Hello Imposter Syndrome
Story Time: I recently completed a PhD program. One of the big milestones within that program was a Comprehensive Exam. The exam consisted of 3 days back-to-back, from 8:30 in the morning until 4:30 in the afternoon, sitting at a blank computer, writing answers to questions about the courses we had taken over the previous three years. No notes, no books, no access to the Internet. Just typing all day long (with an hour break for lunch). Getting through the first day was hard, and then I had to go home and prepare for the next day, no crashing from exhaustion, keep studying, and keep going. This may be one of the hardest things I have "voluntarily" done in my life. It was so stressful. And….in the middle of all of it…I had a serious case of Imposter Syndrome.
This may sound like a joke, but I BELIEVED I was at a moment of truth in this PhD program. There was no masking it now. All of my teachers were going to figure out I was not smart enough to be in this program. I was picturing my teachers reading my answers and saying, "Oh Jamie, how did we miss this? We never should have allowed you into this program. How did you get this far without us catching this?" As I type this, I know it sounds like I am making a joke, but I cannot stress enough just how much I believed I had somehow snuck by and tricked MULTIPLE people in this program. Tricked them into thinking I had what it took to pursue a doctorate, shouldn't I be happy I tricked enough people so that I could get that pesky Master's degree? Really, at this point, I was lucky I had a Bachelor's, right?
Hello, Imposter Syndrome, I see you! Imposter Syndrome is what informally we have called this self-doubt that sneaks up in all of us. Do we have what it takes to do…..whatever it is we are doing? There is often an underlying fear that we are about to be exposed as a fraud. As a clinical supervisor working with folks who are trying to develop confidence in their therapist voice. So many of my friends, colleagues, students, and supervisees find themselves feeling as though they are tricking their clients and that they don't know how to be a therapist. And yet, very often the clients keep coming back….maybe even telling you that you are a good therapist. Very often, clients are making progress and getting better.
Maybe this is simply fear and doubt, and maybe it isn't true. Here are a couple of things to do when you notice yourself feeling like an imposter.
1. First, acknowledge that Imposter Syndrome part of you. Sometimes we need to see and listen to that fear before we do anything. Before you move on to number 2 of this list, sit here for a moment. There is so much power in seeing and soothing this part. You may not even need to go on to the next one.
2. An activity that might help is a review of your last five years. This can be especially helpful for a student or supervisee trying to gain more experience and skills as a therapist. What have you done? Get as detailed as your Imposter Syndrome buddy needs. If you have been in school for the last couple of years, maybe you write down the classes you've taken and even the skills that came from those classes. Sometimes you don't even have to go back five full years, maybe three….maybe even one, to see that you have been actively growing and changing.
This time of year, we are so often setting goals for the upcoming year…or five…or ten. Maybe it is just as beneficial to give ourselves credit for the things we have accomplished over the last year, or five. Maybe this could be a good practice, reviewing the last year and listing things we accomplished, and ways we have grown or changed.