“Practicing psychotherapy is a difficult – if also rewarding – way to earn a living. It is no profession for the individual who likes certainty, predictability, or a fairly constant sense that one knows what one is doing. There are few professions in which feeling stupid or stymied is as likely to be a part of one’s ordinary professional day, even for those at the pinnacle of the field.” (Wachtel, 1982)
I recently came across this quote on a friend and fellow therapist’s Facebook page, and felt such a sense of comfort and relief in reading the words. Wait, I thought, so even seasoned and experienced therapists sometimes wonder if they’re “doing it right?” As a newer therapist who has a long list of certifications and credentials I haven’t yet acquired but would like to, I can sometimes feel myself getting pulled into comparison, feelings of being “not qualified enough” to help the clients I see every day.
The term “imposter syndrome” was coined by two American psychologists, Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes, in the 1970’s. It’s defined as “feelings of phoniness in people who believe that they are not intelligent, capable or creative despite evidence of high achievement.” While these people “are highly motivated to achieve,” they also “live in fear of being exposed as frauds” While my frame of reference is my work as a psychotherapist, I have clients of many professions and backgrounds express this fear of being “found out” or “exposed.” The fact is, concerns about not knowing, doing, being “enough” come up a lot for people, often in our places of work and learning, and can sometimes hold us back from taking the actions and risks we need to further our growth.
So, what can we do about it?
Realize You’re Not Alone
The first step is acknowledging and naming it while recognizing that we’re not alone. We find the common humanity in experiencing imposter syndrome. Reach out to mentors and fellow students and employees who you trust. You might be surprised and comforted to find that you’re not the only one feeling this way.
Be Mindful of the Impact of Comparison
When we compare ourselves to others, we often don’t take into account the full picture. We see the external factors of another person’s life and compare them to our internal sense of self. The next time you find yourself thinking “I really don’t measure up” to a colleague or friend, remind yourself that you don’t know the full extent of that person’s unique set of challenges and struggles. If it’s someone you look up to and admire, instead of getting caught up in feelings of unworthiness, try asking yourself “what can I learn from this person?”
Remember Your Strengths
By focusing on the strengths and skills you bring to the table, rather than those things you may be striving for or working toward, you can begin to reframe your thinking. Everyone is an “imposter” in a sense, when doing something outside of their comfort zone. Don’t forget all the things you have achieved; the goals you’ve already reached. Your experiences, your skills, your strengths, have led to this moment. Remember, you don’t have to achieve perfection or succeed every time to move in the direction of growth and success.
Talk to Someone Who Can Help
If you’re struggling with imposter syndrome, a counselor at The Light Program can help you sort through the underlying beliefs and behaviors that may be holding you back from moving in the direction of growth and goal attainment. Call us at (888) 686-7511 or fill out a contact form on our site to discuss how we can best help you!