How to beat imposter syndrome -a guide for therapists- Jane Travis, Grow Your Private Practice

Picture this: I'm sitting in front of a Google doc, the flashing cursor mocking me. I want to write a blog, but I can’t think because of my inner critic shouting at me.

Why would people be interested in what you say?’
'You don’t even know about this stuff, you’re just winging it’
'If you write this, you’ll be uncovered as a fraud’


Welcome back, imposter syndrome! 

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How to beat imposter syndrome -a guide for therapists- Jane Travis, Grow Your Private Practice

What is imposter syndrome?

Wikipedia says: ‘it is a psychological pattern in which an individual doubts their accomplishments and has a persistent internalised fear of being exposed as a 'fraud’.

So it’s:

  • When you want to write a blog, but stop yourself because you don’t feel you have anything worthwhile to say.
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    Or you want to deliver a workshop but don’t think you have enough knowledge. 
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    Or you want to start in private practice, but you don’t think people would want to come to you.

It’s extremely common and said to affect 70% of people at some point.

And it doesn’t discriminate - it’s happy to bully celebrities, sports people, business people, politicians (okay, possibly not Mr Trump...) no matter how successful they are

Imposter syndrome is common in counsellors

It’s our job to help clients with these sorts of insecurities, so we tell ourselves we SHOULD know what to do, and we SHOULD feel differently, and therefore we clearly know nothing, we're just rampent frauds and will soon be found out...

Which adds to the problem, as we feel more pressure to be all knowledgeable and yet less able to talk about it. 

Human first, counsellor second: Stop putting pressure on yourself to be perfect!

Remember, we are human first, counsellor second.

We have exactly the same feelings, worries and issues as everyone else.

Being a counsellor doesn’t mean we miraculously know the secrets to ‘life’! Take that pressure off.

If you’re struggling with something, get some help.

Where does imposter syndrome come from?

In this great blog post 'Impostor Syndrome: How I fight the feelings that I'm a fake', they explore where this may have come from in childhood.

Because as we know only too well, most things come from childhood experiences don’t they?

It stands hand in hand with 'not good enough'. 

This clip shows where it comes from:

How it effects you

Imposter syndrome is serious:

  • It causes self sabotage
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    It stops us moving forward and improving
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    It stops our success, because we don’t do the things that will move our practice forward
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    Most importantly, it stops us helping people that need it.

There are people that need your help and that would be your perfect therapy client, but if they don't know you’re there they may never access that help.

It's a lose=lose situation.

If left unchecked, it can have a detrimental effect on you and your private practice. 

  • How many people want to open a private practice, but carry on volunteering? 
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    Or want to write a book, but tell themselves they can’t? 
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    How many people want to live stream, but are crippled by fear?
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    How many want to write a blog?
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    Or deliver workshops
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    Or approach businesses
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    Or go networking

What to do if you suffer with imposter syndrome

Thankfully, there are lots of things you can do to help yourself. 

1. Drop the comparisons

It’s hard not to compare yourself with other people, but comparisons will drive you crazy. 

The biggest issue I have with comparisons is you simply don’t know the facts. What people present to the world isn’t always a fair representation of who they really are.

I remember reading a blog that had an image of a beautiful young couple on holiday, all loved up.

The author was the woman in the picture, who explained that just before that photo was taken they were arguing, and they broke up soon after returning home.

And you’ve done it yourself: Been to a party and had a horrid time, but smiled for the camera.

So the other person may be good at hiding their insecurities - or they may actually be really good at what they do.

Good for them!

That takes absolutely nothing from you, because you have your own skill set, your own knowledge, experience, thoughts and ideas.

It’s like comparing apples and oranges. Noone has to be better, just different.

2. Recognise it for what it is

Imposter syndrome is real, and it can pop it's ugly head up at any time.

For me, when I’m on top of my game it’s not an issue.

But if I’m feeling unsure, lacking confidence or trying something new it can really stop me in my tracks.

I've noticed my process is:

  • Decide to do something 
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    Have a major wobble and think the world is going to come crashing down around my ears
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    Talk myself off the edge 
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    Do the thing.

So now I don’t beat myself up that ‘OMG everyone will see that I'm a fraud and know nothing’, I recognise it for what it is - imposter syndrome, and my panic is me being me.

That helps me put it in perspective. It’s not real, it’s my insecurities.

This provides comfort that the massive wobble is temporary, and if I ride out the storm, things will feel better again.

Check out this TED talks playlist on Fighting Imposter Syndrome

3. Start a smile file

Record all your achievements, no matter how small.

Every compliment, every comment, every time you help a client, every time you help someone in a Facebook group.

Record it all, so if imposter syndrome hits you have documented evidence to prove you can do it. 

4. Journal

I’m sure I don’t have to tell you about the benefits of journaling and it’s ability to help us sort through our feelings.

So write about how you’re feeling, write about your worries and your fears and then examine them.

For example, if you had critical parents maybe you expect a harsh response.
Did they expect 100% from you so now anything less than perfect doesn’t hit the mark?

Remember, perfectionism isn’t about wanting to be perfect, it’s a fear we’re never quite good enough.

Dealing with these types of things will help put imposter syndrome to bed. 

5. Accept that you had some part in the success you've had

It’s easy to dismiss or discount our successes and label them as luck or coincidence.

  • Attended lessons
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    Completed assignments 
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    Completed journals
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    Saw clients in placement
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    Possibly sat an exam

But is that really true?

You worked for and got counselling qualifications, and you did that by:
 That takes work.

It doesn’t happen by accident. You worked for and got them, you deserve them.

Maybe you’re thinking ‘but I was just winging it’.

Well if so, you’re clearly a natural at counselling, because when we’re good at something it comes easy to us. Congratulations!

S0 separate feelings from fact, because you may THINK you’re a fraud, but it’s not actually true.

6. Tell people how you feel

This is so important. Insecurities like this swirling around in your head just get more and more momentum, like a hurricane getting bigger and more powerful.

Talking to someone can help take the power out of it, like when the hurricane touches land.

So tell someone! A friend, family member, your supervisor or on the Grow Your Private Practice Facebook Group, where you’ll get plenty of support. 

This clip looks at the importance of telling others how you feel:

7. Don't rush into getting another qualification

You may be tempted to get more qualifications.

For example, you get a client with anxiety so you take a course about anxiety, and you get a client that’s suffered with bereavement, so you get training on bereavement etc.

Not necessarily a bad thing.

BUT clients want to be heard, for you to be there, to connect. If you’re qualified, trust the process. You already have enough.

If taking another qualification is part of your future plans, is to do with your niche then go ahead. But if you enroll on courses in a ‘reactive’ way, ie reacting to a new clients needs, this may be a form of imposter syndrome.

Having a string of qualifications means you’re a good learner, it doesn’t nescessarilly mean you are a good counsellor.

Trust yourself, trust the process. You are good enough.

8. Allow yourself to not have to know everything

You don’t need to always know the answer, so take the pressure off!

Occasionally getting things wrong doesn’t mean you don’t know what you’re doing or are fake.

I love what Denise Duffield Thomas says in 'Don't be a guru - be a contributor instead'

“As soon as I gave myself permission to contribute to the conversation of women and money, and not have to be a guru or expert, then my business became fun. 

If you really care about a topic, be a contributor. Who cares if you don’t know everything. You don’t have to be the best to make a difference to someone.”

Denise Duffield Thomas

Trust yourself, trust the process. You are good enough.

9. You're going to get things wrong

We all get things wrong.

I mean, all the time. It’s the only way to grow!

So publishing a blog that’s not The Perfect Blog is not only ok, it’s nescessary. How else can you learn?

Beating imposter syndrome (for counsellors and therapists)

10. Do things before you're ready

'You’re never going to be ready. Act anyway. Acting before you are ready is like a penicillin shot for Impostor Syndrome. It helps you build up immunity against the Syndrome. The more you act before you’re ready, the more you’ll realize that you’re never really ready for anything. But neither is anyone else.'

Isaiah Hankel

This is why I tend to say yes, and work out how to do it later. 

For example, I was asked to talk at a BACP conference. I’d never done one before, and was pretty terrified, but I said yes and figured it all out afterwards.

11. Reward yourself

Business is hard. Life is hard. You're doing your best.

Reward yourself often.


Just because we are therapists and know how to help other people with insecurities, it doesn’t mean we don’t have our own.

Just because we have insecurities, it doesn’t mean we can’t be extremely effective as counsellors and help others.

And just because imposter syndrome is shouting at you doesn’t mean you’ve nothing valuable to say, or can’t offer your thoughts and opinions.

Remember - you are qualified, you are passionate and you can help people.

But you can’t help them if they don’t know you’re there.

So recognise imposter syndrome for what it is - a nasty little bully that’s lying to you.

But don’t let that bully stop you. Don’t let the bully win.

Struggling with imposter syndrome? Come join the 3000+ other counsellors that do in our FREE Facebook group! 

Grow your private practice, free Facebook community for counsellors and therapists

About the Author Jane

Jane lives in beautiful Lincoln with her 2 boys and rescue dog. When she's not talking about herself in the third person, she's usually found drinking wine and eating Maltesers. Sometimes she even shares them with friends.

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