Alumnae/i Feature

Simmons Alumna Shares the Challenges and Rewards of Mental Health Therapy

Christa Perry ’23MSW
Christa Perry ’23MSW

“I loved the tight-knit community at Simmons. The faculty looked out for us and found opportunities to grow our experience and confidence.”

Christa Perry ’23MSW is a mental health therapist for Embark Behavioral Health, a national company that provides mental health treatment to teens and young adults. Based in Vienna, Virginia, Perry counsels individuals and families in the eight-week Partial Hospitalization Program (PHP) and the 15-week Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP). She also leads IOP groups focused primarily on dialectical behavior therapy and mindfulness practices. Among the most common diagnoses she sees are borderline personality disorder, trauma and stressor-related disorders, depressive disorders, anxiety disorders, disruptive mood dysregulation disorder, reactive attachment disorder, and autism.

Many of her clients, Perry says, arrive from the ER after a suicide attempt or from an inpatient hospitalization or residential program after reporting suicidal thoughts. “They are at rock bottom or very close to it,” she says. “We help them develop the skills to be safe.” She also teaches strategies on how to improve communication and problem-solving “to try to break the cycle,” she adds.

On Choosing Simmons

Formerly a marine scientist in Florida, Perry decided to change careers after moving back to her hometown outside Boston during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic. Reflecting on past jobs working with children, she chose to pursue a degree in social work. A neighbor was an alum of the Simmons’ School of Social Work and recommended the Master of Social Work Program. “The commitment to experiential learning at Simmons sealed the deal,” says Perry.

How Simmons Prepared Her

Perry can trace the skills and knowledge she uses daily to such courses as Sexual and Gender Minorities, Dynamics of Racism and Oppression, and Crisis Intervention with Children and Adolescents. She also draws on feedback from practice simulations in the classroom and as part of a “fantastic” collaboration with Tufts University School of Medicine. For her first placement, Perry interned at Cambridge Family and Children’s Service (now Bridges Homeward), where she supported young parents, many struggling with poverty. She expanded into a more advanced clinical role in her second placement at Westwood Youth and Family Services, a municipally funded agency that provides clinical and supportive services to children and their caregivers. Perry counseled elementary and middle-school students one on one to address anxiety, social skills, impulse control, and anger management. On campus, she served as Director’s Fellow/Research Assistant for Professor Kristie Thomas, PhD. “I loved the tight-knit community at Simmons,” says Perry. “The faculty looked out for us and found opportunities to grow our experience and confidence.”

Why the Work is Meaningful

“The most rewarding part for me is seeing the little changes,” says Perry. “A client might come into a session and instead of rolling their eyes or feeling anxious, they’re sharing what happened over the weekend or making friends with group members.” Often, her clients simply need a place that is safe until they are ready to talk. As she explains, “To have that therapeutic space, even in silence, is so powerful.”

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