Alumnae/i Feature

Justin Cancel '21MSW on the Rewarding Work of Witnessing Progress

What the job entails

Shortly before graduating from Simmons, Justin was hired as a clinical social worker at Aspire Health Alliance. This community-service agency provides mental health programs to the South Shore and Southeastern Massachusetts.

He quickly rose to assistant program director of the organization’s Adult Community Clinical Services. In this role, he supervises a team of caseworkers, social workers, peer specialists, and substance use recovery clinicians, in addition to handling a caseload of 40 clients. His clients, he says, have a range of treatment-plan goals, from living independently and developing coping skills to securing childcare and continuing their education.

“We send a whole team into the community to help each person,” says Justin. “And because we meet with our clients weekly, we really see their progress—sometimes even before they see it themselves.”

What brought him to Simmons for a master of social work degree

A graduate of Denison University with a degree in psychology, Justin chose Simmons for its strong clinical focus. After spending a year working in a high school with AmeriCorps, he wanted to continue “a feet-on-the-ground” approach to partnering with individuals in need. Justin believed that Simmons would give him “the skills that I’d be using every day and throughout my career.”

Hearing later that a skill or insight made a difference is a really rewarding experience.

How the Simmons social work program prepared him

Justin describes his professors as “amazing” and praises their ability to bring current experience into the classroom. Immersive in-class simulations with actors and online, he adds, “allowed us to get as close to the work as possible, in a space where we could make mistakes and receive feedback.”

His first placement was at the Framingham Office of Community Corrections, where he gained extensive experience in leading groups, in this case, with men and women on parole at risk for recidivism.

Justin, who completed a certificate in health care & social work, was accepted into the federally funded Simmons Integrated Mental Health Primary Care and Clinical Training (SIMPACT) program in his second year. As part of this opportunity, he interned at Manet Community Health Center in Quincy, where he provided behavioral health support in a primary-care setting. Justin entered the field, he reports, “with the skills and knowledge to work with many different populations.”

Why it’s rewarding

Whether meeting with clients or mentoring his staff, Justin says that he enjoys watching “something start to click.” He often draws on his Simmons education—using role-play, for example—to help colleagues overcome challenges with their clients. “Hearing later that a skill or insight made a difference,” says Justin, “is a really rewarding experience.”

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