When ask my community about the biggest challenges for new social workers, two words come up again and again; ‘Imposter Syndrome’.
Google tells me the term Imposter Syndrome was first coined in the late 1970’s (never ashamed to tell you how much I use google search). It was used as way to describe internal feelings of inadequacy and a persistent fear of being exposed as a fraud. I’m not sure that every new social worker who comes to me needing help with imposter syndrome understands the origins of the term.
The word ‘syndrome’ has clinical connotations, but Imposter Syndrome is not a ‘diagnosis’. It is a term intended to give meaning to a set of behaviours or beliefs. For new social workers, I don't think it is enough. There can be a huge relief in giving our experiences a name. I work with new social workers who get to the stage of saying ‘I’ve got imposter syndrome’, and see it as ‘problem solved’.
I’m interested in what comes after this. New social workers need to unpick where the feelings of inadequacy come from. When do these feelings come up? Is there a certain task that triggers them? Is it a certain person or environment? How does this connect to wider systems?
If new social workers aren’t encouraged to take reflection one step further, it will perpetuate the internalised feelings of self doubt. For example, a new social worker struggling with ‘imposter syndrome’ when chairing meetings, may not realise that the multi-agency group are placing too many unrealistic expectations on them.
New social workers may feel further isolated because if we perpetuate the narrative that ‘Imposter syndrome’ is just something new social workers have to go through, we ignore the wider issues impacting practice.
If we don’t take the time to dig into when and why ‘imposter syndrome’ is experienced, it is harder to identify training needs.
When I talk to new social workers about Imposter Syndrome, it usually leads to a conversation about Confidence. The most common areas; communication, managing conflict and dealing with disagreement.
It makes a difference when you go further then just saying 'I've got imposter syndrome'. You need to understand why.
If you are a new social worker reading this, and something is resonating for you, here are some questions for you to reflect on;
When was the last time you felt ‘imposter syndrome’? What was happening? Write down all the details about the event, before and after.
If we removed the phrase ‘Imposter Syndrome’, can you describe the thoughts and feelings that came up for you?
Have you been able to identify any specific triggers for these thoughts and feelings?
Can you connect these triggers with a learning need or with a wider perspective or theory?
New around here?
Here's more about me (Vicki) and Social Work Sorted