What Types of Therapists Struggle with Clinical Confidence?
By Shannon Heers
Having confidence in your clinical skills as a therapist can be both a challenge and a life-long journey. Regardless of your specialty area and stage of your career, any therapist can be impacted by clinical confidence concerns. In general, confidence does tend to increase with the more experience that a clinician gets, but there are always individual variables that can affect our belief in our clinical work.
Here are a few different types of therapists who might commonly struggle with clinical confidence:
Early Career Therapists:
New therapists, counselors or social workers who are just starting their careers might struggle more often with clinical confidence. In this stage of your career, you are starting to navigate the complexities of real-world client interactions while applying your theoretical knowledge to practical client situations.
Sometimes, the transition from your graduate school setting to real-world practice can be daunting! You may start to doubt your abilities and question whether you can learn what you need to know in your work.
Therapists in New Specialties:
Therapists who transition to a new specialty area, client population, or therapeutic approach might experience a dip in confidence. This makes sense, because you are adapting to unfamiliar techniques, frameworks, and even clientele. Even a seasoned practitioner may question themselves upon being put into a new situation.
Learning and mastering new methods can take time and patience. Even the time it takes to become proficient in your new specialty area may lead to temporary feelings of uncertainty. I remember various times in my career where I was faced with what seemed like an uphill battle of learning new specialty areas, and how my clinical confidence was impacted.
Experienced Therapists Facing Change:
Clinical confidence concerns do not impact only new therapists. Even experienced therapists can face challenges in this area when you encounter significant changes in your practice. Changes such as adjusting to the insurance world as a private practice therapist, new laws regarding healthcare, and even personal changes in your life can impact your clinical practice.
As a clinical supervisor, I’ve worked with several licensed therapists who have taken a break from their careers and are now returning back to counseling. These types of clinicians tend to doubt their clinical judgment because they have been out of practice for a time, even if they have a lot of experience prior to taking a break.
Therapists Dealing with Complex Cases:
At different times in your career, you likely have faced working with more challenging and complex cases. Therapists who work with clients facing particularly complex issues such as severe trauma, personality disorders, eating disorders, or chronic health conditions might find their confidence shaken on a regular basis.
With more complex cases, you often have to consider additional factors that offer various intricacies and challenges. There is so much more to discover, patterns to be recognized, and other professionals to be consulted with. All of these extra tasks and effort can wear on a therapist’s confidence level.
Therapists Practicing After Negative Outcomes:
Therapists who have experienced clinical setbacks or negative outcomes with your clients might struggle with your clinical confidence. While I hope that all therapists have success with their clients 100% of the time, in reality most if not all of us experience some negative therapeutic or clinical outcomes.
The compounding effect of the negative clinical outcomes or setbacks is that they can trigger self-doubt and a fear of making further mistakes. This in turn can impact your overall confidence in your therapeutic skills. When you’re worried about your interactions and interventions with clients, you may not be fully mindful and in the moment, and may appear distracted in your sessions and even miss crucial information.
Cultural and Diversity Challenges:
Therapists who work with culturally diverse clients or clients with backgrounds different from their own might have difficulty in understanding and connecting with your clients. If you aren’t connecting in a way that is impactful to you and your clients, this may lead to potential confidence issues.
The challenge is not in learning everything about every culture and different types of client populations, but rather in accepting what you can learn and what you may never know. Rather than pretending that you understand a client’s background or point of view, acknowledge your shortcomings and return the conversation back to the client. Being honest with yourself and your clients can impact your clinical confidence in a positive way!
Burnout and Compassion Fatigue:
Therapists dealing with burnout or compassion fatigue might find it difficult to maintain their clinical confidence. Burnout affects more than just you as a therapist. It impacts your clinical work and ultimately your clients.
Emotional exhaustion and feeling drained can prevent you from being fully present with your clients. It can also affect your therapeutic interventions and when and how you use them. Not trusting yourself in the therapy room is not a fun experience. Moral of the story? Prevent your burnout before it happens, if you can.
I know a lot of therapists who have perfectionistic tendencies. In fact, I am one myself. We are so hard on ourselves. We often set unrealistically high standards for ourselves, and then fail to meet those standards, because who can? Then our clinical confidence takes a hit, and we question ourselves and our chosen careers.
Perfectionists tend to constantly question their work performance and be overly critical of themselves. In order to have consistent confidence in your clinical work, you’ll need to work through some of your perfectionistic traits, because otherwise you may constantly think of yourself as a failure.
One thing to remember is that clinical confidence is not a fixed state. Your confidence in your work can fluctuate, based on your personal and professional circumstances. Therapists just like you can address these challenges through ongoing clinical supervision or clinical consultation, professional development, self-care practices, and a commitment to continuous learning.
If any of these types of therapists resonate with where you are in your career, it’s time to take action. Join Firelight Supervision for Clinical Confidence week, where you can register for various FREE, live events all related to boosting your clinical confidence. Now is the time to invest in yourself and feel good about the important work that you are doing!
How we can help
If you are seeking clinical consultation for the tough work that you do everyday as a therapist or counselor, check us out at Firelight Supervision – we’d love to connect and see how we can work together to support you in your work!
We have FREE upcoming webinars! Check them out here!
Shannon Heers is a psychotherapist, approved clinical supervisor, guest blogger, and the owner of a group psychotherapy practice in the Denver area. Shannon helps adults in professional careers manage anxiety, depression, work-life balance, and grief and loss. Follow Firelight Supervision on Instagram.