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20 Questions: Brendan Pratt, PhD

Created 01.29.12 by Juliet Farmer
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Clinical psychologist Dr. Brendan Pratt, owner, chief executive officer and pediatric neuropsychologist at The Pratt Center (www.prattcenter.com) in Los Altos, Calif., specializes in psychological evaluations, educational support, school placement assistance and parenting strategies. Dr. Pratt earned his bachelor’s degree in psychology with distinction in major examinations from Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington, then went on to earn his PhD in clinical psychology with full American Psychological Association (APA) accreditation from the California School of Professional Psychology in Alameda, Calif. Dr. Pratt served a two-year post-doctoral fellowship in pediatric neuropsychology at Mount Washington Pediatric Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland, before opening The Pratt Center.

Dr. Pratt is a member of the California Psychological Association, and has previously served the association on the Board of Directors, as chair of the Membership Committee, chair of the bylaws taskforce, and member of the finance committee. He is also a member of the Santa Clara County Psychological Association, where he previously served as president, member of the board of directors, and representative to the California Psychological Association. Dr. Pratt’s other professional memberships include the APA, International Neuropsychological Society, and National Academy of Neuropsychology. He has been published in The Clinical Neuropsychologist and Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society. He also co-authored the book Parents’ Guide to School Selection in San Mateo and Santa Clara Counties.

When did you first decide to become a clinical psychologist? Why?
When I was in eighth grade, I had my first job at the Palo Alto Children’s Library. A friend of mine worked there, and he talked me into applying so we could hang out together after school. Mainly, I shelved books and helped people to find what they needed, but I also listened to young children in our summer reading program. My next job was at a preschool where my much younger brother attended, and I enjoyed helping children learn social skills. I later became a head teacher in a child care center and then a day camp director.

In all of these jobs, I enjoyed the playfulness, honesty and creativity of children, so I thought I would become a teacher or a child therapist. I attended Whitman College in Washington State, which I highly recommend, and I became fascinated with courses in psychology, sociology and philosophy. My psychology professors recommended that I pursue graduate school.

How/why did you choose the school you went to?
I selected a graduate school based primarily on the training they would provide in child psychology and family therapy. Most of the university programs were largely funded by research grants, and they offered less actual clinical experience. So, I opted for the California School of Professional Psychology (now part of Alliant University), which offered fantastic clinical opportunities with children and families. I worked in a group home, gang diversion program, inpatient hospital, mental health clinic, a special day class, and a rehabilitation facility. The professors there were primarily focused on clinical practice, and I met several psychologists who continue to be mentors to me more than a decade later.

What surprised you the most about your studies?
For five years, I had the goal of becoming a child and family therapist. Yet, once I started doing just that, I was surprised that I did not really enjoy it. The pace was too slow, and I found myself frustrated. Without a specific plan, I began doing more psychological evaluations and progressively less therapy. By my fifth year in graduate school, I took a half-time placement that focused exclusively on psychological evaluations. I then completed an internship and a two-year post-doctoral fellowship in pediatric neuropsychology. For the past 10 years, I have focused exclusively on psychological evaluations of children, adolescents and young adults.

If you had it to do all over again, would you still become a clinical psychologist? (Why or why not? What would you have done instead?)
I love my job, and I cannot imagine what else I would have done. I have chosen a career that allows me to be compassionate, analytical and playful. I often see children who are in real pain or trouble due to depression, anxiety, attention problems or conduct issues. A thorough evaluation can guide parents, teachers, tutors and therapists in supporting their development.

Has being a clinical psychologist met your expectations? Why?
Child psychology has certainly met my expectations; however, there is considerable pressure in the job. Serious decisions are made based in part on my evaluations, such as residential treatment, medication management and grade retention. It is difficult to tell a family that their child has mental retardation, autism, bipolar disorder and many other conditions. There are also more families in crisis than I expected, and this can be stressful.

What do you like most about being a clinical psychologist?
I enjoy helping parents, working with children, visiting fantastic local schools and making a difference in my community. I have tremendous respect for many other psychologists, and I am proud to be part of the field.

What do you like least about being a clinical psychologist?
As with most professions, it is difficult to make a clear boundary between home and work. My job entails considerable time pressure, and there are many families in crisis. I would like to spend more time with my wife and children.

How did you decide how to practice (i.e. private practice, group, hospital, etc.)?
I have always had a strong independence streak, and I found bureaucracy frustrating in hospitals and schools. So, I decided to work in private practice where I would have more freedom. Unfortunately, that turned out to be too isolating, so my wife and I hired other therapists to work with us. Over time, we developed a psychology clinic that is like a second family to us. We have now worked for years with the same group of people, and I look forward to seeing them each day.

Why did you choose the specialty (or specialties) you did?
Once I started doing child evaluations, I realized that I could influence many areas of a child’s life and enable change quickly. Depending on their needs, I could help them to find the right therapist, psychiatrist or tutor. I co-authored a book on school selection, and I often help parents to find a school that is a good match. Child evaluations require a balance of analytic skills, sound clinical judgment and compassion that I enjoy.

Describe a typical day at work.
No two days are the same in my job; however, typical tasks include interviewing parents, observing children at school, testing children in my office, attending school meetings, writing reports, giving professional lectures, and testifying in court as an expert witness.

My wife and I also manage 10 staff members, and we are in charge of finances, web design, purchasing and so forth. Most of my job focuses on child psychology and evaluations, but I am also a small business owner.

On average: How many hours a week do you work? How many hours do you sleep per night? How many weeks of vacation do you take?
I work at least 60 hours a week, I rarely sleep eight hours in a night and I take about three weeks of vacation in a year. If I could change one thing about my job, this would be it. The global recession has not helped because we now have more families who pay a reduced fee, and that creates pressure to see more clients.

Are you satisfied with your income?
Living in the San Francisco Bay Area is expensive; however, I believe that my income is fair when compared to other professions that work with children. Social workers and teachers, for instance, are rarely paid well for the incredible work that they do. There are many other professions that earn more money with less education, but income potential has never been the driving factor in my career choices.

If you took out educational loans, is/was paying them back a financial strain?
Everything else in life has been incredibly expensive here, such as housing, so my educational loans are not more of a burden than other pressures. However, the first few years were quite difficult, and I consolidated my loans with a graduated payment plan.

In your position now, knowing what you do – what would you say to yourself 10 years ago?
I would remind myself to save as much money as possible during the good times so I would be in a better position when the economy slowed down.

What information/advice do you wish you had known when you were beginning your clinical psychology studies?
I received excellent advice from many professors, so I cannot complain. I wish I had more background in how to run the legal and financial aspects of a business.

From your perspective, what is the biggest problem in healthcare today?
Health care financing is certainly a huge issue, and we do not provide enough care for people in the early stages of a crisis. I would like to see better prevention efforts, given that most mental health issues are easier to resolve when they are caught early. I would like to see more support for parents to avoid abuse and more support for schools to reduce bullying. I think healthcare focuses too much on treating people once they are in severe crisis, and there is not nearly enough work to support healthy living and preventive actions.

Where do you see clinical psychology in 10 years?
Clinical psychology is based in trust and sound judgment, and people will always have a need for assistance at times. The role of psychologists has expanded into many settings, and I believe the outlook for the profession is excellent. The field will also continue to evolve as research improves, and I hope that more effective treatments are available for the serious problems that many children and families face.

What types of outreach/volunteer work do you do, if any?
I always see a certain number of clients for little or no fee, and many of them are foster children. I volunteered for several years for Child Advocates. I also provide free trainings to parents on a range of mental health issues. I consult with schools on a regular basis when they have students with mental health issues.

Do you have family? If so, do you have enough time to spend with them?
Yes and no, in that order.

Do you have any final piece of advice for students interested in pursuing clinical psychology as a career?
Many students assume that psychologists will not welcome them because they are potential competition, but I found the opposite to be true. Psychologists generally love to mentor students and share their experiences. My advice is to talk to as many psychologists as possible about their jobs. You can also join your state and county psychological associations. Finally, take jobs that show you would be good as a psychologist (e.g., child care, peer counseling, drug treatment programs, group homes, children’s hospitals). There are many volunteer positions and summer jobs that provide incredible experience, and it gives you something to talk about when you do apply to a psychology program.

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