My first year practicing as a therapist there was one thing I lacked and thought if I had, everything would fall into place. My nerves and anxiousness would go away. I wouldn’t fear meeting with new clients. I’d walk into the office each morning with a skip in my step and a calm, eager energy for the day.
What’s this one thing?
Every single beginning therapist I’ve heard from struggles with a lack of confidence. And it makes sense, right? When you’re a beginner, you lack experience. You don’t have those felt moments of success to lean back on when you’re doubting yourself.
So, when a new client comes in and you see expectation in their eyes, or even more intimidating, you see hope in their eyes that you can help make everything right, it’s terrifying. It’s like the stage lights flare up, and now it’s time to prove you’re really what you claim to be: a helper.
You’ve heard your whole life that you’re such a good listener and you always know what to say, but for some reason none of that means anything right now. It’s hard to listen with your heart beating out of your chest and you have no idea what to say to the myriad of complex and deeply embedded traumas your client is laying at your feet.
All I wanted was to help people, have a meaningful career, and walk into the office each morning with at least a semblance of ease.
Instead, it felt like every day I was fighting to prove that I deserved to be here, that I really had it in me to do this work. What if I don’t though?
Confidence or self-worth?
To me, this isn’t a question of confidence, but one of self-worth. Do I deserve to be a therapist? Am I worthy of helping my clients?
Put another way: do I feel I need to prove myself?
Confidence is a developed trust in yourself after growth from success and failures. Self-worth is an inner stability, peace, and sense of belonging regardless of your performance, ability to please, affect you have on others etc.
Looking back at that first year practicing I see now how I was trying to accrue “successes” as a therapist to cover the holes in my self-worth. What I really needed was reassurance that despite how good (or bad) a therapist I am, I would be ok: I’ll still be loved, accepted, and belong to those I call loved ones.
In attachment language, my attachment wounds would show up in the therapy room. The fears I had in my family growing up, my friendships later, and my marriage now subtly crept into session with my clients. And the dynamic between my client and I pushed on those insecurities.
What I found most helpful early in my career wasn’t learning theory (although that is important too), rather it was the warm reassurance I received from my loved ones, my spirituality, and myself.
For every fear and doubt I had in myself, an attuned and compassionate word brought much needed soothing. Those holes in my self-worth weren’t being patched up by therapeutic success, but loving assurance that it will all be ok despite the outcomes.
If confidence is the fruit of years of growth, self-worth is the steadying root structure. It’s the security needed to stay humble when things go well and remain open when they do not.
4 years in and I’m still laying roots. But I will say some of the nerves have eased. I don’t walk into the office with a skip in my step. To be honest, that never really seemed like a realistic thing for me.
But I do feel calmer. And slowly I feel an eager energy emerging.