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Everyone I Know Gets Imposter Syndrome (Even The Counsellors)

Have you ever heard of Imposter Syndrome? It's a term I've been familiar with ever since I decided to be a counsellor. I was warned it would be an ever present feature in my career, so I'm hardly ever surprised when it pops up.

Imposter Syndrome is the feeling that you aren't qualified/talented/whatever enough to do the work that you're doing, even though, in reality, you are. You might feel that you have tricked those around you into 'letting' you do the work, or that if they find out about how 'incompetent' you really are, you'll be in trouble. To compensate, you might do far more work than is necessary, or constantly seek approval & reassurance from anyone who's willing to give it. Or, perhaps you will just feel the anxiety.

In the counselling profession, I believe there are several factors that make this even more apparent. For one, we are (rightly) told that our learning is never done. Although we can reach a state of being qualified, there is a need for constant, ongoing training. As well as keeping up to date with an ever changing understanding of mental health, there's also specialist training, and an endless world of things to learn. Nobody can ever really say they've learned all there is to know about psychology, mental wellness or therapy. However, we have to admit that there's a level of competence that we have to have reached in order for us to be considered qualified. And that's a big deal!

A mushroom growing on a dark forest floor

There's also the fact that we need to be aware of ourselves, and our own mental health. We might find our insecurities are something we need to think about often. Many of us have continued personal therapy, and we speak to our supervisors about the effect the work we do has on us. We are constantly looking inward to see what's going on. Something like imposter syndrome isn't going to be unchecked by a counsellor who is doing the essential work of looking after themselves.

This can all go hand in hand with Imposter Syndrome, and wind up causing us all kinds of mischief:

  • Anxiety

  • Inability to see achievements

  • Not knowing when to stop working

  • Losing confidence

  • Being more self-critical

It's obviously important not to leave this unnoticed, and to deal with Imposter Syndrome. It can be really useful to name it, in order to acknowledge what it is. Not a gut instinct that you're doing wrong, or a fair appraisal of your ability, but an anxiety not based on reality. With that in mind, it's also a great idea to look for proof that you are, in fact, not a fraud. It might help to list your accomplishments and successes, and to remind yourself that you have as much a right to be here as anybody else in your position. Finally, I find it vital to remember this: So many people feel this way sometimes. It is not unique to you, and even those with decades more training than you feel it sometimes.

There is always more to learn, and there is always more to do, but that is not to say that what you are doing and what you have learned isn't enough.

So, if you catch yourself falling into Imposter Syndrome again:

  • Acknowledge it for what it is: Imposter Syndrome, not an accurate reflection of your abilities

  • Start listing your achievements and successes

  • Remind yourself of all the other professionals you admire, who also experience this phenomenon

In the long run, it is also important to face the underlying issue. Although it can pop up from time to time, if this is a frequent occurrence for you, perhaps you hold some ongoing beliefs and anxieties about your abilities and value. This can be uncomfy to realise, but left unchecked, this can continue to pop up and make it even harder for you to stay boundaried around work. As someone who often works around anxiety, I understand how much a low self esteem can affect all aspects of life, including work-life. If you want to have a chat about counselling for this issue, you're welcome to get in touch.


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