Danit Kaya shares her very interesting life journey, and talks about the winding path she followed to career happiness.
Years of experience working in international development aid and traveling the world led Danit to discover what really moves her, and she believes that we need a “toolbox of skills and experiences to live a robust, healthy, and meaningful life.” She’s ready to help you fill yours.
Q. Tell us about your path leading up to today.
A: My path was a winding one - as most interesting life journeys are! I completed my Master’s Degree in Public Health, working in the international development aid world for years. I was able to live and travel around the world, most extensively in southeast Asia, working on critical matters of health and wellbeing with incredible communities and government agencies. While I loved many things about that field, after several years I felt like it wasn’t quite aligned with the things that brought joy to my heart and it took several more years to figure out what that was: working with kids, in small, collaborative environments, supporting a love of learning, and focusing on the wellbeing of the whole person, including mindfulness and social-emotional learning.
One day, I was leading a workshop for educators, tutors, and educational specialists on bringing Mindfulness into our one-on-one sessions with our students. After the workshop, a few colleagues approached me and asked me if I had ever considered Educational Therapy as a career path. I told them I’d never heard of it. So, we scheduled a time to talk over for lunch. I learned about Educational Therapy as a profession that works with children who learn differently (think ADHD, dyslexia, dyscalculia, anxiety) and who tailors strategies for them, via one-on-one sessions. My aim is to guide them toward learning autonomy. I was hooked! That workshop and the subsequent lunch proceeded to fundamentally shape the direction of my professional endeavors.
I researched available programs in my local area of Los Angeles, and after some time found UCR University Extension’s online program in Educational Therapy. It was the perfect fit because I was already working full time and needed coursework that would fit with my work schedule. It was just what I needed for my career growth, right when I needed it!
Q. What were some of the unexpected hurdles in your journey?
A: After almost a year of researching the right program to take my career to the next level, and months of communicating with the wonderful UCR team to establish a good program-fit, I registered as a student with UCR on February 28, 2020 to start my first class in the program on March 9, 2020. On March 14, I received an email from the university that all in-person classes were being suspended to limit the spread of COVID-19.
Although the program was always intended to be online, it was a wild time to start a program, especially since there were so many moving pieces happening immediately! It was a huge lift for me -- it had been 8 years since I had completed my Master’s degree and done any sort of formal academic training, so shifting into that mindset simultaneous to the outbreak of the pandemic was quite the hurdle.
Thankfully, the huge silver lining of this timing was that, though we didn’t know it at the time, everything was about to shut down, so I was really able to dive into my studies throughout the worst of the pandemic. In some ways, I think the program helped to maintain my sanity and gave me a wonderful goal to focus on during a time of tremendous uncertainty. I adapted pretty quickly to the online learning world, and thankfully, the UCR teachers were already equipped with providing instruction online. Through continued, consistent coursework, and while working full time with clients, I graduated from the program in May of 2021 with a wonderful toolbox from which I could support an even greater number of clients.
Q. Looking back at where you were when you started this journey, where did you hope it would lead you?
A: I began the program at UCR with the hope that I’d be formally trained in Educational Therapy techniques and modalities. I never expected that I’d be able to launch my own private practice and that it would be thriving as much as it is! Once the pandemic hit, all my sessions went virtual and I could see how beneficial it was to have client sessions scheduled back-to-back. It allowed me to support so many more clients.
I was nervous about the decision, but with a lot of support from some very close friends and colleagues, I made the decision to open up my own office space in the summer of 2021, after graduating from UCR University Extension. I have since maintained a wait-list only hybrid private practice, seeing clients around the country both on Zoom and in my office in Studio City. It has been dazzling to see how my professional passions have been able to support so many students and families in need of the magic and science of an Educational Therapist’s training.
Q. What are you doing now, Danit?
A: I now run my own hybrid Educational Therapy private practice, where I specialize in working with students from 4th grade through college who struggle with ADHD (or subclinical attentional challenges), dyscalculia (and many math-based learning difficulties), dysgraphia (and other writing-based disorders), executive function deficits, and testing and school-based anxiety.
I also completed a yearlong training through UCLA’s Mindfulness Awareness Research Center in 2018. From this training, I am able to incorporate a full suite of mindfulness-based stress management techniques into my sessions, especially with kiddos who struggle with anxiety, and other overlapping stressors that stem from the schooling experience.
I consider myself extremely fortunate to have found a professional career that allows me to practice my values of education, growth, and play, while also constantly learning from the expertise of my peers and colleagues. I am also currently completing my supervision hours with the Association of Educational Therapists, to become a professional-level member of the Association. So many more opportunities for growth and exploration ahead!
Q. What have been some of the most exciting or rewarding moments of your career so far?
A: This is one of those careers where I get to witness success on a very regular basis. And where I often meet clients in their moments of deep frustration and stress. It’s not uncommon for me to be working with a client who initially has D’s and F’s in many classes and, after several months of working together, begins getting A’s and B’s consistently.
I have one client who had barely passed math classes since elementary school. They are now about to graduate from high school in a few weeks and they have gotten straight A’s in math for the last two years. They told me the other day, “If you had told me I would be getting A’s in math in high school when I was a freshman, I would have laughed in your face. I can’t believe that I’m doing this well and that I actually understand it!”
I have other students I work with who, because of their learning differences, have internalized a belief that they are stupid and bad at learning. Once we start working together, they begin to see that their mind is actually quite capable of learning, it’s just that they need to learn certain explicit, specific strategies and methods to tap into their intellect. It takes some time, but I’ve had many students share with me at some point that they thought they were stupid, and stopped trying because school had become a painful reminder of that message. Once they start experiencing consistent, small, measurable successes, I can see the burden of that messaging starting to lift.
It’s quite remarkable to be able to witness this journey in an individual student. I always tell parents of students when I first have a discovery call with them, that my ultimate goal is to work myself out of a job. Every time. It’s very rewarding to be able to support students to tap into their inherent skills and talents, and learn how to navigate the challenges that come up along the way.
Q. What has been the greatest challenge you have faced during your career?
A: It can be challenging to work in a private practice, without a built-in team of collaborative colleagues with whom to soundboard and brainstorm. Early on, even while I was a student in UCR’s program, I discovered study groups that are held through the Association of Educational Therapists. Since collaboration is so important for me, I began to tap into this resource quite regularly. It has been instrumental in being able to meet colleagues, ask questions as they arise, and learn from others.
Also, as a young woman who was starting her own private practice, it was initially challenging to break through a lot of messaging I had internalized about my own capacity to run a thriving, profitable business. I spoke with several close friends and colleagues, and had to confront some of my own discomfort, in order to learn how to not only run a thriving business, but also communicate with prospective clients in a way that expresses my professional worth.
Q. What career advice would you give to students or graduates looking to move into your industry?
A: The greatest piece of advice that I could share with anyone looking to become an Educational Therapist (or really any career path) is to build your networks and support systems! Start small - find an educational firm that hires learning specialists or someone with your existing qualifications - and learn from them by actually doing the work. Ask questions. Get to know the industry from people who are already succeeding in it. That will greatly help you in finding your own professional voice and direction.
This industry is filled with incredibly supportive people who WANT to support new and emerging Educational Therapists - lean into that. Not all industries are like that. In addition to finding your people, I would highly encourage anyone pursuing Educational Therapy as a career path to get connected with the Association of Educational Therapists. They have student, associate, and professional level membership, so for anyone just beginning this path, entering in at the student level can be a really great way to make those connections and build those support systems I was talking about earlier. This is a profession of collaboration - find ways to lean into and contribute to that!
Q. Was there a particular department, staff member, or instructor memorable to your experience?
A: Instructor Jennifer O’Malley was incredible - she was SO dedicated to supporting us as we navigated one of the most challenging courses in the program (Assessments). I had several one-on-one conversations with her where I explained what I was and wasn’t understanding, and she was incredibly responsive and supportive! A true educator gem!
Q. In your life today, what makes you really happy?
A: Finding purpose in my professional path, building meaningful connections with my family and friends, and enjoying living in an incredible place with mountains, ocean, and adventure around every corner! I do have to say that the fact I get to play games with kids to build their self-confidence in (and joy of) learning is icing on the cake! Also, tacos and guacamole, and summer fruit and puppies!
Q. What are your hopes and aims for your future?
A: In addition to maintaining a thriving hybrid private-practice that specializes in math, writing, social-emotional learning, and executive function skills, I would also like to create a program that teaches financial literacy and social-emotional literacy to students. In my work with students thus far, I have found that those two areas are critical to experiencing success in adult life, and are areas that almost every student self-reports feeling unskilled.
The title of this story, “Be Useful, Be Daring, Be Kind” was taken from Danit’s email signature. We think it describes her perfectly. You’ll understand why when you read her story, see how much she cares, and learn what a difference she is making. If you know anyone who’s struggling with learning and needs help, visit Danit’s website.
I firmly believe that education is not just about getting into a good college, but rather about building a toolbox of skills and experiences to live a robust, healthy, and meaningful life. I am so excited that I am in a profession that encourages me to explore my own professional interests!
Educational Therapist, Mindfulness + Executive Functioning Coach
MPH, Boston University
Graduate, UCR University Extension
Professional Certificate in Educational Therapy
Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior, UCLA
Certification in Mindfulness Facilitation