5 untrue beliefs practitioners have in their abilities
Published 15 June 2022. Written by Chris Worfolk.
If you are a practitioner, be it a psychotherapist, counsellor, coach or other helping professional, there are a common set of worries that we all share. In this article, we will normalise and discuss some of them.
"I need to learn more"
No matter how much we learn, we may feel we need to learn more to be prepared for every situation.
Maybe it is the desire to read another textbook on a subject we already actively use. Or learn more about a specific client group ("I need to be prepared in case I get client X with problem Y").
Of course, continuing our development is important. But our skill is being an expert in the helping process, not in our clients' lives, and we do not need to understand every single detail. And if we are genuinely out of our depth, there is no shame in making an ethical referral.
"I am winging it"
With so many time pressures we can sometimes feel that we are running from session to session with no overall plan, and start feeling like we are just making it up as we go along (known colloquially as winging it).
While it may be useful to step back from time to time (and hopefully our supervisor will be on the case about this!), if we continue to help client after client and yet the feeling persists, it might simply be self-doubt rather than telling us something important.
"I should know everything off the top of my head"
As practitioners, it is easy to start thinking of ourselves as experts. And, to an extent, we are. But that does not mean we need to know everything off the top of our heads.
A good parallel is with sports coaching: many triathlon coaches feel the need to memorise the exact rules of the sport (for example, at what water temperature do you shorten the swim in triathlon).
Having such knowledge available makes us feel like an expert. But in reality, we can always look such information up. It is more important to understand the process of change and be able to do the hard intellectual work.
"Paper is to write things down that we need to remember. Our brains are used to think." - Albert Einstein
In reality, giving ourselves permission to say to clients "I will double-check that" or "I will look that up later" frees up session time to be focused on the client and moves us away from feeling like we have to memorise everything.
"I should be able to help every client"
Every client is different. They have unique needs and experiences. And yet we sometimes feel that we must be able to help them all and that if we are not able to make progress with every single client we are a failure.
Even Michael Jordan missed when shooting from the field 46.5% of the time. And few would dispute he is one of the greatest basketball players of all time.
If you are struggling with a client, speak to your supervisor about the situation. There may be many reasons why this could be happening. Maybe the client is not ready, or you just don't click, or a hundred other reasons.
"I need to be better than other practitioners"
In today's competitive society, the idea of being average seems like a failure. And yet, logically, 50% of practitioners must be below average.
We all want to help our clients as much as possible. It is easy to let that attitude slip into "I am not good enough". The reality is that even a below-average practitioner is helping people far more than an investment banker or used car salesman. Give yourself permission to be as good as you can be and no better.
As practitioners, most of us have doubts and fears about our abilities. Self-evaluation can be useful but not when it falls into self-criticism. What do our clients say? What does our supervisor say? If we get positive feedback here, it is more likely that our inner voice is feeding us self-doubt rather than inner wisdom.