Starting a Practice

How to Overcome Imposter Syndrome as a Therapist

Headshot of Brandon Gill
April 12, 2024
April 12, 2024
Brandon Grill
Content Writer

Imagine you’re going about your day as a therapist when all of a sudden a long-time client no-shows.

You send them an invite to reschedule and they don’t respond. How do you feel?

If you’re like a lot of therapists, you may feel imposter syndrome kick in. “Did I say or do something wrong? Am I a bad clinician? Is there something inadequate with my skills or intuition?”

Imposter syndrome happens to almost all therapists at some point, whether new or seasoned. So I asked five mental health professionals to share their experiences about how they’ve personally overcome these feelings, in the hopes that it will help you, too.


What are the signs and symptoms of imposter syndrome for therapists?

Imposter syndrome, sometimes called “imposter phenomenon,” is defined as “a psychological pattern in which an individual distrusts their abilities or accomplishments and has a persistent mental fear of being exposed as a ‘fraud.’”

Though it is not an official diagnosis in the DSM-5, it’s the topic of much research. And it can show up in therapists in various ways.

“It has always been my tendency to ignore 99% of positive feedback and focus instead on the one negative comment as proof of my inadequacies and the fact that I am pulling a fast one on others, as a fake and a scam just waiting to be revealed,” explained Suzette Bray, LMFT, a licensed therapist and author based in California. 

“An example of that came up recently when someone approached me to do a presentation on DBT,” she added. “I thought, oh dear, why in the world are they contacting me? It was amazing how automatic the thought of ‘Why would they care about what I have to say?’ is when I have actually written a book on DBT, ran a DBT program for 15 years, and given numerous presentations on DBT over the years.”

Recognizing the signs and symptoms of imposter syndrome is the first step toward overcoming them. Here are some common indicators.

  • Difficulty accepting praise: Compliments on your work might make you uncomfortable because deep down you don’t believe you deserve them.
  • Persistent self-doubt: Despite evidence of your competencies, such as positive feedback from clients or peers, you might continuously question your skills and knowledge.
  • Fear of being exposed: You might worry that others will eventually "find out" you're not as capable or knowledgeable as you're supposed to be.
  • Attributing success to external factors: Even when you achieve success, you might attribute it to luck, timing, or because people haven't seen your flaws yet, rather than your effort and abilities.
  • Overpreparation and procrastination: You might over-prepare for sessions or avoid tasks due to fear of failure or not meeting expectations.

It's crucial to remember that these feelings do not reflect your actual capabilities as a therapist. Imposter syndrome is common among high-achievers and professionals who are deeply committed to their work and personal development.

Recognize these feelings for what they are—an irrational belief system rather than a reflection of your true abilities.

Common times therapists might feel like imposters

Imposter syndrome can strike at any moment, but there are certain situations when you may feel it more acutely as a therapist.

Understanding when these feelings are most likely to arise can help you prepare and develop strategies to mitigate them.

Here are some common scenarios that might stir up feelings of being an imposter.

Your first time treating a presenting issue

Our first time at anything can be a source of stress. But when we’re talking about someone’s mental health, the importance is much higher, and you may feel inadequate at these moments.

“Treating a disorder or presentation for the first time can make you question your skills,” explained Dr. Evan Vida, a clinical psychologist based in Pennsylvania. “You’re going to end up treating something for the very first time, while hopefully receiving supervision, and there is only so much you can learn from reading.”

Your clients will come in with expectations about your abilities. To ease their understandable concerns, they’ll want to know that you’ve treated their diagnosis before. Even if you haven’t yet.

“Sometimes, clients will even ask you about your experience treating a certain disorder,” he added. “As a trainee or early-career therapist, that answer might be none! That can certainly make a therapist feel like an imposter and not qualified to help this person.”

But just because you haven’t treated a presenting issue doesn’t mean you can’t do it. It just means you haven’t done it yet.

When a client quits therapy

It's not uncommon for clients to cease therapy. However, this situation can lead therapists to question their competence and value.

“Another instance where we might feel like an imposter is when a client cancels all future sessions, ‘ghosts’ you, or expresses they'd like to find another therapist,” Dr. Vida said. 

“It's important to remember that finding a therapist is a matchmaking process and you absolutely will not be the right fit for many people, and that’s okay. Some people might prefer a more boisterous or reserved therapist, or they might not fit with your particular therapeutic orientation. However, it’s easy to take it personally and thus feel like you’re an imposter,” he added.

When a client changes therapists

Similar to when a client quits, if a client chooses to fire you and see a different therapist, it can bring up feelings of inadequacy or failure. 

You’re not meant to be the right therapist for every client, but it can still sting if you’re not used to it.

During long silences in therapy

Silences in therapy can be powerful, yet if you’re a therapist experiencing imposter syndrome, these moments can be unnerving. 

They may lead to self-doubt about your approach or questioning if you’re doing enough to facilitate the session.

Not knowing what to say in therapy

There will be times when the right words or interventions don't immediately come to mind. This uncertainty can exacerbate feelings of being an imposter, making therapists worry about their skills and effectiveness.

And it may feel even worse if you sense your client wants you to say something or is aware that you’re a little lost for words.

If you’re in a minority at your practice

Being in a minority, whether due to race, ethnicity, gender identity, or another factor, can amplify feelings of being an imposter in some therapists.

This is particularly true if there's a perceived or real lack of support or understanding within the practice environment.

Working alone without much or any coworker contact

Isolation can heighten imposter syndrome as therapists lack the immediate feedback loop and reassurance that comes from colleague interactions.

The absence of this support network can make self-doubt and feelings of fraudulence more pronounced.

When you feel you’ve made a mistake

Everyone makes mistakes, but for those struggling with imposter syndrome, a mistake can seem like undeniable proof of their deepest fears about their inadequacy as a therapist.

Mistakes happen. Therapists are human, too. 


Imposter syndrome as experienced by therapists

Now that we’ve covered some common times when imposter syndrome might come up, let’s talk about why therapists struggle with imposter syndrome.

From grad school to the real world

Laura Brassie, LPC, a licensed therapist based in Denver, shared her experience battling with imposter syndrome as a pre-licensed clinician.

“I have absolutely experienced imposter syndrome on and off throughout my career as a therapist. It was definitely the most intense when I was a pre-licensed clinician, during my first few years in the field,” she said. 

“Despite having a master's degree, I felt like I knew basically nothing. There was so much in the real world of working in mental health that simply wasn't taught in grad school,” she added.

Coming into a field as complex and sensitive as mental health will be intimidating to any new therapist. And this could understandably lead to self-doubt and other imposter syndrome symptoms.

A thousand and one treatments

Making the art of therapy more complicated is the fact that you’ll treat dozens of different diagnoses across dozens of demographics, personality characteristics, genders, ages, and degrees of intensity.

“The overwhelming nature of the mental health field and the wide variety of concerns we see every day made me question what I knew,” Brassie explained. “It was also difficult to translate the school version of what I had learned into the real world.”

Therapy is deeply personal for therapists, too

Another reason therapists might experience imposter syndrome is the personal nature of the work. Therapy is intimate and deeply personal. That’s true not just for your clients but for you, too.

You very likely have a highly developed sense of empathy. So it can be hard not to take things personally, such as client dissatisfaction, or cancellations, or when a client transfers to another therapist.

And just like any profession, you may compare yourself with your peers. Perhaps they’re more successful, more effective, or more (fill in the blank).

While therapy is deeply fulfilling, it’s also deeply challenging. While you help your clients with their mental health challenges, you can get triggered by something they say or do. Or you might make a mistake, take a response personally, or react to something that may just be countertransference.

These are all par for the course and a chance to engage with imposter syndrome.

Growth comes with imposter syndrome

Your journey as a therapist is one of continuous growth and learning. As you progress, you may feel internal pressure to evolve and improve. This is commendable, yet can also foster feelings of self-doubt.

"Great clinicians are always growing, and growth nearly always comes with a little bit of imposter syndrome,” reflected Audrey Schoen, LMFT, a licensed therapist based in California.

Imposter syndrome is almost inevitable as you strive to enhance your skills and knowledge throughout your career. It’s not a bug, but a feature of growing as a clinician.

No one has all the answers

Another reason you might experience imposter syndrome as a therapist is the belief that you should have all the answers.

Meredith Siller, LMFT, a licensed therapist based in California, shared a relatable insight about the source of her imposter syndrome.

"It makes a lot of sense that my imposter syndrome exists,” she said. “I grew up learning that having expertise and being right was the way to prove my worth, so my imposter syndrome tries to protect me by bringing up fear when I don’t have all the answers.” 

This challenge was further complicated by her values as a therapist. “My values around therapy consider my client to be the expert in their experience and in their healing, so my imposter syndrome alarm rang pretty much all the time when I first started practicing,” she added.

Her experience highlights the fact that you won’t have all the answers, which can be a source of imposter syndrome for some therapists.


How many therapists experience imposter syndrome?

Do you ever feel like the only one dealing with imposter syndrome? If so, it can be helpful to think about how many other therapists experience similar feelings.

“If I had to guess, I would assume almost 100% of therapists have experienced imposter syndrome at some point in their careers,” Dr. Vida said. “I recall having a conversation during  group supervision in graduate school where my early-mid career supervisor mentioned, ‘If anyone figures out how to resolve imposter syndrome, let me know!”

“I think to become a psychologist or mental health professional, you have to have some degree of heightened empathy and dedication to helping others,” he added. “We're going to be very attuned to our patient's suffering and feel like we need to do absolutely everything we can to help. When progress doesn't happen immediately, we can turn inward and ask ourselves if we are doing enough or qualified enough to help this person.”

“It's important to remember that in order to feel imposter syndrome, you have to have accomplished something! There is a reason you have gotten to where you are,” he said. “In fact, some degree of imposter syndrome can even be a good sign of humility and self-reflection. I would even be wary of anyone who has never felt imposter syndrome during their career.”

Impact of imposter syndrome on your therapy practice

Imposter syndrome intensifies when therapists go into private practice for themselves.

Feeling like an imposter can undermine your practice, weaken client relationships, and impact overall job satisfaction and career development.

Understanding these impacts can be the first step toward mitigation and, ultimately, overcoming imposter syndrome in your practice.

Confidence in your abilities

Imposter syndrome can erode your confidence in your own abilities as a clinician. “That can prevent a clinician from bringing new skills and experience to the table when working with clients,” Shoen said.

“It can cause them to overthink their approaches or interventions. Moreover, when a clinician is not charging fees that are sustainable, they can experience increased stress in their own life. Research shows us that clients have better outcomes when therapists are emotionally well. When imposter syndrome affects our mental health, our clients can suffer, too,” she added.

Influence on therapist-client relationships

The rapport between you and your clients is foundational to effective therapy. However, when grappling with imposter syndrome, you may doubt your ability to assist clients effectively. This can lead to a lack of confidence that can be palpable in sessions.

"Impostor syndrome erodes our confidence in our abilities. That can prevent a clinician from bringing new skills and experience to the table when working with clients,” Shoen highlighted.

This lack of confidence can inhibit the formation of a strong therapeutic alliance, essential for successful therapy outcomes.

Consequences for personal well-being

The effects of imposter syndrome are not confined to the professional sphere. They can severely impact a therapist's personal well-being.

The cycle of stress and anxiety stemming from feeling like an imposter contributes to burnout, diminishing job satisfaction, and negatively affecting mental health.

"Imposter syndrome can absolutely lead to burnout,” Dr. Vida said. “While it's normal to have some degree of imposter syndrome, when it starts to impact your life in a significant way, there is a larger problem.” 

“Not recognizing this as a normative experience can lead to excessive anxiety, guilt, or shame, which doesn't just stay in your office. It comes home with you,” he added. “If your day is filled with these difficult emotions and then you take these home with you and continue to ruminate or worry, you will quickly become demoralized, lose steam, and burn out.”

Imposter syndrome and boundaries as a clinician

Imposter syndrome can lead to therapists extending their boundaries for their clients at the sake of their own mental health. 

“As an early-career therapist, we’re still learning our limits and boundaries and often these are learned through trial and error,” Dr. Vida explained. “Eventually, you’ll become better at recognizing when you are extending yourself to the detriment of yourself, and then by extension, your clients. A burned out clinician will not be able to serve their clients, which can lead to greater imposter syndrome and a vicious cycle.”

The growth and development of a therapist's career are often intertwined with overcoming the challenges posed by imposter syndrome. To the extent that you work through and overcome imposter syndrome, you’re more likely to achieve higher levels of success.


7 strategies for overcoming imposter syndrome as a therapist

Now let’s get into the practical strategies for overcoming imposter syndrome. Below we’ll take a compassionate and varied approach to imposter syndrome, so you’re sure to find a strategy that helps you.

Remember, you’re not alone in dealing with imposter syndrome as a therapist. Check out these seven effective strategies that you can use today to start finding relief.

Seek supervision

Make the most of your supervision and join a supervision group if possible. “High-quality supervision is not just going over cases and checking off a box,” Brassie said. “Find a supervisor who will help you explore your experience of imposter syndrome, encourage you, provide candid feedback, and support your professional growth.”

“Supervision groups are great because it's an opportunity to receive and provide insights with your peers,” she added.

Find peer support

In addition to clinical supervision, seek support from your peers. “It helps me recognize that I'm not alone, that other therapists experience similar things, and that we all tend to have some imposter syndrome,” Brassie said.

“It's also helpful for me to learn from more seasoned therapists and supervise newer therapists. These relationships help me learn, grow, share what I have learned, and recognize how much I have grown already in the last 10 years,” she added. 

Present, speak, or teach

One way to overcome your imposter syndrome is to present, speak, or teach. “While it can feel intimidating, the process of preparing a presentation has also served to remind me of the knowledge and wisdom that I have gained as a therapist,” Brassie said. 

“It also feels really empowering to give a presentation that is received as helpful and insightful,” she added. 

Adopt a continuous growth mindset

Commit to lifelong learning and embrace the understanding that it's okay not to know everything. "We get into this profession and then quickly realize there is more to know than we can ever learn in our lifetime,” Schoen said. “There is only so much you can learn from trainings and books until you get in front of your first client, your first affair couple, or help a client through suicidal ideation.”

“As we progress in our career, we learn new approaches and techniques, and each one of them comes with a new round of imposter syndrome,” she added. 

Measure your effectiveness

Often, imposter syndrome has little to do with our actual effect on clients. That’s why Bray measures her clients’ outcomes.

“To help with imposter syndrome-based feelings like ‘Am I really helping?’ or ‘Why would someone pay me for this?,’ I have implemented outcome measures and feedback-informed care,” she said.

“Based on the data, I can either remind myself of the effectiveness of the work or rework it. It's also possible for me to refer to someone who has a more effective way of working with this person if things don't improve, that’s why we have specialties and we don’t treat every single diagnosis. So I can use data to assess my effectiveness, rather than how I feel,” she added.

Compile positive feedback

Maintain a "positive feedback" file to consult during moments of self-doubt. This can contain reviews from your Google My Business profile, heartwarming emails you’ve received from clients, written feedback from your supervisor, or anything that helps you feel valuable and appreciated.

“The majority of therapists are now encouraging their clients to abandon the hedonic treadmill of striving for self-esteem through perfectionism, pleasing people, and achieving and focus instead on self-compassion: the idea that no matter what we do or don't do, we all deserve compassion,” Bray said.  

“But in the case of imposter syndrome, having some tangible reminders of our successes and people who approve and respect us can go a long way toward reminding us that we are in the club and have earned our place in the worlds we inhabit,” she added. 

Welcome imposter syndrome with compassion

As suggested previously, it’s possible to reorient your approach to imposter syndrome. “I like to think of my imposter syndrome as an entity I have a relationship with, and I try to approach it with compassion and curiosity,” Siller said. 

Start by thinking of imposter syndrome as a friend who you’re welcoming into your internal life. Realize that any feelings of imposter syndrome that come up may be there to protect you from a threat. This threat may be due to past experiences, so it’s not entirely irrational.

“Sharing about it in supervision and other supportive spaces, learning I am not alone, and building trust in my competency as a therapist all helped me develop a compassionate relationship with my imposter syndrome. Now, because I know it’s here to protect me, I don’t try to fight it or push it away. Instead, I get curious about why it’s in my awareness,” Siller added.

Seeing your imposter syndrome in this way can help you open the door and change the relationship you have with these feelings.

By embracing these strategies, you can effectively reduce the influence of imposter syndrome on your professional life. 

Remember, the journey toward overcoming imposter syndrome involves seeking support, focusing on personal growth, and affirming your value as a therapist.

Embracing the journey beyond imposter syndrome

As these five mental health professionals have made clear, imposter syndrome is a very common occurrence. You’re not alone if you’re a therapist who has moments of intense self-doubt, fears of not meeting expectations, or feels like a fraud waiting to be found out.

The good news is that you now have seven tested strategies for overcoming imposter syndrome in your work as a therapist.

Overcoming imposter syndrome as a therapist is not about proving that we are without doubt or fear but about learning to navigate these feelings with grace, understanding, and a deep-seated knowledge of our value and our impact. 

You, too, can accept the good and bad of imposter syndrome, and use it to become a more attuned therapist.


This post is to be used for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal, business, or tax advice. Each person should consult their own attorney, business advisor, or tax advisor with respect to matters referenced in this post.

Brandon Grill is a mental health copywriter and marketer based in Las Vegas, NV. He loves helping therapy practices attract more perfect-fit clients through SEO. On weekdays, you can find Brandon taking his adorable nephews on a walk around Grandma’s neighborhood.


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Run your therapy practice with confidence

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