How to Build Confidence as a New Therapist

Therapist Build Confidence

As I approached the end of my Master’s program in Mental Health Counseling, I began experiencing anxiety about telling my internship clients that I would be graduating and unable to work with them for a few weeks while I waited for New York state, where I work at a private practice, to issue my limited permit.

No Longer a Student, Still Not Fully Licensed

“I feel sick over reminding them that I am a student and not a ‘real’ therapist,” I remember telling my supervisor during this time. Many of my classmates were terminating internship site clients and moving on to jobs at other clinics or starting their own practices in states that allow it.

In many states, you can open your own practice as long as you have supervision. One way Motivo can make starting your own practice a reality is by easily and affordably connecting you to a supervisor in your state, removing one stressful checklist item off the list.

I, however, was staying on at my internship site and transitioning to a fee-for-service role. I felt lucky in many ways: I love the work I do and I was already halfway to building my caseload. But it also meant my clients knew more about where I was in my career than I sometimes wished and, ultimately, I felt like an imposter. I worried that maybe my clients had somehow forgotten I was an intern and now that I was reminding them, they would all leave or reevaluate and discount our work together.

This feeling or thought process isn’t unique, as fellow “Motivator” Katie illustrated in Imposter Syndrome: The Struggle is Real, but still, I expected to feel more confident now that I was graduating, and instead I was second-guessing everything. 

How a Good Supervisor Can Help 

One of the ways I worked through this (and still work through it), is by being honest about these feelings with my supervisor. When you really want to prove yourself, it can feel counterintuitive to admit you feel like a fraud. By bringing these feelings up to someone who had been there before, though, I felt less alone.

He also did two other specific things that I found invaluable. First, he separated fact from fiction. He didn’t buy into the belief I held that my clients cared, especially since I couldn’t provide any evidence to show otherwise. What really happened when I told them I would be unavailable because I was graduating? They congratulated me! And then asked when they could be back in session. 

Second, he empathized and treated me with unconditional positive regard. He made it safe for me to voice my fears. When looking for a supervisor, it’s so important to find someone who gives you space to be vulnerable. 

For more great supervisors’ advice, check out “Motivo Supervisors Share How to Overcome Imposter Syndrome.”

My supervisor encourages authenticity. I’m regularly reminded that the truth almost always resonates the most with people. As therapists, we have to be judicious and deliberate with our self-disclosure, but there may be times when we have to share. In that moment we have a choice: we can assume the worst and feel like frauds, or we can own the truth and stay curious about what this means in the room.

A reaction I never expected to hear was when a client told me he now trusted me more knowing that I had gone back to school for this career. He viewed it as a sign of my passion and drive for helping others – and he’s right, it’s the truth.

Emily Donahue

Emily Donahue

Emily Donahue holds a Master's in Mental Health Counseling from Northwestern University. She works as a limited permit therapist at a private practice in Brooklyn, earning her clinical and supervision hours for full licensure. She has a special interest in women and alcohol use and her dream is to meet Irving Yalom one day.

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