CSSW-SIPA Alumna Clara Ceccanti on Pursuing a Career in Clinical Social Work During COVID

March 26 @ 7:39 pm
By Ahmad Jamal Wattoo

Clara Ceccanti earned an MSW from the School of Social Work in conjunction with an MIA degree from the School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA), in 2019. While a social work student, she had a field placement at the Bellevue Hospital Victim Services Program, and also worked for UN Women, in particular its efforts to end violence against women. Now a licensed master social worker, Clara is working towards gaining certification as a licensed clinical social worker and works in a clinical capacity at NYC’s Mount Sinai Hospital. She spoke to SIPA student Ahmad Jamal Wattoo (MPA’21) about her career at Mt. Sinai—and what it has been like to work on the front lines of the COVID-19 crisis.

This interview was originally published on the Columbia School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA) News site on December 21, 2020. We are grateful to SIPA for permitting us to republish it in a slightly amended format.


What prompted you to pursue degrees in both international affairs and social work?

I wanted to bridge the gap between mental-health care and responses to gender-based violence in the humanitarian sector. I was drawn to work with survivors of gender-based violence and sought to gain tools to work as a mental-health practitioner and policy analyst—to unfold the best prevention and intervention strategies related to gender-based violence while providing individual support to survivors of violence.

What made you choose to work at Mount Sinai? What does your average day of work at the organisation look like?

I opted to pursue a career in social work before re-entering the field of policy. As a licensed master social worker, or LMSW, I am working towards gaining certification as a licensed clinical social worker, or LCSW, which would allow me to practice individual therapy and mental-health counseling in a private or public setting. Once I acquire this license I hope to pivot to work in the field of gender-based violence, from a policy perspective, while leveraging my mental health skills.

I am currently working in an outpatient clinic for adults suffering from chronic medical conditions, mental-health disorders, trauma, and alcohol and substance use, and whose lives have been gravely impacted across generations from social barriers and disparities of public health. On an average day I normally meet with up to eight patients and provide individual counseling, emotional support, and resources pertaining to the patient’s presenting needs. I support patients on an ongoing basis by communicating with them weekly. Our program is considered short term as we seek to empower patients to take hold of their lives and learn to manage and transform their own medical and social needs, for some patients this may take up to three years or more.

How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected your work at Mount Sinai? What are your experiences working through these difficult times?

COVID-19 has brought upon our community a mental-health crisis, which has not been thoroughly addressed by federal, local governments, or health departments. Mental-health clinics are at the brim of capacity, and individuals everywhere are suffering from isolation, depression, and anxiety, not to mention the rising cases of substance abuse and domestic violence. My field is needed now more than ever as we seek to provide emotional support to our patients by holding space and process their stressors as a means to alleviate some of their burdens.

I have lost over 10 patients due to COVID and continue to lose more every month. For many of my patients, my clinic is a life-source, a place where they feel supported, seek empathy, and feel a sense of home. Our patients depend on my team and my work to alleviate their anxieties and as a place to tackle their biggest fears. Many times they don’t have families or support to turn to. During the height of the pandemic I had to assist with funeral arrangements, contacting morgues, and calling 911 to make house calls when we feared the worst.

Will there be lasting changes to the Mount Sinai healthcare system due to the COVID-19 pandemic?

We are currently operating as normal and see patients face to face every day. Some clinics have diminished the number of patients they see on a daily basis in order to decrease the number of patients in and out of the building, while all outpatient services and surgeries will progress as planned. The Mount Sinai healthcare system, like many other medical institutions nationally and across the world, will continue to develop mechanisms to tackle COVID-19 and practice scientific developments best suited to treat patients across the various phases of this disease.

How do you see the coming months panning out in view of the fact that two successful COVID-19 vaccines have been developed?

Our communities need to be reminded that while we may have a vaccine ready for dissemination in the first six months of 2021, this will not be readily available to all citizens immediately. We have a very long winter ahead and everyone must continue to be mindful and abide by the current restrictions, such as quarantine, stick to your pod, and we’ll only get through this together!

Do you have any parting advice for Columbia students who are currently looking for internships and full-time positions?

Your network is your friend, and people want to help. Speaking for myself, I have time and interest now more than ever to be a resource and provide guidance to graduating students seeking employment after graduation. The pandemic has enabled certain communities to be brought closer together, and young professionals have found camaraderie and a sense of responsibility in assisting younger generations to launch their professional lives.


Originally from Lahore, Pakistan, Ahmad Jamal Wattoo (bio) is an international student at SIPA, concentrating in International Finance and Economic Policy. He conducted the above interview as part of a series.