Dealing With Clinician Imposter Syndrome

Dealing With Clinician Imposter Syndrome

Have you ever felt like your experience, skills, and knowledge as a therapist weren't enough? Do you ever find yourself feeling worried you're not qualified to support your patient's mental health? Imposter syndrome is something many people experience in their personal or professional lives, which can make it challenging to accomplish your goals and feel confident in your abilities.

As a counselor or therapist, being present for your clients is crucial. Struggling with intrusive, overly critical thoughts can hinder your opportunities and cause you to undervalue your worth. Dealing with clinician imposter syndrome is not easy, but you can certainly learn to reduce your negative internalized messages.

What Is Imposter Syndrome?

Imposter syndrome, as a psychological term, refers to a feeling or mindset that causes one to believe they are inadequate. People who struggle with this syndrome may often feel conflicted about their abilities despite their accomplishments and success. Generally, this means crediting any personal success to things like luck and coincidence instead of their own hard work.

For instance, a college student may have imposter syndrome about their chosen degree, thinking they are not fit for the program or not as smart as the other students, even though they maintain good grades and continue to progress. A new hire in an attorney's office might develop imposter syndrome when she sees that her coworkers are very skilled and knowledgable, leading her to believe she does not deserve her position despite her years of hard work.

Imposter syndrome often also involves persistent worries and fear about reproducing previous accomplishments. While someone may have years of a certain skill underneath their belt, they may find it hard to feel confident in their potential and capability to deliver. As a result, they end up feeling like a fraud or an imposter.

The purpose of a mental health treatment plan is to help a patient achieve their goals.

What's Unique About Struggling With Imposter Syndrome as a Counselor?

As a therapist, it's your job to support your patients in their journey toward healing their mental health. Whether they struggle with anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts or substance abuse disorder, they rely on you for guidance and treatment as they progress toward their individual goals.

If you experience imposter syndrome as a therapist, it can be extremely difficult not to let your own inner critic get in the way of a productive therapy session. Those in a position of trust and authority often feel added pressure, leading to a gap between actual and perceived capabilities. While your patient is explaining their current problem or symptoms, you may find yourself becoming distracted while your negative thoughts seep in.

You might be thinking, “I'm not qualified enough to help this person,” or “Maybe I can refer them to someone with more experience”, or even “I don't think I have what it takes to provide comprehensive treatment”. All of these “imposter” thoughts simply add to the problem. The more we entertain these thoughts, the more pressure we feel to meet unrealistic standards. Remember, just because you are a behavioral health professional does not mean you are perfect. You're human first, therapist second.

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Common Symptoms and Experiences of Imposter Syndrome 

Having low confidence in yourself or diminishing your accomplishments is something we all do from time to time. Having imposter syndrome takes these issues to a severe level and introduces many more negative thoughts. Here are some common feelings, symptoms, and signs of therapist imposter syndrome:

  • Feeling self-doubt or a deep sense of unworthiness
  • Constantly overachieving
  • Feeling guilt and shame about success
  • Fear of failure and success
  • Disregarding accomplishments, skills, and abilities
  • Worry or anxiety about being exposed as a fraud
  • Inability to accurately assess skills and competence
  • Overly criticizing performance
  • Procrastinating or over-preparing for a task or job
  • Attributing success to luck or other external factors
  • Feeling like a deceitful person or that those around you overestimate your worth or abilities
  • Engaging in self-sabotaging behaviors to limit growth
  • Maintaining perfectionist traits that lead to setting unrealistic goals and burnout
  • A tendency to be extremely self-critical and focus on mistakes
  • Struggling to accept compliments
  • Finding reasons why your reward or praise is not deserved

Tips for Overcoming Imposter Syndrome as a Counselor

To some degree, experiencing imposter syndrome is normal. However, if these feelings begin to creep into your professional life and impact the way you treat your patients, it may be time to reflect and learn how to overcome it. Here are some tips for dealing with imposter syndrome as a behavioral health professional.

For many behavioral health professionals, it can be challenging to determine what details to include in a treatment plan.

1. Practice Mindfulness 

The first step to managing and mitigating imposter syndrome is investigating its source. These feelings most often occur when we do something we feel unprepared for, such as taking on a new client or navigating a particularly sensitive situation. Developing self-awareness and grounding yourself when these feelings arise can help you combat them. When you feel negative thoughts starting, make a mindful effort to change them to positive affirmations, interrupting your inner critic and self-doubt thoughts.

2. Avoid Comparing Yourself to Others

Constant comparisons will eventually wear you down, no matter what profession you're in. While it might be difficult, it's important to try to stop comparing your knowledge, ideas, experience, and skills to those around you.

Remember, even as a therapist, there are benefits to being different from others in your practice. Your patients feel safe around you and trust you as you are, which means you're doing something right! Instead of comparing, look to others for inspiration or motivation.

3. Look at the Evidence

If you ever feel imposter syndrome taking over, consider reflecting on your accomplishments. Force yourself to examine the evidence of your success and discredit any negative or fraudulent thoughts you feel. For instance, if your imposter syndrome tells you you're not qualified to be a therapist, look back on your years of education, training, and studying to support your success.

While you might be tempted to dismiss your achievements, practice embracing your success. Celebrate even the smallest milestones and give yourself a pat on the back for all your hard work.

4. Treat Yourself Like You Would Your Patients

A great way to reframe how you think when dealing with imposter syndrome is to accept that these negative thoughts are a normal part of life. Treat yourself with the same kindness, understanding, and support you would offer any client who walked into your practice. Try to see your imposter feelings from an objective point of view. What would you tell a patient who deals with feelings of inadequacy or self-doubt? What type of goals would you set for them to overcome these challenges?

5. Talk Openly About Your Feelings

Dealing with imposter syndrome is never easy, and sometimes it can be beneficial to discuss your feelings with a trusted individual. Family members, friends, and even colleagues can help you work through your feelings of low-self esteem or overcritical thinking and validate you.

Often, it can be helpful for someone else to give us encouragement and guidance on navigating these negative thoughts. When talking with another person about your imposter syndrome, you may discover they also experience these same feelings, which can help you feel more supported.

See How ICANotes Can Keep You on Track With Your Patients

Imposter syndrome can affect anyone, no matter how much education, training, or experience you have. It's a common human experience to feel like you're not competent or that you don't belong in your field. With the right tools and solutions, however, you can more effectively track your patient's progress and feel more confident in your treatment. ICANotes offers the premier EHR for the behavioral health specialty. Our clinically robust software helps you produce sophisticated, quick, and comprehensive therapy notes.

When you transform your documentation process, you can spend more time with your patients and less time worrying about whether your notes will meet strict standards.

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