Despite being skilled and accomplished in our field, many counsellors often wrestle with feelings of inadequacy, fearing they might be exposed as fraud. This phenomenon, known as Imposter Syndrome, is more common than we might think. Around  70 percent of people will experience imposter syndrome at least once in their lifetime. Over the many years of working in the industry in many roles such as a clinical counsellor, clinical supervisor and educator, not only do I experience Impostor Syndrome from time to time, I see it first hand in my clients, supervisees and of course, my peers. But what triggers it, how do we recognise it, and most importantly, how do we gain peace and confidence?

Syndrome for Counsellors<br />

Understanding Imposter Syndrome and Its Triggers

Imposter Syndrome is not just a buzzword—it’s a psychological phenomenon that affects many accomplished individuals, causing us to feel like we are simply masquerading as competent counsellors. I recall that overwhelming needing to “know it all” right then and there. The idea is that if I didn’t, then “they” would see that I was simply a fraud.

For counsellors, it’s like wearing a disguise, constantly in fear that someone will pull off the mask and expose us as a “fraud.” Experiencing imposter syndrome, we tend to believe we are undeserving and inadequate and can feel overwhelmed by self-doubt. The many years of study, therapy, and endless reading means nothing when our Imposter comes for a visit. This Imposter Syndrome does not mean we are incapable or fraudulent, but rather that we are unable to internalise and accept our successes and capabilities. Instead, we attribute our accomplishments to luck or interpret them as avoiding failure, creating a false narrative of inadequacy.

But what propels this disconcerting feeling of being an imposter? Often, it’s instigated by new situations or clients, where the unfamiliarity may stoke self-doubt and uncertainty. For instance, a counsellor starting a new job, a new supervision group, a new presentation in a client or trying a new technique suddenly we feel ill-equipped and underprepared despite our experience and qualifications. The early days had me reading textbooks and journey articles endlessly rather than taking the “problem” to my supervisor and admitting my downfalls.

 Imposter Syndrome

High-pressure environments can also serve as breeding grounds for Imposter Syndrome. As counsellors, we might often find ourselves in challenging circumstances, requiring us to make crucial decisions that impact the lives of our clients. Such significant responsibilities can intensify the fear of failure, amplifying feelings of being an imposter. Take, for example, a situation where a client shares a traumatic experience for the first time. As counsellors, we have the daunting task of responding empathetically yet professionally, all the while questioning if we’re qualified enough to handle such a delicate issue.

Perfectionism, a trait commonly found in counsellors, can further fuel Imposter Syndrome. The strive to be perfect can lead to constant self-evaluation and criticism, and even the smallest mistakes may be magnified, reinforcing the feeling of being a fraud.

Critical feedback, though essential for professional growth, can also trigger Imposter Syndrome if not handled correctly. When faced with criticism, individuals with Imposter Syndrome might perceive it as a validation of their incompetence, regardless of how constructive the feedback might be.

As we navigate the labyrinth of Imposter Syndrome, understanding these triggers can equip us with the insight needed to start combating this pervasive psychological pattern. And as we will discuss in the upcoming sections, recognising the symptoms and developing strategies to overcome them is crucial in our quest to unmask the imposter within us.