Why do so many of us feel like imposters?

Imposter syndrome is what stops my pen, as I sit down to write this blog. It’s what gave so many of us pause in March of 2020 when we became teletherapists overnight. It’s what makes some of us feel panic when we see a new client on our caseload with a disability or area of need that we are less familiar with. But what is imposter syndrome? 

What is Imposter Syndrome?

Imposter syndrome in simple terms is the feeling of being a fraud in your accomplishments. It is an inability to internalize your success, skill, and achievements. Many SLPs experience imposter syndrome related to our profession. Despite evidence of your skill and knowledge, you may still feel as though you have not earned your accomplishments. You feel you do not deserve your status and you worry that others will discover you are a fraud. This fear of exposure adds to your worry and negative feelings. 

Often people experiencing imposter syndrome attribute their success to luck or timing. They do not acknowledge their own skill, knowledge, and experience. Imposter syndrome is not a formal diagnosis. However, it’s not uncommon for people experiencing imposter syndrome to also have anxiety, depression, or ADHD, for example. According to some sources, personality traits can also contribute to this phenomenon. Additionally being in a high-pressure or competitive environment is often linked to imposter syndrome. 

Imposter syndrome is an internal experience. Often success does not mitigate the feeling of being a fraud. Achieving a goal or receiving praise from a colleague or superior may further validate the worry of being exposed. Making a change in the population you work with or the setting you are in can further exacerbate this self-doubt. You will likely need to learn new skills as an SLP, no matter how long you have been in the field. But this need for retraining or continuing education can make you feel like an imposter.  

Subgroups of Imposter Syndrome

One expert in this field, Dr. Valerie Young Ed.D, has identified 5 types of imposters, also referred to as competence types. 

  • The Perfectionist: The main focus for this type of imposter is how things are done. One small error will lead to feelings of complete failure. 
  • The Expert: The primary focus for ‘the Expert’ is on knowledge–knowing exactly what to do and how to do it. 
  • The Soloist: This person focuses on success based on who completes a task. If the ‘Soloist’ does not complete the task independently, then this feels like failure. 
  • The Natural Genius: For the ‘Natural Genius’ the focus is on ease and speed of mastering a task. If it doesn’t come quickly and naturally, then it causes worry and shame. 
  • The Superwoman/Superman: This person bases their value on how many roles they play and how competent they are in each role. They feel like an imposter when unable to perform perfectly in all of those roles.

Knowing your competence type may help you combat the feeling of being an imposter. 

How do I cope with imposter syndrome?

There isn’t one answer. However, as with any experience of self-doubt, there are ways to cope. 

  • Recognize that what you are feeling is normal: Many people experience imposter syndrome and you are not alone. 
  • Seek professional help: Although there is no formal diagnosis of imposter syndrome, talking with a therapist can help. Processing these internal feelings may lead to a better understanding of your self-doubt. This can give you tools to manage and overcome those feelings. 
  • Find a mentor: Having a mentor in the field can help validate your accomplishments and help you better see what areas still could use growth. This external set of eyes can help you more clearly acknowledge your own professional skills. This can be beneficial for the ‘Superwoman/Superman’. 
  • Document your goals/progress: Documenting your goals and progress can help you see what you have accomplished. This can also shift the focus off of things you are still working towards. This strategy can be especially beneficial for the ‘Perfectionist.’ 
  • Talk to a friend or trusted colleague. Disclosing your feelings can help you take a big step forward in reducing those feelings of doubt. Talking to someone you trust and who knows your accomplishments can help. This can be especially beneficial for the ‘Soloist’. 
  • Become a mentor: By mentoring someone else in your field, you will further realize what you truly do know and what you don’t know. And remember that it is okay to not know everything! You would not expect that of your peers and should not expect that of yourself. Becoming a mentor may be beneficial for ‘The Expert’. 
  • Enroll in continuing education: The scope of practice in our field is very broad. As such, your own scope of competency and confidence may be smaller. If you are faced with a situation that you do not feel confident and competent to address, find a course or training to help refresh those skills. Honing a specific skill can be beneficial for ‘The Natural Genius.’ 
  • Look it up: If you are feeling like an imposter in a certain area (fluency, articulation, language), take some time to do your research. This can mean reading journal articles but it can also mean reaching out to other SLPs, taking a continuing education course, using sources such as ASHA, or listening to SLP podcasts.
  • Think like a non-imposter: This recommendation involves reframing your thinking around your areas of worry or anxiety. When you begin to think negative thoughts about your own accomplishments or knowledge, stop yourself and reframe that thought. Over time this will become more automatic. 

So what’s the good news?

The good news is that you are not alone. Imposter syndrome may come and go throughout your career, but it is manageable. It’s important to remember that it is not easy to become an SLP. To hold your degree, you have proven your knowledge and skills time and again before even entering the field. It is normal to experience imposter syndrome, but it does not have to last.

If you are looking to connect with other SLPs, consider social media as a resource. There are many groups on Facebook, including our own, as well as a wealth of SLPs on Instagram, TikTok, Twitter, and any social media platform. Some sources do caution against social media use, as this can contribute to feelings of comparison and competition. Use these resources only if they feel supportive and beneficial. Remember that we are all masters at communication, so use that skill to seek the support you need.

Cocoa Berry
Author: Cocoa Berry