I’ve been busy! I got a new job, I moved house, I had a dramatic hair cut. Things are pretty good for me now, and I think I’ve had less to write about because of the new environment I work in.
I work in a community psychology service, and it is the dream. It has been unbearably great to be surrounded by clinicians who are ethical, considerate, skilled, and who are interested in my own development. It’s still very stretched, underfunded and staffed, busy and hectic and challenging, but I feel far more comfortable with the ethos and don’t feel like I’m constantly witnessing difficult and sometimes dangerous practice happen on a day-to-day basis. Which is nice!
I do, however, feel like I’ve been given this job in error, despite having been here for 4 or 5 months now. Ding ding ding here’s the imposter complex! I feel as though I have no idea how actual therapy works, and theories and models that people use in casual conversation are alien to me. Once I got to know the other assistants a bit better, they shared that they felt the same, which was so normalising and a real comfort to hear. I now realise that this is something many people experience, so thought I’d share my words of wisdom on how to deal with this here, in case any readers stumbling across this post have similar worries. My remedies are 1) Reading, 2) Supervision, and 3) Keeping Track and 4) Parental Wisdom.
I put this one ahead of supervision for several reasons. First, because it is something that I can do on my own, in my own time, and at my own pace. I felt more comfortable taking my worries to supervision once I knew I’d done a bit of work myself. And it makes sense right – I’m working in a new area/client group, so why on earth WOULD I know all of the background info unless I read up on it? Reading and studying a bit feels natural; it’s what I would do at uni if I didn’t understand something, and it’s something I know I am good at doing. It’s familiar. So I had a decent read, and made a mental note to schedule in a few hours a week to keep doing so – either reading new stuff, or going over the core stuff until it felt more consolidated. This made me feel much, much better.
Super important. I had a read, I got a grasp on the basic literature in the area I now work in, I properly digested the stuff I’d read in a frenzied 3am pre-interview panic. This made me feel like I could go to my supervisor and offer what I did have at the same time as admitting what I didn’t. I shared that I felt a bit like I didn’t know what I was doing, and that my colleagues perhaps thought I might know more/have more experience than I do. I present pretty well in interviews and apparently also in observed clinical work, which is good (I think!?) but I think this can make the gaps and needs I have less apparent, meaning I need to bring them up more explicitly. I have been blessed with two absolutely bloody fantastic supervisors, who I am now completely open with and who have been endlessly helpful so far. I’ve always been the kind of person who has no shame in asking when I don’t know something, but there was something about not wanting to make them think they’d recruited the wrong person or that I was desperately inadequate that made me feel nervous about bringing it to supervision. Well, top tip: do it. It will make you feel better. It will become a topic you’re comfortable talking about, and you will develop far quicker than if you muddle along thinking you’ll get fired if you admit that you don’t really understand that particularly fiddly bit of that obscure model that your supervisor loves, or what an ANOVA actually is even though you have had three years of stats teaching. Honestly. 🙂
I am a chronic diary writer, so it made sense to really keep a track of what I was doing and learning at work too. I did this anyway, at first not really in an effort to assist with the imposter complex, but boy was it unintentionally helpful. It was with great delight that when I looked back over a 16 session piece of work I completed with a service user, I felt like I could see my own progression as well as theirs. And when I jotted down the meeting I’d had with my supervisor to plan a similar piece of work with someone new, I was pleased to find that I’d contributed a lot more to the plan, made appropriate suggestions, and was feeling far less worried about the first session. I guess it just really helped me to see that even in my own quick notes about my work – and despite feeling like an imposter at the times of all of them – there seemed to be evidence that I had improved in confidence and knowledge.
If all else fails, call someone wiser – thus usually older – than you, and have a small existential crisis about what the past 6 years of your life have been about, how despite academic evidence proving otherwise you are actually the least intelligent person potentially in the whole past and present NHS, and how perhaps you are actually deeply and fundamentally unsuitable for this job after all. HOWEVER. I have heard warming accounts from at least 5 actual, real adults (both of my parents included), that most people are muddling along, most of the time. Apparently – and I don’t know whether I find this comforting or terrifying – you never feel like You’ve Arrived and You Know Exactly What You’re Doing. As long as you muddle on with a sense of confidence and a willingness to ask for help, that is generally acceptable and typically suggests you’re actually doing alright in practice. It sounds ridiculous, but knowing that people who I see as pretty competent and successful in the adult world (not that adult world!) also feel like they’re imposters was so useful. It’s a little something I keep tucked in the back of my mind for when I still feel shit even after doing all the more practical things above.
I was going to add a 5th suggestion of asking to be observed/recorded in your sessions to review with your supervisor… but I know this is such a horrific prospect that I would struggle to say anything positive about it. I have done this. It was desperately uncomfortable, despite general good reviews and much useful, actionable criticism. But I’m still not over the trauma of it yet, and so am unable to reflect on how it’s potentially the most useful thing one could do. If I ever manage to be observed without feeling like I have suddenly turned into a potato with a clipboard and some CFT circles diagrams… I shall report back.