By: Danny W. Pettry II, M.Ed., M.S., LPC, NCC, CTRS-BHS
What is Imposter Syndrome?
Imposter syndrome was defined in recent Harvard Business Review (HBR) article as: “doubting your abilities and feeling like a fraud. It disproportionately affects high-achieving people, who find it difficult to accept their accomplishments. Many question whether they’re deserving of accolades.” (Tulshyan & Burey, 2021).
Can Recreation Therapists experience Imposter Syndrome?
Note: There is no implied intent that all recreation therapists suffer from this. Some may feel this way, but definitely not all recreation therapist experience imposter syndrome.
Example of self-defeating attitudes that recreation therapist may have experienced:
“I’m not a real professional”
“We’re just the fun and games people.”
“All I do is take patients to lunch and rec room.”
“Other professionals, like Occupational Therapists, Physical Therapists, Doctors, Nurses, and Lawyers are the ‘real’ professionals.”
We asked the 7K+ members of the Therapeutic Recreation Directory online this question on March 31, 2021:
As a Recreation Therapist or allied professional: have you experienced feeling Imposter syndrome?
N = 96 people participated in poll.
- 11 people reported “sometimes.” 11%
- 82 people reported “yes.” 85% of people
- 3 people reported, “no.” 3% of people
This is appears to be a bell curve.
The majority (85%) of people who participated in poll reported having experienced imposter syndrome.
96% of the people reported “yes” or “sometimes,” having experienced imposter syndrome.
There are the rare top 3% of people who deny having imposter syndrome.
Danny Pettry with Rec Therapy Today will attempt to interview and learn secrets and tips from the top 3% to share with the majority of us through a possible future blog post here are Rec Therapy Today.
Successful people describe experiencing Imposter syndrome:
Here are three examples of successful people who described feeling like an imposter or fraud or fake or not good enough:
- Musician: Thomas Edward Yorke, the lead singer for the band, Radiohead sings a song based on personal experiences called, “Creep.” It’s a song about pursing a woman. Some of the lyrics include: “What the hell am I doing here? I don’t belong here” and “I wish I was special.” He didn’t think he was good enough for this woman. Legend has it that ironically, she showed up and was in the front row for one of their concerts. Rumor has it that Yorke doesn’t perform this song anymore during live concerts because he’s no longer in that mindset.
- Author: Neil Gaiman, author of American Gods described feeling like a fraud when he started writing. Proper citation would be provided here, however, the author of this blog entry, Danny Pettry, can’t recall the source. Gaiman describes feeling worried that one of these days someone (like Fraud Police) would knock on his door and tell him you’re not a real author. Source might be this book: Art Matters: Because Your Imagination Can Change the World.
- Musician: Amanda Palmer is a musician who is well-known for her “statue performing” She provide entrainment to the public by dressing up as a statue and she’d greet people or give a small flower in return for donations. Palmer has described feeling like an imposter in one of her books. Attribution would have been provided her had the author of this blog entry recalled the exact source. Possible source: The Art of Asking: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Let People Help.”
If people like these successful people experience this then it’s possible the rest of us average people to feel this too?
Danny Pettry II (author of this blog post) has experienced feeling like an imposter therapist at times. These thoughts have included: do I really know what I’m doing here? Am I an effective practitioner? Are you clients really achieving outcomes they need? Is t my fault if a client isn’t taking their responsibility for their own recovery and treatment? And isn’t now.
These self-defeated thoughts have occurred more often when attempting to help someone who is not quite ready to make changes.
Pettry has had these thoughts despite this list of accomplishments below.
Note – you can skip this section on accomplishments. It’s only included here to demonstrate that the author has had these thoughts and feelings at times.
- Written about 30 book projects.
- National Certified Counselor (NCC),
- 20 years of experience in the field.
- Created/ presented over 50 webinars.
- Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC)
- Certified Success Principles Trainer. Pettry has
- 20 years of experience working in a Psychiatric setting.
- Clinician of the Year by the West Virginia Child Life Association
- Sent a consistent email newsletter for Rec Therapists since 2004. 20K subscribers.
- Two advanced graduate degrees, in Recreation Therapy and Mental Health Counseling,
- Presented at three ATRA conferences, including: D.C. area mid-year conference, Pittsburgh, and Chicago
- Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist (CTRS) credential with the Behavioral Health Specialization,
- Three (3) American Therapeutic Recreation Association awards, including: Peg Connolly Scholarship 2004, Advocate of the Year 2005, and 2018 Certificate of Recognition.
- Presented at Southeast Recreation Therapy Symposium, Ohio’s TR association conference, Toledo University, Marshall University (Huntington, West Virginia), and West Virginia Therapeutic Recreation Association conferences and workshops for new employees nearly every year since 2003.
This list of accomplishments isn’t to brag. Pettry considers himself humble and at times that he too has felt like an imposter professional, despite having experience and trainings.
What Can Help?
Seven (7) Tips for Rec Therapists
Tip # 1: Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) teaches a connection between thoughts, emotions, and actions. In example, a person could thinks, “I’m not good enough,” would cause a person to feel, “incompetent,” and would lead to acting in self-defeated ways.
Change thinking styles: Challenge Imposter Thoughts
- New thought: I am learning and growing in each and every way in each and every day.
- New Feeling: Proud, successful, better.
- New Actions: Learning, growing, and being better. Acting with confidence.
Tip # 2: Attribution theory can help.
Blame any personal accomplishment due to luck and not based on effort. Example: someone compliments a person on a fine program and they reply, we just got lucky this year.
Blame any failures on personal actions. These attributions make us feel bad. Example: Someone comments your program was a disaster and they reply, “Yeah, I suck at this job.”
if it goes well, blame my personal abilities. Example: someone compliments a person on a fine program and they reply, “Thanks for noticing. I’ve put in hours of practice to make this happen.”
If it goes bad, blame things outside of your control. It was the sun, or weather, or just bad luck. These attributions help us to feel better. Example: Someone comments your program was a disaster and they reply, “yeah, we had some problems with weather, or electricity.
Tip # 3: Poker Chip Theory: a person with a lot of chips is more likely to take higher risks in the game. A person who is down to their last chips won’t risk losing more. They play it safer. How can you apply this? Create a list of 101 personal accomplishments to read when you’re feeling like an imposter (like Pettry’s list above). It can include: I passed first grade. I passed second grade, I learned to walk, I learned to dress myself. Just create 101 and add them.
Tip# 4: Collect thank you letters and emails. Put them in a binder. Read them when you’re feeling down to remind you of all the little victories.
Tip # 5: Feal the Fear and Do It Anyway is a book written by Susan Jeffers. The title is self-explanatory. Feel like you’re not good enough to do the job, but do it anyway.
Example 1: a person who lacks qualifications applies for a big job and they get the job because they took action.
Example 2: a qualified person doesn’t apply for that big promotional job because they don’t think they’d be good enough for it.
As a result, the person who took action, wins the position.
Example # 3: a guy who really isn’t good enough for a great woman asks her out and she says yes.
Example # 4: A lot of great guys think they’d never win her over so they don’t ask her out. And as a result nothing happens.
People start asking… how in the world did that guy end up with such an amazing woman? Now we know.
Naturally, stay within your competencies and scope of practice. Don’t pretend to be a doctor. (laugh aloud). But go in there, do your job despite the fear of not being good enough.
Tip # 6: Self-fulling prophecy will occur.
Author Dorothea Brande, said: “Act as if it were impossible to fail.”
Henry Ford said this: ‘Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t—you‘re right.’
Example # 1: think it will work and it’s more probable. I put in effort and results occur.
Example # 2: Think it won’t work and it probably won’t. Why try? It won’t work and no results take place.
My Fair Lady is a fictional story where some guys take a working class girl and provide her with speech training to overcome her slang, provide her with manners training of that of an elegant. They treat her as if she’s a person from high class and as a result the prophecy occurred.
Catch me if you can, is based on a true story of a guy who was a real imposter. He faked being a pilot, lower, and a doctor. He acted with so much confidence as an imposter that people believed him. Disclaimer: There is zero implied intent to act outside of your scope of practice, skills, abilities, and trainings to fool people.
The point is: If a real imposter can do the job with confidence, couldn’t a qualified person do the job with confidence too without feeling like an imposter?
The placebo effect can help. Research has randomized participants. One group receives the real treatment and the other group placebo (fake) to test. It’s an evidenced based outcome intervention if research indicates that the treatment group work. (Disclaimer: Never conduct research on any patients without confirmed consent).The patient/ client is there to receive treatment and not be a research study. Only provide those interventions that have been tested to be effective. The placebo effect is a phenomenon when a person claims to have received the benefits from a fake/ placebo because they really believed it worked.
Show up. Do your best. Be fully mindful and present in your work as a practitioner.
Be So Good They Can’t Ignore You is a book by Cal Newport that has self-explanatory title.
Tip # 7: Take self-improvement seriously.
Develop both personally as well as professionally.
Continue your education and learning. Read a book
Work on maintaining and promote your overall physical health and welness.
Attend a seminar
Earn a master’s degree (even in another field) to gain more perspectives.
Obtain specialty experiences.
Take a self-study CEU course.
Tulshyan, R., & Burey, J. (2021, February 11). Stop Telling Women They Have Imposter Syndrome. Retrieved March 31, 2021, from https://hbr.org/2021/02/stop-telling-women-they-have-imposter-syndrome#:~:text=Imposter%20syndrome%20is%20loosely%20defined,they’re%20deserving%20of%20accolades.
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