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Impostor phenomenon, Counseling


The Imposter Phenomenon, characterized as a sentiment that one is incompetent despite overwhelming contradictory evidence, is perhaps the most significant challenge that counseling students face as they begin their practicum experiences. Individuals experiencing this phenomenon are unable to internalize evidence of their competence. They believe that their successes can be attributed to luck, and feel that fraudulence is the primary reason for their having progressed to the point of the practicum experience. An inability to see one’s counseling abilities as competent can negatively impact his or her work in multiple ways. Supervisors of these counseling students are in a unique and powerful position to significantly influence the perception of their clinical capabilities. Thus, it is of crucial importance that supervisors have a clear conceptualization of: 1) the nature of the Imposter Phenomenon, 2) the overt and covert ways in which it can affect the work of their supervisees, and 3) interventions that can be utilized to aid their supervisees in overcoming it.

Toward this end, the presenter will articulate a conceptualization of the Imposter Phenomenon from a Narrative Therapy perspective. The focus of Narrative Therapy is on the self-descriptions (i.e. narratives) that individuals create about their lives, and how these narratives are self-sustaining and can influence individuals’ perceptions in powerful ways. Following a description of Narrative theory, the presentation will focus on ways in which societal messages, deficit-based learning models that are prevalent in higher education, and internalized and/or perceived expectations can contribute to the formation of a dominant narrative of ‘Imposter’ for many counseling students. The presenter will draw from case examples to discuss how supervisors can attend to the various ways in which this dominant narrative can present itself in the work of new counselors, and focus on Narrative-derived interventions that supervisors can utilize to help their supervisees overcome the dominance of the ‘Imposter’ narrative.


Presented at the 2012 American Counseling Association Conference and Exposition, San Francisco, CA.

*At the time of the conference Joel Lane was affiliated with Oakland University

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