide.
When speaking of how they work together, neither Marchesani nor Mercier can help but smile. They are close friends both in and out of the office, and they credit their strong connection with helping them to effectively work together. Marchesani and Mercier are “in sync,” as they say. They divide the caseload, but are always willing to consult with each other and offer relevant experiences and objective critical thinking. Though both clinicians are young and relatively new to the field, they are passionate and intelligent when it comes to working with students at BHMA. Together they advocate for students and give them strategies to grow. Marchesani and Mercier have challenging jobs that are not always filled with glory, but here we highlight the impactful work they do.