An Interview with Burton Danet
“If one’s interests lead to working in the profession of clinical psychology, students are well advised to seek out and engage in activities that help them balance their life.”
Dr. Burton Danet received his PhD in Clinical Psychology from the University of Minnesota. He worked for more than 25 years as a clinical psychologist in Manhattan, New York, both in private practice and as consultant to agencies/clinics within the New York metropolitan area.
Dr. Danet has since moved with his wife to California. He is the founder of A Better Community for All, an organization that has a long-term goal of matching charitable contributions for global humanitarian relief programs. At present, the organization focuses on providing advanced technology in areas of the world affected by contaminated drinking water.
In your own words, what is a clinical psychologist?
A clinical psychologist is a professional who works with people in a manner that will empower them to deal constructively with their issues and discover their path in life. Clinical psychologists practice active listening and verbally engage patients on issues that they are having trouble with so that patients are better able to deal with whatever stress or tension affects their lives.
If a student said to you, “I am interested in becoming a clinical psychologist,” what would your response be?
Students interested in clinical psychology should enjoy helping people and working one on one with them. Clinical psychologists are facilitators who help people help themselves. The most rewarding
part of this job is being able to help a patient who can go on to lead a full and productive life.
What level of education is necessary to become a clinical psychologist?
You must complete a masters and/or a PhD or PsyD degree to work as a licensed clinical psychologist.
Are there any licensing or certification requirements to become a clinical psychologist?
Yes, after you complete your degree, the first step to become a licensed clinical psychologist is to pass preliminary examinations. The exams consist of both verbal and written portions. It is an intense process, but once you pass the exams, the state issues a certificate that permits you to legally practice as a clinical psychologist.
Why did you decide to become a clinical psychologist?
My interest in helping people began at an early age, but my career path to clinical psychology took its shape when I was an undergraduate student. My experience growing up led me to want to search out ways that would offer better opportunities for people than what I experienced. Then, as a young college student, I used my childhood as a motivation for my career.
When I got into my third year as an undergraduate, I had the opportunity to work with a clinical psychologist. I became his research assistant for 2 years and eventually wrote my undergraduate thesis
based on his research area. He was a great mentor and had a significant influence on my career path.
What were the biggest misconceptions that you had about becoming a clinical psychologist?
When I began practicing clinical psychology, I had one particular misconception about the job. I believed that the rigor of obtaining a PhD would fully prepare me to work with individuals. However, learning to be a skilled therapist can only be accomplished, I believe, based on the personality you come into the profession with at the beginning. You hone your skills as you gain experience, first as a clinical psychology intern during your graduate school years, and then as you perform the work once you are hired as a clinical psychologist.
An accurate evaluation requires people to expose their emotions in the short time period of a diagnostic or therapy session. It was through practice, not merely my formal instruction, that I learned
the most effective evaluation techniques that allowed me to evaluate people in 1 or 2 hours. Keen observation skills are paramount, in addition to whatever formal learning has taken place.
What is a typical day like for you?
My typical day working as a clinical psychologist had 2 parts. I split my time between working as a consultant and running my own private practice. My days were long.
I would spend the first 3 to 5 hours of the day working at the consulting location. At this job, I typically conducted psychological evaluations of children, adolescents or adults.
My private practice was at a different location, and I would spend the afternoon and evening there. I conducted adult therapy, which required different techniques from those used in child therapy. I
usually would not make it home from my office before mid-evening.
How do you balance your work and your personal life?
During my career as a clinical psychologist, I balanced my work and personal life in 2 ways. One way was by keeping my professional work separate from my home life. A clinical psychologist’s job is
intense and can cause a lot of personal anxiety, since we often work with emotionally unstable people. It is very important to leave at the office all of the tensions that I would encounter on a daily basis. The other way that I continue to balance my life is by having personal hobbies. For example, I am an avid swimmer, which is a good outlet for stress.
For someone aspiring to become a clinical psychologist, I would recommend finding some sort of recreational activity, whether that is a sport or hobbies such as music, photography or meditation. These things help a person handle working in a high-stress environment.
What personality traits do you think would help someone succeed as a clinical psychologist and what traits would hinder success?
Two personality traits that are very important for a good clinical psychologist are curiosity and the desire to help people. Natural curiosity helps the psychologist find new information about human
behavior and discover different therapy methods. And, of course, the basic daily goal of a psychologist is to help people, so a psychologist must be naturally prone to assisting others.
As far as traits that would hinder success, psychology is not a good field for those who want clear or quick answers to questions or for those who may be inclined to impose their personal values on
others. Human emotions vary greatly, and helping people with their emotional issues is an open-ended process. There are no clear or easy answers. With regard to personal values, everyone has their own
personality, their own way of thinking and their own way of dealing with people. A psychologist must respect these differences while still helping the person.
Looking back at your formal education, is there anything you would have done differently?
Yes, thinking back to my days as an undergraduate, I would have done 1 thing differently. I would have thoroughly reviewed the psychology programs at different universities before applying. I started
at 1 university, then quit after 6 months because the school’s focus was different from what I wanted to study. Before enrolling, I should have visited the school and interviewed the faculty to see if the program was a good fit for me.
Are there any extra-curricular experiences that you think a student interested in becoming a clinical psychologist should pursue?
Yes, aside from classwork, attending psychology conferences is helpful for those who are studying clinical psychology. At some of the conferences, the speaker will bring a person who acts as a patient to the stage. The speaker interviews the patient in front of the conference attendees. They are expected to observe the behavior of the patient and analyze the situation. After the interview, the audience discusses their thoughts. It is a good way to improve your observation skills.
What classes did you take during your schooling that you have found to be the most and least valuable for the work you do today?
The most valuable clinical psychology courses I took were the classes related to human behavior. Early in my undergraduate career, I studied human gestures and body movements. These courses and research studies helped improve my human observation skills, which are helpful when working directly with people in a clinical setting. I learned to notice details in people’s self-presentation and body
language that others, even some co-workers, might miss.
Courses that are less valuable for clinical psychologists are math, statistics and science classes. However, experimental psychologists perform science-based research, so anyone majoring in
psychology will take some of these classes in addition to classes about human behavior.
What words of advice or caution would you share with a student who is interested in becoming a clinical psychologist?
One word of caution I would give to anyone considering clinical psychology is that it is stressful and difficult work. Psychologists must be dedicated and able to handle anxiety. It is also a huge
responsibility. If one’s interests lead to working in the profession of clinical psychology, students are well advised to seek out and engage in activities that help them balance their life. It is beneficial to engage a personal therapist during your training, since your issues will inevitably crop up when you take on the responsibilities of working with people in clinical settings.