Imposter syndrome is described as the internal experience of thinking that one is not as competent as others and that one’s success is due to luck rather than qualifications.
Some of the signs of imposter syndrome include self-doubt, attributing one’s success to external factors, criticizing one’s performance and fear of not living up to expectations.
This psychological phenomenon affects many individuals, including psychology students in college and graduate school. Moreover, imposter syndrome can have adverse effects on mental health, such as feelings of inadequacy, low self-esteem and high levels of stress and anxiety.
For psychology trainees and students, imposter syndrome can become an obstacle for seeking out academic opportunities and leadership roles. For example, oftentimes, students do not believe they are qualified to present research at symposiums and conferences. Psychology students may avoid writing and publishing articles or manuscripts because they assume their work will be dismissed because of their status as students.
Even though these students are receiving formal education and clinical training, they may think they do not yet possess the credentials required for research and publication. Similarly, they may avoid participating in organizations and assuming leadership roles out of fear of rejection or a prevailing belief of inadequacy.
One of the most significant contributors to imposter syndrome is perfectionism. Psychology students may think that there is a perfect way to perform research, write an article and serve in a leadership position. These intrusive feelings and thoughts can prevent students from performing these activities as they strive to meet an impossible ideal and unrealistically high standards.
Ultimately, imposter syndrome can result in students focusing on their weaknesses rather than their strengths, exacerbating feelings of inadequacy that prevent them from pursuing experiences conducive to personal and professional development.
The following are some strategies that can help psychology students move past these feelings and cope with imposter syndrome.
Acknowledge your feelings and recognize your abilities Identify the emotions you are experiencing, but also make sure to note your skills, accomplishments and talents.
Make a realistic assessment of the things you have accomplished while also validating your emotions.
Avoid comparing yourself to others
Remember that there is no “one size fits all” approach to college and graduate school. Everyone has different skills, talents and life circumstances making degree completion trajectories different for each person.
Seek guidance from mentors
Share your feelings and ambitions with a trusted mentor or advisor. The chances are that these individuals also experienced imposter syndrome and may have advice on how they coped with it. Also, sharing your goals with mentors can help you find opportunities related to these plans.
Psychology students need to remember that their status as students is not degrading, nor does it mean they are unworthy of these academic experiences. Everyone is a student at one point in their life; no one is born with knowledge and we are all constantly learning.
Try not to let perfectionism become an obstacle in the pursuit of your goals. Seek out opportunities that are conducive to both personal and professional growth. Do not undermine your potential.
As a student, you have so much to give and accomplish!
Rita M. Rivera, M.S., is pursuing a Psy.D. in clinical psychology at Albizu University in Florida. She is chair of the Florida Psychological Association of Graduate Students, president of the Florida Graduate Coalition for Medical Psychology, student ambassador for APA Division 15 and student representative for APA Division 49. Her interests include exploring the relationship between physiology and mental health. She has worked with Hispanic patients and high-risk populations both in the United States and in her home country, Honduras. Her email is: firstname.lastname@example.org