Shannon Leoni, High School Counselor, International School Bangkok and ISCA Taskforce Member
“Today is the day they’re going to realize that I don’t know what I’m doing.”
This is a real-life thought I had in September 2020 when I started at my current school and had to give a presentation on a topic I was unfamiliar with. I was so nervous and ruminated on how ill-prepared I was to give such a presentation, and perhaps ill-suited for my job as a school counselor as well. This feeling of inadequacy and self-doubt is often known as Imposter Syndrome and is not unique to the counseling profession. Many teachers and mental health professionals struggle at times with not feeling confident in themselves or their abilities, and often being unable to reflect upon their successes. Here are a few helpful approaches to help recognize imposter syndrome. These can guide reflection, boost confidence and reduce fears of failure.
Being aware of your inner critic
One of the best ways to combat these feelings of inadequacy is to recognize that these thoughts are occurring in the first place and to approach them with a feeling of curiosity instead of judgment. Why might these thoughts be coming up right now? Checking to see if all basic needs are being met helps with exploring these thoughts. Sometimes all we need is more sleep, or some food, to think more clearly and rationally.Coupling this moment of curiosity with positive self-talk can help to combat such feelings of self-doubt. This process might be cyclical until it becomes second nature.
Notice what works, and repeat it
Once I led a workshop and facilitated a slightly childlike group activity that was such a hit with the school faculty, I repeated it the next year. And the next year. And in so doing, I felt completely confident as I facilitated the activity and discussion afterward. One of the best ways to combat imposter syndrome is to find what works, and keep doing it. With counseling, this can mean using a therapeutic approach that works well with students, even though a one-size-fits-all approach might not work for everyone. Finding a system that works builds confidence. An example of this might be how a counselor facilitates an intake with a new student and uses the same set of questions to guide the conversation, thus boosting confidence along the way.
You are not expected to know everything
For those who are newer to the counseling profession, there can sometimes be pressure to ‘know everything’ before feeling competent in the role. However, the students we work with don’t expect us to know everything; what they expect is that we will do what is best for them, and sometimes that involves asking others or doing more research.
Be gentle with yourself
One of the most important aspects to navigating imposter syndrome is to be gentle with yourself through the process of exploring it, and how to minimize its negative impacts. Know that you are not alone, and we can support one another to recognize each other’s successes and strengths.
Clark, P., Holden, C., Russell, M., & Downs, H. (2021). The Impostor Phenomenon in Mental Health Professionals: Relationships Among Compassion Fatigue, Burnout, and Compassion Satisfaction. Contemporary Family Therapy, 44(2), 185–197. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10591-021-09580-y
Mason, J. (2022, March 26). Dealing With Imposter Syndrome as a Teacher. We Are Teachers. https://www.weareteachers.com/teacher-imposter-syndrome/
9 ways to cope with imposter syndrome. (n.d.). [Illustration]. https://blog.hubspot.com/marketing/impostor-syndrome-tips