There is a syndrome called the ‘Imposter Syndrome’ or ‘Fraud Syndrome’ which is suffered by many a professional. It has been noted in the arts, in the legal profession, in the sciences, in the academic world, in the corporate environment and so on. First thought to be the domain of women or minority groups, there is now suggestion of the same phenomenon in the wider population.
It is characterised by the feeling that, although people appear to think you are doing well in your work and you may even be receiving rewards or recognition for what you are doing, deep down inside you “know” that you have no idea what you are doing, any success is a fluke and in any moment people will see you for what you really are and strip you of your professional registration, expose your ignorance and put you back in the employment you truly deserve (squeezing orange juice or something).
It is kind of a professional version of niggling low self esteem. It tends to come and go.
I have noticed it rearing its head on several occasions in my own work, and it is often a discourse I detect in my peers.
I remember my relief when I found a name for it somewhere. It helped me to identify my moments of vulnerability and to find my own way to deal with it.
Counselling, particularly in the humanistic traditions of therapy is a field which teaches therapists to encourage the self-determinism and the dignity of the clients we work with. Rather than presenting ourselves as the expert, we encourage and support clients to discover their own authority and to place credence on their own understanding of healing and engage their own natural manner of moving forward in their lives.
It has often been said that if we do our jobs right, any positive changes in the life of the client will be understood by them to be their own doing – not the counsellor’s.
I feel in synch with this understanding, but still every now and then I find myself raising the issue of validation in sessions with my supervisor. Where does the validation for my work best come from?
I work for an organisation, so often I will look to my work community for some kind of sign that I am doing well. Sometimes a client will express gratitude or even joy at having found a counsellor they feel compatible with. Sometimes I can kind of be gliding along, feeling balanced and in touch with what I am doing. At such times, the validation comes mostly from within myself. But on the days where the work is challenging for the client and therefore not inspiring any feedback; if the workplace does not value its counsellors; if just one more person says that “anyone could do that work”; if you are tired or stressed or not taking good care of yourself – then the feeling of being a fraud can sneak in again. Just to kick you when you’re down. I have noticed that when there are sudden changes in administrative requirements and I get knotted up in the confusion of keeping statistics in some new computer program, or meeting some health organisation requirements, feelings of incompetence sneak into other aspects of my work too.
There is always a way forward. In fact maybe this is just a negative spin on the more positive zen buddhist notion of ‘beginners mind’. For me, if I find myself in the ‘fraudian’ state of mind, it is often nothing more than a sign that I am tired and in need of some good old fashioned self care. I have my ways to get back to the gliding feeling.
What is your way I wonder?