How to Deal With Self-Doubt as a Therapist

For many therapists, there is often a concern that one’s own misgivings and feelings of doubt will affect their ability to provide adequate therapy to their patients. One study even attempted to look at the rate at which professional confidence, self-doubt, and coping strategies affected therapeutic outcomes. 

The reality of the situation is that self-doubt isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Another recent study even found that psychotherapists who professed to having higher levels of self-doubt generally had clients who were happier with the therapist-client relationship. Additionally, those patients also reported more clinically significant progress during therapy. There are a couple of theories as to why this is the case, but it really just boils down to being open to introspection and humility. Therapists who express self-doubt have a higher sense of humility and the willingness to listen to their clients with less judgment. A therapist who doesn’t automatically assume their thinking is correct, or that has all the answers––but rather is attuned to the nuance of each particular patient is likely going to have significantly more positive outcomes. 

The challenge is to find the right balance. When does self-doubt stop becoming something that pushes you to be a better therapist, and when does the feeling of insecurity start getting in the way? 

How does self-doubt appear?

Everyone experiences self-doubt at various times throughout their life and career. Whether it’s nerves before a first date, anxiety before a presentation, or requiring validation from a patient that we’re helping them, self-doubt rears its head in so many places. 

As we mentioned, sometimes a little feeling of self-doubt is not a bad thing. If giving a presentation to colleagues is causing anxiety, that anxiety may push you to do better work, double-check facts, and practice your presentation. In the end, the anxiety prompted greater success. When self-doubt becomes a problem is when you stop being able to perform in the present moment. Decisions become too difficult to make without someone else’s opinion. The anxiety becomes so bad that you skip out on the presentation completely. For therapists, self-doubt often looks like the need for constant reassurance and validation from clients that you are doing a good job - that your advice is good and that they’re better off after receiving your care. 

This need for validation and reassurance can cause a therapist to lose their authentic perspective, and compromise the advice they would normally give. It becomes significantly easier to tell a client what they want to hear, rather than forcing them to push their own boundaries. If you begin to second guess yourself and your skills as a therapist, this can have a negative effect on the therapeutic journey of your client; advice is not consistent across sessions, or you may seem unsure of yourself, which won’t be helpful for a person dealing with their own struggles. If the therapist doesn’t seem to know what to do, how can the client? 

How do you overcome self-doubt?

There are five ways that anyone, therapists included, can employ to overcome self-doubt. Accepting self-doubt as part of your thinking process, clarifying what actually matters, having some compassion for yourself, taking small steps to improve, and distinguishing between reasonable and unreasonable self-doubt. 

It can be helpful to rethink or reframe self-doubt as something that is simply part of your process. Having misgivings about a decision to be made or questioning the best course of action can spur you on to think about alternative perspectives. Sometimes simply accepting doubt as part of the decision-making process, and recognizing it as such, can be helpful in keeping it from being all-consuming. 

While thinking about all those different perspectives and reframing your thought process, sometimes it’s a good idea to step back and try and focus on the most important aspect of what the question really is. Self-doubt can cause focus to drift to inconsequential matters; it’s important to bring value and clarity back into focus. Ask yourself, “what’s the most important outcome? What really matters here?” These two simple questions can help manage a lot of self-doubt by getting rid of extraneous details and worries. 

Trust yourself. This is, of course, easier said than done. But as an educated, skilled therapist, you have the knowledge and ability to help your clients. Sometimes dealing with self-doubt is as simple as giving yourself a little compassionate care. Recognize the doubt for what it is, acknowledge it. But then give yourself credit. Think about clients you’ve helped, big decisions you’ve made, impacts you’ve had on people. Self-doubt need not be all-consuming, and it certainly doesn’t need to get in the way of your relationship with clients. This is where it can be helpful to begin taking small steps that will help you in addressing doubt, especially when it comes to the way you interact with clients. Since self-doubt in therapists often appears as a need to be reassured by clients, maybe choose one client a week where you don’t feel the need to check-in. Or, if during a session, rather than get frustrated with a client who refuses to listen to advice, don’t second guess yourself. Trust in your skillset and your ability to make good therapeutic decisions for your clients. Small steps over time can lead to big changes in thought patterns. 

Is your self-doubt reasonable? Really stop to think. Realistic, reasonable doubt looks similar to when you’ve taken on too much, booked too many clients in a day, or said yes to one too many speaking engagements than you really have the time and ability to complete. Then doubting yourself makes sense. You may not be able to accomplish what you set out to with the time and skills that you have. But unreasonable, unrealistic self-doubt is different. When you have the skills, the education, the time, and the resources to see something through, but self-doubt still permeates the process, then it’s unrealistic. Think back to times you’ve completed a similar task, like helping a client through a crisis or managing a big project. Were you successful? What things do you do right? If you have the skills and the resources, more than likely, you are also capable. It becomes an issue of self-trust, rather than self-doubt.  

Is self-doubt a mental illness?

Self-doubt isn’t a mental illness, but it is important to decide if maybe there is something more at play. Perhaps what feels like self-doubt is actually an anxiety disorder or depression. It can be difficult to identify because there are some overlapping symptoms. For example, self-doubt and anxiety can be signs of depression, but they can also happen on their own. When a question arises about whether self-doubt is part of something larger, journaling is often a helpful tool. Jot down when you experience symptoms. What is going on when you doubt yourself or require reassurance or validation? Are there other emotions at play? Is the doubt reasonable? Being introspective and watching for patterns can help identify if self-doubt is simply a part of your thought process, or if there’s a more complex disorder. 

Therapy for self-doubt

If self-doubt begins to impact your personal and professional life, and there doesn’t seem to be any positive outcomes from self-initiated steps to address it, it may be time to seek professional help. Some therapists dislike having to reach out for help for themselves, but personal mental health is incredibly important for those in the mental health field. It’s so critical that psychotherapy services are even tax deductible for private practice therapists. The most common treatment for self-doubt is CBT, or cognitive behavioral therapy. CBT can train our brains to challenge problematic thinking, and create new ways of reframing negative thoughts. This can have a significant impact on self-esteem, mood, and emotional stability, all of which will be beneficial in practice with patients. 

Self-doubt is incredibly common. It impacts people in every age group, all genders, and every profession. While a small amount of self-doubt can actually be a good thing, it can grow quickly and cause excessively negative or destructive emotions and behaviors, including the inability to make decisions, lack of motivation, and, specifically with therapists, the constant need for validation and reassurance from clients. While we recognize that all therapists deal with self-doubt, there are some steps that can be taken to address the imbalance when it occurs. Sometimes professional therapy is required. Sometimes it's as simple as journaling and manifesting compassion for oneself. Be honest with yourself, and willing to examine the reasons for your doubt. Discover whether or not they're realistic, and if they are serving you. If not, the time to address those doubts is now. 

When it comes to finding the appropriate resources to assist the operation of your therapy practice, look no further than Advekit. We are here to help with a wide variety of topics and issues, such as how to effectively run an online therapy practice, finding available tax deductions for therapists, what a certified financial therapist is and how to become one, the many advantages of electronic scheduling, and much more.