This psychology and English double major is putting theory into practice as a psychiatric technician in a local hospital.

A Desire to Help

Mary Iellamo ’18 always knew that a career in human services was right for her. As an advocate for mental health awareness, she decided to major in psychology to become a clinical psychologist. What she didn’t expect, however, was discovering new ways to approach patient care using literary fiction.

Photo of psychology and English double major Mary Iellamo, 2018 class valedictorian
After taking a few literature classes and consulting with her professors, Mary added a second major in English, as well as a minor in theater studies. This choice proved beneficial, as she began making productive connections between the liberal arts and social sciences.

“A lot of what I learn in psychology is very theoretical,” she said. “But when I look at literature, it’s like I can see things that I learned in class play out. It’s nice to have them complement one another.”

Mary began applying her insights to her work with patients during her third year at Elms. After networking with local mental health professionals at an Active Minds event on campus, she was hired as a psychiatric technician at Rockville General Hospital in Vernon, CT.

“I love it there. It’s very valuable experience,” she said. “It’s another way that I see the theoretical concepts I study in class actually play out in the real world. I use a lot of literature when I run groups.”

Mental Health and Poetry

While she varies the excerpts she discusses with patients, Mary said that she often uses poems by American poet Mary Oliver for their delicate explorations of hope and suffering. In her eyes, it’s essential to find pieces that are subtle in their messaging, because patients connect with the material more deeply than they would with heavy-handed prose.

'Learning how to step into someone else's shoes has definitely expanded my ability to relate to other people. It has also strengthened my feelings of empathy.'

While literature offered new ways to connect with patients, Mary’s knowledge of acting and theater also helped her become a more compassionate, empathetic caretaker.

“Learning how to step into someone else’s shoes has definitely expanded my ability to relate to other people,” she explained. “It has also strengthened my feelings of empathy. I hope to continue to use that lens when I’m working as a mental health professional.”

Mary’s time at Elms culminated in a list of awards that demonstrate her abilities as a future clinical psychologist. In addition to serving as president of Active Minds for four years, she received the Cheryl R. Condon Leadership Award, the Sister Mary Fenton Award, and the Psychology Faculty Senior Award. She was also the 2018 class valedictorian, an achievement that she says was instrumental in showing her that she was ready for graduate school. In fall 2018, Mary will continue her academic journey in the doctorate of counseling psychology program at Springfield College.

Have you always been curious about why people behave a certain way? Do you find questions about behavior, emotion, and thought fascinating? Majoring or minoring in psychology gives you the chance to explore the depths of the human heart and mind. Contact us or schedule a campus visit for more information.