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  • Writer's pictureCayla Townes

Overcoming Imposter Syndrome as a Therapist

Updated: Jun 12

Imposter Syndrome, a psychological pattern that results in persistent self-doubt and fear of being exposed as a fraud, is an affliction experienced by many professionals, including therapists. This article will delve into the nuances of Imposter Syndrome, its origins, effects, and how therapists can work towards overcoming it.

person with mask like imposter syndrome

What is Imposter Syndrome?

First coined in 1978 by psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes, Imposter Syndrome refers to the internal experience of intellectual phoniness. Despite achieving objective successes, individuals suffering from Imposter Syndrome fail to internalize their accomplishments, persistently fearing exposure as a fraud or imposter. The syndrome is often experienced by intelligent, capable individuals who struggle to reconcile their achievements with their sense of self.

The Implication of Imposter Syndrome for Therapists

For therapists, the experience of Imposter Syndrome can be particularly poignant. By virtue of their profession, therapists are high-achieving individuals entrusted with significant responsibilities. The lofty position they hold can often lead to a gap between their actual and perceived capacities. Therapists, too, are human and feeling unworthy, incompetent, and doubtful is part of the human experience.

Symptoms of Imposter Syndrome

Imposter Syndrome may manifest in several ways, including:

  • Fear of failure

  • Guilt regarding success

  • Belief that suffering and self-doubt are prerequisites for success

  • Dread of evaluation

  • Increased association with anxiety or depression

  • Attributing accomplishments to external factors like luck or help from others

  • Ascribing failures to internal factors like inadequacy or incompetence

  • Over-preparation or procrastination

  • Setting of perfectionist goals

  • Struggling to accept a compliment

  • Finding reasons why praise or credit isn’t deserved

Understanding these symptoms can be the first step towards overcoming Imposter Syndrome.

Origin of Imposter Syndrome

Imposter Syndrome was initially thought to be prevalent among high-achieving women, arising from societal expectations and family dynamics. However, research has expanded to include both genders, revealing that the syndrome has no single cause. Instead, several risk factors can heighten the probability of experiencing oneself as a fraud. These include poor social support, low self-worth, a pessimistic outlook, perfectionistic traits, the experience of racial discrimination, and belonging to an ethnic minority.

Impact of Imposter Syndrome on Work and Well-being

Imposter Syndrome can have detrimental effects on one's work and well-being. It can lead to poorer career planning, internal blocks that hinder career advancement, reduced motivation for leadership roles, negative job satisfaction, reduced employee wellbeing, and struggles with commitment. Furthermore, heightened stress levels, burnout, diminished job performance and satisfaction, and an overall sense of being an imposter can negatively impact a therapist's effectiveness and career satisfaction.

welcome mat says "come as you are" with someone standing in front of it

Overcoming Imposter Syndrome

While the impacts of Imposter Syndrome can be daunting, there are several effective strategies for combating it.

Address Related Issues

Imposter Syndrome often coexists with anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem. Therefore, it's crucial to address any potential root causes or related issues. This might include therapy, regular exercise, prioritizing sleep, maintaining a healthy diet, and ensuring a sufficient intake of healthy foods.

Illuminate Your Blindspots

Therapists with Imposter Syndrome often have a long list of achievements, which can serve as compelling evidence of their competence and capacity. However, these achievements are often overlooked due to their persistent self-doubt. By writing down their accomplishments, therapists can shine a light on their capabilities whenever they feel inadequate.

Seek Support

Seeking support from colleagues, supervisors, or peers can reduce feelings of pressure and isolation.

Learn to Accept Praise

Imposter Syndrome can make it difficult to accept genuine compliments due to a belief that successes are due to luck or the help of others. By learning to accept praise, therapists can start to embody their capacity and refute the imposter narrative.

Talk About It

Discussing feelings of being an imposter with a trusted colleague, supervisor, or therapist can be beneficial. It helps to normalize feelings and dispel the sense of isolation that often accompanies Imposter Syndrome.

Seek Additional Resources

There are numerous resources available online that offer strategies and tips for overcoming Imposter Syndrome. These resources can provide valuable insights and practical steps that can help therapists combat the intrusive thoughts and negative impacts of Imposter Syndrome.

You're Not Alone

Imposter Syndrome is a common experience, especially among therapists. However, by identifying its presence, therapists can begin the recovery process and combat the intrusive thoughts and negative impacts this phenomenon places on their lives and practice. Remember, every therapist is unique, with their own set of strengths, skills, and experiences. Embracing these unique qualities, seeking support, and addressing underlying issues can help therapists overcome Imposter Syndrome, ultimately leading to a more fulfilling and successful career.

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