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Amid grief and loss, Psy.D. graduate finds strength within her community

Stories | 10.05.23

Within the span of a few weeks in 2019 — just as her second semester at Adler University began — Mattilan Martin Correa, Psy.D., learned that her partner was diagnosed with terminal cancer.

“I found myself needing to juggle weekends back in Minnesota for chemo, a full load of classes, and living out of my car all at once,” she said.

On April 24, 2019, Dr. Martin Correa would marry her partner, Gustavo, in his hospital room. Less than 24 hours later, he was gone.

“No one prepares you to be a widow at 23,” Dr. Martin Correa said. “Ten days after the funeral, I was back in class because I didn’t know what else to do. The only thing I knew was that I belonged at Adler.”

This fall, as Dr. Martin Correa walks across the stage at the Chicago Theatre during the Chicago and Online campuses’ commencement ceremony, the event will mean more to her than earning a Doctor of Psychology in Clinical Psychology degree.

“I learned at Adler how to come out of grief; that I’m strong and capable enough,” she said. “The Adler community — my classmates, the staff, my professors — also rallied around me when I needed them. Commencement, to me, will be a celebration of this community.”

Photo of Dr. Mattilan Martin Correa in Costa Rica

Dr. Martin Correa zip lining in Costa Rica, where she completed an undergraduate psychology program before coming to Adler University.

Discovering psychology

Gustavo Correa was born in Chile with a rare condition called CLOVES syndrome, characterized by tissue overgrowth and complex vascular anomalies. One day, his family was featured on TV and a famous soccer player offered to pay for him to move to the U.S. for treatment at Minnesota’s Mayo Clinic. He and his mom traveled to the U.S., expecting to be here for a year, but it was soon discovered that his condition was much more complex, and they stayed.

“He ended up doing his undergraduate studies in Minnesota, where we ultimately met,” Dr. Martin Correa said.

Dr. Martin Correa was studying biomedical engineering while Correa, who was passionate about providing mental health care to children with disabilities and unique needs, was studying psychology.

“We became best friends,” she said. “He was really funny and so kind. He was one of the most loved people I’ve ever met. Anyone who met him would be laughing or smiling by the end of the day.”

Photo of Dr. Martin Correa's art

During COVID-19, Dr. Martin Correa and other Adler students hosted art parties over Zoom.

The two began working together at a campus study job and agreed to take some psychology classes together. In their intro to neurobiology class, the two began to fall in love, and Dr. Martin Correa discovered her personal love for psychology.

“There was something beautiful to me about being in a science discipline where art, beauty, and love were just as valid as a scientific discussion as whether I threaded my screws correctly in CAD software,” she said. “My love for him went into my love for psychology, and I caught the bug.”

When Dr. Martin Correa pursued psychology abroad, Correa suggested she consider programs in Central or South America. That suggestion led her to Costa Rica.

“While abroad, I started looking at U.S. graduate programs, but many of the websites for public universities are blocked there,” she said. “One of the websites I could access was Adler’s. So, it was a lot like love at first sight for me.”

And the more she read about the University, the more she was drawn to it.

“It was a priority for me to find a program that would give me different perspectives and approaches to psychology,” she said. “And I come from a family of people who are very social justice-oriented, so the Social Justice Practicum was a big draw for me.”

Photo of Dr. Mattilan Martin Correa and her husband Gustavo Correa

Dr. Martin Correa and her husband Gustavo Correa.

Social connectedness in practice

Dr. Martin Correa still remembers sitting in orientation laughing nervously as she and her classmates were all told to practice their pronunciation of gemeinschaftsgefühl — a German word that describes the state of social connectedness and interest in the well-being of others.

“I didn’t know it then, but the social connectedness of this school would soon become a lifeline for me during one of the most difficult chapters of my life,” she said.

That lifeline included classmates organizing bake sales so Dr. Martin Correa could afford the gas to drive from Chicago to Minnesota for Correa’s treatments. Her professors modified some of the assignment deadlines so she could spend time with family.

“And my classmates offered their couches for her to sleep on. One of my classmate’s moms was ready to convert their garage for me to stay in,” she said.

Today, Dr. Martin Correa is back in Hastings, Minnesota, completing a post-doc at a private practice and working with LGBTQ+ clients. She aspires to ultimately provide online group therapy for LGBTQ+ teens in rural communities.

Dr. Martin Correa reflects on her five years at Adler — which included the community supporting each other throughout the COVID-19 pandemic — as the very definition of Gemeinschaftsgefuhl.

“I will never be able to express in words the profound gratitude I feel to the Adler community for the interest they took in my well-being,” she said. “As graduates, our Adler community is going out into a world that is full of uncertainty, injustice, grief, and suffering. I hope all of us will take what we have learned at Adler and go out into the world to create more healing spaces, much like the one created here.”

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