What is imposter syndrome? Imposter syndrome, in simplest terms, is a feeling of self-doubt. You undermine your own accomplishments and constantly feel as if you don’t belong. Do you often go home after a rough session and think to yourself “what the hell am I doing?” Do you constantly feel as if you could have done better? Do you believe that everyone else knows what they’re doing but you? Well, newsflash, you may be suffering from imposter syndrome and you’re not alone.
I remember when I graduated college with a degree in general psychology, I had no idea what jobs were out there for me. I mean, when you want to pursue psychology, a bachelor’s degree is not enough. However, I stumbled across an ad on Indeed for an undergraduate level behavior therapist. I remember thinking that it was crazy I was qualified for a therapist position with just a bachelor’s degree. However, I didn’t know what a behavior therapist job entailed. Long story short, I got the job! I felt so proud, so excited, so eager to learn more about this field that I had NEVER heard of! Unfortunately, the job was not very reinforcing. I stayed for two years, doing the same routine, bored, tired, and just over it. Ultimately, I felt like I had no voice. So, I left, I gave myself a summer off and started walking dogs as I looked for something that I felt would offer me more, something that would give me a voice.
Fast forward to another Indeed post.
This post advertised for the same position except this time, I have a masters degree. Going into this role for the second time, I was given the opportunity to make treatment plan decisions and I had a voice! Keep in mind I didn’t want to be in this field forever, I wanted to go into research in the field of developmental psychology. However, I fell in love with this position. I fell in love with the fact that I have a say in what works best for my clients, their treatment plan, their schedules, and I discovered I’m really good at this! I work for a small company, 4 therapists, 1 BCBA. Let me tell you, working for a small, private company was the best choice I have ever made. Why? Because you’re valued. Not to say larger companies don’t value you but in a smaller company, you’re not easily replaced. Okay so back to when I said I didn’t want to stay in this field… working for my current BCBA made me fall in love with ABA. I got a taste of what it would feel like to be a BCBA and after a few short months, I started my coursework. Now that I’m working through my program, I have more responsibilities. I have to graph data, conduct FBA’s, write goals for clients I’ve just met, and so much more. Man, learning how to be a behavior analyst is hard, but I was not going to let that stop me. I’m good at this, I can do this. At least that’s what I told myself in the beginning.
Now, anytime I make a decision, I question if it’s the right one. If a client has a tantrum and isn’t using the coping strategies I put in place, I wonder what could I have done better? When I ask my BCBA for advice and she tells me something completely different from what I was thinking, I wonder why I don’t know how to do that by now or why I didn’t think of that. Having responsibilities comes with a lot of self-doubt for many people in the field. I constantly feel as if I’m a fraud. In my free time, I read about ABA, I take copious notes during test preparation, I research my clients’ behaviors, and I don’t stop talking about ABA. It’s safe to say, it’s taken over my life. Yet, I still don’t feel good enough. I’m constantly living in fear of being exposed as a fraud or someone that just isn’t good at her job. How the hell am I supposed to be a BCBA?
Here’s a secret, imposter syndrome isn’t a bad thing. Imposter syndrome means you crave more knowledge. It means you’re humble enough to know you don’t know everything. It means you care. It means your job changes lives and you want to do it well. You can thrive off of your imposter syndrome or you can let it consume you. For me, having imposter syndrome has made me study harder, research more, read, and do everything humanly possible to make sure that when I become a BCBA, I know what the hell I’m talking about. Here are some steps I have found to be helpful when feeling as if you’re not good enough. First, talk to someone, I spoke to a co-worker who is farther along in her coursework and she explained to me that she constantly feels this way and it’s totally normal given that our work is so important. Talk to your BCBA, mine helped me understand that she’s been a BCBA for 10 years and she still continues to learn new things and make mistakes. Second, learn to be okay with making mistakes, especially as a trainee. In order to learn more, you have to take risks and sometimes taking risks means making a mistake. What trainee do you know that hasn’t made a mistake? This is how you learn and how you grow not only in the field but in life. Lastly, give yourself a break when you need it. One thing I have learned about this field is that it is exhausting and having to gain such a large amount of knowledge in a short period of time is not easy. I give myself a few days off every few months just to relax, unwind, spend time with family, maybe even get a massage. Taking care of yourself is the key to overcoming imposter syndrome. Talk about it, take a break when you need it, be brave, and you’ll make it through and find that you are the bad ass that everyone else thinks you are.
About the Author
Siobhan works as an RBT and currently has her masters degree in developmental psychology. She is working towards her masters degree in ABA to become a board certified behavior analyst. She drinks an unhealthy amount of coffee everyday and really loves her dog. To learn a more about the author, follow @siobitxh on Instagram.