How Peer Support Training Is Reducing My Imposter Syndrome

Education is helping my mental health and confidence.

Posted Nov 12, 2020

I’m in a four-month peer support worker training. 

Dara Shevtsova/Pexels
Source: Dara Shevtsova/Pexels

It's led by the always encouraging Debbie Sesula, an experienced peer support trainer herself. Though I’ve been offering mental health coaching for some time, I wanted advanced education and skills to help support those who seek out my assistance. It’s an intense course with two three-hour classes each week, reading material, assignments and presentations. My fellow students are amazing. We’re eager to learn; we ask incisive questions; we role-play in virtual breakout rooms (ugh at first, but now we’re all pretty comfortable with it). Despite some of the heavy topics — substance use, grief and loss — there’s still an optimism we all bring to each session.

The course is also bringing me some welcomed validation.

I’ve been a mental health speaker since what seems like the dawn of disclosure. Okay, it’s only been since 2000, but that seems like eons for me. But my confidence around what I offer as an educator, coach and keynoter at times is uncomfortably, embarrassingly wobbly. But apparently that makes me human.

I didn’t, until recently, know that what I (and millions of others) experience is a psychologically official "thing." I bet you know what I’m talking about already. Yup – the "imposter syndrome." It dekes in and around me, just out of my line of vision, particularly when I’m preparing to speak to a new kind of audience (like lawyers) or offering a workshop to seasoned health professionals. It’s a creepy feeling that I usually can’t put my finger on.

I thought the imposter syndrome was a hokey self-improvement concept without any basis.

But I discovered that's wrong. Researchers coined the term in 1978 and created a measurement tool in 1985. Dr. Pauline R. Clance and Dr. Suzanne A. Imes nail it pretty darn well: It's a self-perceived or “internal experience of intellectual phoniness.”1

"Phoniness," that I can relate to. It’s a gummy fear that slithers around my internal landscape whispering, “You really don’t belong here. They’re going to find out, you know. Don't you know that what you offer is totally lame.”

My training is helping me feel like I know what I'm doing.

What I guess I’m trying to say is that the training I’m taking with my fellow classmates is helping me feel like I know what I’m doing. It’s validating the tools I offer my coaching clients are actually based in good science, not just good instinct. Motivational interviewing, process of change, conflict resolution, self-determination are just some of the topics we have covered and it’s made me hungry for more.

The skills I'm learning will help me be not only a better coach but also a better friend and wife.

I’m grateful to Debbie, my instructor, the willingness of the other students and to our health authority for making the program available for no cost! I’ve benefited personally from the tools we’re learning. They are life skills that not just people with mental health conditions can use, but anyone wanting to suffer less and live more. I already had many of the skills I’m being taught, but having them named and validated, having a chance to practice them and discuss them in a safe group is invaluable. I know it will not only make me a better coach and cheerleader for those who seek out my support but a better friend and wife.

Have you ever felt like a fraud or imposter? Comment below and tell me about it – that way we can tell each other what our heads are telling us isn’t the truth.

© Victoria Maxwell

References

1. Matthews, G., & Clance, P. (1985). Treatment of the impostor phenomenon in psychotherapy clients. Psychotherapy in Private practice, 3(1), 71-81.