How to Overcome Imposter Syndrome as a Therapist

As mental health professionals, we may sometimes doubt our skills and abilities, especially when taking on new clinical roles. We might also fear that others will discover we aren’t as competent as we seem, questioning whether we deserve our positions. This feeling is known as imposter syndrome for therapists. In this post, I highlight four strategies to help you overcome imposter syndrome as a mental health professional.

What is Imposter Syndrome for Mental Health Professionals?

Working as a mental health professional can be both rewarding and stressful. We work with individuals grappling with profound issues, helping them navigate their lives in a healthier way.

Imposter syndrome often affects both students and new professionals at the start of their careers, as well as experienced professionals stepping into new counseling roles and opportunities.

Common feelings associated with imposter syndrome include:

  • Lack of confidence
  • Feeling inadequate
  • Comparing oneself to colleagues
  • Doubting skills and knowledge
  • Negative self-talk
  • Focusing on past clinical challenges
  • Distrusting positive feedback about counseling abilities

A key component in overcoming imposter syndrome is continuing our work and becoming more comfortable with our knowledge and niche. By working with new clients, we give ourselves the opportunity to build confidence in our abilities.

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Why Do Therapists Struggle With Imposter Syndrome?

There are various reasons we might struggle with imposter feelings. When we first begin our careers, these feelings often stem from a lack of clinical experience. While clinical internships help us develop our skills, they differ significantly from working as a counselor post-graduation.

As we progress in our careers, we may encounter similar feelings in new or different situations. For example, you might be asked to provide clinical supervision for a student or a new colleague in your clinic. If this is a new experience for you, you may question your ability to offer support and feedback to another clinician. Another example is being asked to facilitate a workshop on a skill you are experienced in.

These scenarios show that imposter feelings can arise at various stages throughout our careers. Those struggling with mental health concerns such as anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem may be at a higher risk of experiencing imposter feelings. Research indicates that the prevalence of imposter syndrome ranges significantly, from 9% to 82% of individuals, with studies being inconsistent in identifying risk factors that increase the likelihood of these feelings.

4 Ways to Overcome Imposter Syndrome for Therapists

If you feel you may be struggling with imposter syndrome, it’s important to recognize that many of us doubt our clinical skills at some point. Even professionals with decades of experience can occasionally find themselves questioning their abilities.

If you experience any of the feelings mentioned earlier, it’s crucial to address these concerns. Ongoing struggles with negative self-talk and lack of confidence can contribute to therapist burnout.

Let’s discuss what you can do if you find yourself experiencing signs of imposter syndrome:

1) Figure out where these thoughts are coming from

Self-awareness is one of the most crucial skills for a mental health professional. It enables us to recognize when we’re being challenged and when it’s time to try something new.

If you find yourself doubting your abilities as a clinician, try to pinpoint the source of this doubt. Is a particular case more challenging than others? Are you struggling to accept feedback from a colleague or supervisor? Or is something from your personal life affecting your self-perception?

Identifying the root of the concern gives you a clearer idea of how to address it. If these feelings are related to a clinical challenge, consider seeking supervision or consulting with a colleague. Another professional’s perspective can help you find a new solution or see the case differently.

If the concern stems from your personal life, practice kindness and compassion towards yourself. Remember that, like our clients, we also experience a range of emotions and face struggles. What matters is how we take care of ourselves.

Reflect on your self-care practices—not just occasional spa days or vacations, but daily activities that recharge you. Do you go for walks, drink herbal tea, journal, meditate, exercise, laugh, or cry? Taking care of our own emotional needs is essential for helping our clients with theirs.

 2. Reflect on your clinical training and experience

When you find yourself doubting your skills, take a moment to inventory your skills, training, and experience. Treat your doubt as a cognitive distortion, a concept used in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) to describe irrational thoughts. In CBT, we challenge these distortions and work to replace them with healthier thoughts.

Consider this example: you recently started a new job at a private practice and were asked to supervise a student intern. Lacking prior supervision experience, you immediately worry about your ability to support and guide the intern.

By stepping back and examining the source of your concern, you might realize that it’s the new supervisory role, not the new job itself, that’s causing anxiety. Transitioning into this new role can be challenging, but it helps to recognize the underlying issue.

You have 7 years of post-licensure clinical experience in various settings, working with patients facing diverse mental health issues. You’ve actively enrolled in continuing education courses and are trained in a specific treatment modality you use with clients.

Given this background, you have the skills and experience needed to supervise an intern. Your concern primarily stems from the newness of the supervisory role. Seeking supervision for yourself can be beneficial, and as you gain experience in this new role, your concerns will likely diminish.

3. Be mindful of your limitations

If you have completed the first two steps and still doubt yourself, consider that this self-doubt may be an awareness of your limitations. As counselors, our intuition is a valuable resource, helping us sense when something feels off.

Being aware of your limitations differs from struggling with imposter syndrome. We can’t be experts in all therapies and interventions. Most of us have a niche in which we feel comfortable and experienced. Recognizing a limitation can be seen as an opportunity to learn a new skill or approach.

If you realize that a client would benefit from a treatment approach you’re not trained in, consider providing a referral to a clinician who can offer the appropriate treatment.

4. Seek supervision

Supervision is essential for students and new professionals and is beneficial throughout your career. It can help you recognize your limits and gain different perspectives that enhance your clinical work.

If you struggle with symptoms of imposter syndrome, discussing these concerns with a supervisor can be helpful. Supervision provides a safe space to talk through your thoughts and receive feedback on your challenges. You can engage in supervision biweekly or as needed.

Final Thoughts on Overcoming Imposter Syndrome as a Therapist

Thanks for reading my post on “How to Overcome Imposter Syndrome as a Therapist.” I hope that this resource has been helpful to you as a mental health professional as your continue to gain confidence. You’re in this career for a reason, it’s time to step into your position with confidence!

TherapyPatron.com helps mental health professionals better serve their clients. Our (editable, fillable, printable PDF) therapy worksheets can help you streamline your practice, effectively deliver different types of therapy, and help your clients be their best selves.

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Kayla VanGuilder, MA, LCMHC
Author: Kayla VanGuilder, MA, LCMHC

Kayla is a Mental Health Counselor who earned her degree from Niagara University in Lewiston, New York. She has provided psychotherapy in a residential treatment program and an outpatient addiction treatment facility in New York as well as an inpatient addiction rehab in Ontario, Canada. She has experience working with individuals living with a variety of mental health concerns including depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, and trauma.

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