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Confronting Self-Doubt as a Therapist

by Josh Ramirez, LPC

“I don’t know how I’m going to get through this!”

“What was I thinking?”

“I’m just not good enough…”

Sound familiar? These sentiments might hit close to home for many of the conversations we’ve had with clients in the past. Immediately, from there, our minds might automatically venture to the challenging, reframing, and reaffirming that we are so apt to do when faced with self-degradation from the individuals with whom we work. But… consider this: what do we do when faced with our own self-doubt, self-criticism, or self-degrading?

As therapists, we often teach and reinforce the power of mindfulness, acceptance, and positive affirmation. But, truthfully, our personal lived experience sometimes falls more in the realm of “learning as we teach” than “practicing what we preach”. Instead, often we spend the day encouraging and reinforcing the power of reevaluating and challenging the perceptions our clients cast upon themselves, only to leave work falling prey to the same unfair expectations and judgments we have for ourselves. In other words, we call out what we fail to see in the mirror, and we deny what is self-evident. So, where does it stop?

The truth lies in accepting a certain, uncomfortable truth. You can build others while you’re still a work in progress. This means accepting that you might not always feel self-actualized while you’re helping someone discover self-actualization. You might encourage building positive body image while still feeling discomfort at your own reflection in the mirror. You might reinforce a client for finally “figuring it out”, when you very much don’t have “it” all figured out yet. These are all okay!

When you became a helper, you accepted a lot of responsibilities. You accepted putting others’ well-being under your watch, faithfully executing your professional duties with fidelity, upholding the rights of your clients to the best of your ability, and implementing evidenced-based practices to facilitate their growth. But, you know what you did not accept? Giving up your humanity and personhood, nor your vulnerability. And let me emphasize that vulnerability is not weakness, it’s the anchor that tethers you to empathically respond to others.

So, how do we juggle our own discomfort and self-doubt with the magnitude of responsibility thrust upon us? Firstly, DO NOT allow your self-talk to be self-contained. Express your thoughts with someone you care for and trust. This can be your friends, family, coworkers, or supervisors. Allowing thoughts to be expressed also allows for them to be confronted.

Secondly, ground yourself through your initial motivation. Meaning, remind yourself why you chose to help others in the first place. Consider the things that inspired you and have brought you joy and satisfaction through your role and contributions. In the darkest of situations, the igniting sparks can be quite illuminating.

Lastly, remind yourself to utilize the skills you’re building in clients. Buy what you’re selling. For instance, if you are aware and communicate that research supports CBT for challenging anxious thoughts, try to implement some of the skills you know to your own daily experience. Don’t be ashamed or afraid to tap into the resources you have or utilize the resources available to you, such as your own outpatient therapy.

Growth and change inevitably require discomfort and adjustment. That’s true for our clients, and it’s true for us. This is because we are more than just therapists, we are teachers, caregivers, advocates, consultants, mentors, facilitators, mediators, cheerleaders, and compassion-providers. That’s a lot, and being a lot requires a lot. So, don’t be ashamed to celebrate your success, and to acknowledge your areas of growth. Don’t be afraid to feel worried or anxious in some situations, and confidently prepared in others. And, don’t be discouraged when there are days you feel defeated, as encouragement and victory are likely on the way sooner than you think.

It’s a tough job, but you got this!