Shhh ... don't tell anybody!
Hmm, I haven’t told many people this. Somehow though, it’s time to put it in a blog.
So here goes.
Throughout my decades as a psychologist I had a nagging doubt about what I was doing, how I was doing it, whether or not I even should be allowed.
You see, I had no formal clinical education—the kind that teaches diagnosis and how to do treatment. I got my graduate degree in research psychology, not clinical. True enough, both my undergraduate and graduate degrees were from a well-recognized Canadian university. I had a great grounding in what the science of psychology had discovered. And, I did meet the requirements of registration as a psychologist in the Canadian province of Alberta. But all of that applied stuff, what gets taught in graduate programmes on how to be a clinical psychologist … well, I basically picked that up as I went along. Sure, I did some trainings to get certifications and had some supervision. But colleagues would come along who had taken those essential graduate school courses in applied clinical psychology that I never had—I would see them and realize that I never had that same formal foundation in the profession.
To be frank, the doubt that plagued me was whether or not I was a fraud, that people would find out, think that I was an imposter. Eventually, I learned that this had a name: it was called, simply enough, imposter’s syndrome. I also learned that it could be a good thing.
Apparently, a study some decades ago found that professors who suffered from imposter’s syndrome were actually rated better on objective criteria of their profession than those who did not. It turns out that those who doubt themselves, despite being well-educated and trained, don’t take doing good work for granted. Perhaps if they were like me, they self-reflected and self-corrected to do better.
By the end of my career I had lots of feedback from clients that what I did was helpful, for some even lifesaving. I had feedback from colleagues that my passion for doing good work as a psychotherapist was inspiring to them. I was instrumental in setting up a competence cooperative where like-minded psychologists could receive support and enhance practice capabilities. For twenty-five years, I wrote a column for other psychologists that focused on the humanistic foundation for our work. Funny thing that—I trained in science but ended up being a humanist! Anyway, in response to that column, other psychologists told me that they always read it first when the publication came out.
But still the doubt plagued me. I would confess it to colleagues, good colleagues who I respected as doing great work. And they would confess they had those same doubts too—not about me but about themselves.
Now in the field mental health field, there are also other psychologists full of confidence. They show no doubt that they are doing it right. They can even attract a following, rise within the hierarchies, seek attention for themselves as experts. They expect trainees and colleagues not to stray from their protocol despite what the client might say. In the therapy room they are always smarter than their clients, or at least think that they are. The therapy relationship becomes about what they do for the client. In the guise of helping the client, therapy comes to be all about the effectiveness of the treatment they provide. Therapy is not about emotional engagement with the suffering of the client, it is about symptom control and goal accomplishment. To get the end they seek, such professionals diligently push what they are doing because they believe what they are doing is the right thing to do—undoubtedly for them, the only right thing to do. If clients don’t get better, well, that’s about something wrong with the client because there’s nothing wrong with them as the professional service provider.
Professionals like that can hold others in their thrall—that web of loyalty and interpersonal control. They are much the opposite of those suffering from imposter’s syndrome.
Dare I say it? Even in the mental health profession there are narcissists.
You might recognize one such mental health professional and the theme of narcissism in An Incoming Tide. Narcissists never admit to doubting themselves, in psychology terms, they are far too well-defended against that.
My greatest fear, greater even than being found out as a fraud, was that I would become narcissistic. So there I was, caught between two fears—of being under qualified at one extreme, an arrogant egoist at the other.
And so now I come to writing. The last course I took in English was, let’s see, more than 50 years ago. Aside from a weekend workshop on editing one’s own work I’ve taken no formal training to be a writer. My university studies focused on the sciences rather than the humanities or the arts.
Gosh, didn’t I learn my lesson the first time around?
But I have two novels out there. A third is on its way. And I’ve learned that I don’t follow the rules of genre very well. Alas. I didn’t follow the protocols of psychotherapy that well either. I think I was more human, more creative, more sensitive to my clients because I didn't. I can only hope that is the same for writing now, too.
I remain aware that there are aspects of my craft as a writer that are lacking. And so I work on it, afraid that others will find out that I have no degrees in English Literature, no workshops or university courses behind me in creative writing, no accepted credentials that give me the right to do this.
I hope you have read the parable “Creation with a Little Help” posted in the March 2022 Fourth Comings. It’s about this, about the need to embrace one’s own doubt and then push the creative process forward with courage. A courageous little piece that is. Rather creative, I think. And I hope, fully human too.