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As a 10-year-old living in war-torn Liberia, Sophia Maurasse, MD, saw her whole world turn upside down in the span of one day. “I had the experience of spending 8 or 9 hours in my house in a crossfire, and our house was riddled with bullets,” she said. “Then, soldiers came and said, ‘you can get out now.’ They were watching out for us.”
Upon leaving her home with her family, Maurasse found herself “walking the streets, being harassed and accused, surrounded by nothing but cadavers and checkpoints.” However, she also experienced humanity. “Literally the same day, a family took us in,” she said. “They didn’t know who we were, and they sheltered us until we could get out of the country safely. I got to experience this whole variety of human behavior, and I wondered why were some people willing to help, even at the cost of their own safety, and why were others willing to harm us.”
Today, as medical director for McLean’s 3East Girls Intensive and Step-Down Programs, Maurasse draws on her difficult childhood experiences to help girls with borderline personality disorder and related mental health conditions. “I work with a lot of kids who have had something pretty traumatic happen,” she said. “I help them increase their resilience and address behaviors that get in the way of their functioning and emotional development.’”
Maurasse said that her childhood experiences spurred her interest in mental health. “I knew early on that I was interested in psychology because I’ve always wanted to the understand the ‘why’ of human behavior,” she explained.
After leaving Liberia, Maurasse and her family resettled in the United States. While studying psychology at the University of Miami, she determined that she wanted to work with young people in a way that allowed her to look at both their mental and physical health, and she decided to pursue a career in medicine.
After graduating from Tufts University School of Medicine and completing her psychiatry residency at George Washington University and a child and adolescent psychiatry fellowship at Massachusetts General Hospital/McLean Hospital, she began working at McLean as a staff psychiatrist. Maurasse worked at the same program where she rotated as a fellow and, over the last year, became the medical director.
In this role, Maurasse draws on her medical training and her multifaceted personal experience to help the young people in her care. “As a woman, a black person, and a refugee, I’ve gone through difficult experiences that have allowed me to be empathetic,” she said. “I know what it’s like to feel isolated from your peers because you’ve had an experience that they haven’t had, and that can be an advantage in my role in helping kids.” Experience “does shape you,” Maurasse pointed out, but “the trick is recognizing how it shapes and realizing that it doesn’t have to define you.”
Maurasse said she focuses on building relationships to help others. “I really value relationships as the core way of helping people and impacting their quality of life,” she said. “Getting to know people, getting to know their experience—that’s what inspires me.”