For Mindy Chettih, MSW ’11, the decision to pursue a career in social work did not happen overnight. She was first exposed to the field by her best friend from college, who became a social worker. She shared a lot with Chettih about the work she did with adolescents from troubled families in economically disadvantaged environments. “That’s what inspired her, and her stories inspired me,” said Chettih.
But while the seeds of interest in social work were sown in college, they took many years to fully bloom. In the interim, Chettih became a patent attorney and started a family. Only after her children left home to attend college did she begin reflecting again on what motivated her.
“What I was doing, working as a patent attorney defending generic drug companies, was a good job, but it was never my passion,” explained Chettih. “When I started to think about what to do, social work somehow re-emerged for me. I started talking to a lot of women I know who are social workers, who had been doing this for many years, and they inspired and encouraged me.”
Buoyed by their words, Chettih applied and was accepted into the 32-month program at the NYU Silver School of Social Work. She originally planned to continue working as an attorney while pursuing her MSW degree, but the economic recession caused her firm’s business to suffer, and one semester into the program, she was laid off. She adapted to this unexpected change well, transferring into the 16-month program with the help of her advisers, and today sees the positive in the forced career shift. She explained, “Many of my colleagues my age or older who were laid off [during that time] never found work again. I was grateful to have something I really cared about that I not only wanted to do, but was already moving myself in the direction of being able to do. I was already on a path.”
This path has led Chettih to a fulfilling career as an LMSW in New York City. Today, she is the family specialist on an assertive community treatment (ACT) team in the Bronx run by the Visiting Nurse Service of New York. In addition to making home visits, she facilitates a wellness self-management group to help clients “reconnect with their inner resources and manage their symptoms as opposed to being managed by their symptoms.” She also supervises two NYU Silver MSW student interns. Chettih’s clients contend with challenges stemming from severe, chronic psychiatric symptoms. Many have trauma histories, and some co-occurring disorders or criminal justice system involvement. Most clients have undergone multiple psychiatric hospitalizations in short periods of time and are assigned to the ACT team upon discharge.
Chettih enjoys working in a field that she feels is at the forefront of a changing healthcare model. “One of the best things about the ACT model is that ACT is really doing what health care in general is moving toward: integrated care,” she said. “We not only integrate mental health care and substance abuse treatment, but now because of recent changes in the law, ACT teams must partner with health homes to coordinate medical care as well.” (Health homes, a product of the recent Medicaid redesign, are responsible for coordinating care for Medicaid subscribers who are frequent users of services.)
Like the social work friend who inspired her, Chettih has also chosen to practice in an underserved community. She is committed to developing community-based mental health services to address the varied and interrelated needs of her clients and others like them.
Chettih draws a lot on her personal practices, which include yoga and meditation, in her work. She is a strong proponent of body-based approaches to treatment, as they operate at a level below language. This approach seems to mesh well with the needs of those who find the demands of many cognitive behavioral therapy techniques—which often involve written materials and homework assignments—to be off-putting. “Body-based approaches are really accessible to everyone.” Chettih is interested in incorporating non-manualized mindfulness and body-focused therapies into community mental health, especially in underserved communities where few such resources exist.
By Penelope Yates, MSW ’15