Updated: Sep 27
While you are training to help others navigate their mental health struggles, how do you manage your own anxiety as a budding therapist? Being a provisional or early-career psychologist automatically puts you at a higher risk for burnout. Throw in the mix all the internship requirements, studying for the National Psychology Exam, and learning how to hold the space for other people's emotions. Naturally, it can send someone's nervous system into overdrive!
Psychologists are not immune to experiencing anxiety and negative self-talk, particularly concerning feelings of incompetence in their practice. As a provisional psychologist, it is normal to have performance anxiety. After all, you are new to this and are still building your skills and competencies to practice! It's pretty common to ask yourself questions like:
"Am I doing it right?"
"Am I doing it well?"
"Am I doing enough?"
Some anxiety can be helpful and functional. Anxiety alerts us to threats or problems in our environment and can aid us in moving towards a particular goal. However, when it is excessive and or chronic, it can be debilitating and stop us from being able to do our job effectively. In this blog post, we will explore strategies psychologists can use to manage their anxiety and negative self-talk, particularly about being incompetent to practice.
Evaluate negative thoughts: One of the most effective ways to manage negative self-talk is to identify the distressing thought, evaluate it and then modify it to something more balanced. Sound familiar? When you find yourself having unhelpful thoughts, ask yourself how valid they are. Are they based on evidence, or are they just assumptions? Can you reframe them into something more realistic? Quite often, early-career psychologists put an undue amount of pressure on themselves. It can be helpful to assess whether your expectations of yourself and what you can achieve are realistic given your experience, competency, the presenting issue, the length of time you have been seeing this client, etc. Make sure you set realistic expectations of yourself, and remember that progress in therapy takes time.
Problem solve: Is there something actionable I can do with this anxiety? Take a moment to reflect on your professional goals and what areas of competency you are working towards. I always tell my supervisees to focus on building their skills in one therapy modality while they are provisional psychologists. You do not need to be good at every therapy and with every presentation right now. You hopefully have a long and wonderful career ahead of you and many years to learn other interventions and develop niches. Some of your performance anxiety will reduce as you build your skills and competency as a therapist, so establish a learning plan and invest in some high-quality training. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is a great place to start to build your competency to practice. It is the first-line treatment for most presentations and offers the structure most early-career psychologists need when starting out. If you are interested in training in CBT, all my upcoming workshops are sold out, but I have recordings of these workshops available for purchase here.
Practice self-compassion: Self-compassion is the ability to be kind and understanding towards yourself. When you are struggling with feelings of incompetence, remind yourself that we learn through doing and sometimes by making mistakes. We all have to start somewhere. How can you show up for yourself more compassionately while you are learning the ropes?
Reflect on your successes: Reflect on past achievements and accomplishments in your practice. Remembering times when you helped a client or received positive feedback can help boost your confidence and counteract negative self-talk. As psychologists, we don't receive the instant gratification or rewards other professions may benefit from that reinforces to us that we are doing well. Therapy is a process that takes time; it can be months before we see progress with our clients. Therefore, it becomes essential to look for these reinforcements ourselves. What are some things you are doing particularly well right now? What are some of the 'small wins' you've had this week?
Seek support: Reach out to colleagues and supervisors for support and guidance. This can help you gain perspective and can also help you determine whether there is something actionable you can do with your anxiety (such as training to increase your competency) or whether you need to build your skills in self-management techniques.
Seek professional help: If your anxiety or negative self-talk becomes overwhelming, consider reaching out to a therapist. A therapist can work with you to develop coping strategies and address underlying issues that may be contributing to your feelings of incompetence. Getting therapy as a therapist is humbling and insightful and can also give us some insight into how our clients feel by 'sitting in the other chair'. I highly recommend it!
Remember, it is important to be kind and understanding towards yourself and to seek support when needed. With the right tools and mindset, you can continue to provide valuable support to your clients while also taking care of your own mental health. You cannot pour from an empty cup! Amanda