Managing Fear On Your Private Practice Journey

Fear = Growth

There are going to be several times throughout your private practice journey where you want to give up. I can immediately think of 5 of those instances for me!

  • before my first day of grad school
  • before my first (and second) residency
  • before my internship
  • before starting my first job as a therapist
  • before opening my private practice

What is the common factor of all these fears? They all occurred right before something amazing happened, or right before a period of epic growth.

Feeling like you are not prepared and fear of the unknown can freeze you in your tracks. And if you’re like me, I tend to prepare, research, plan, and prepare some more – and never take action.

Then the desire of following my dreams is greater than my fear, and I end up taking the leap before I feel like I’m ready – when in reality I could have made the leap months or years earlier.

 

You’re Right Where You Need To Be

Remind yourself that you are right where you need to be. When you’re an intern, remember that you have the training and education to be at an intern level.

I remember a story that my professor told me during my first residency. She gave names to each one of our fingers. The pinky finger was a grad student, the ring finger was an intern, and we worked our way up from there. She told us that we were only expected to be a pinky finger there at the residency.

Something about that story stuck with me – probably because of the relief that it gave me at the time. You see, the thing with perfectionists is that we have a hard time staying in our lane. We have a cognitive distortion (for lack of a better word) that we should be levels ahead of where we actually are. And this can cause significant anxiety.

Don’t compare yourself to the 10-, 15-, and 20-year veterans in the field like I did. You will come up short every time. If you’re an intern, recognize and accept that you are qualified to be at that level. If you are in your first year of private practice, let yourself be at that level.

 

Are You Sure It’s Really Fear? Maybe It’s Excitement

Reframe that fear into excitement. And garner that excitement to keep on going.

“But shouldn’t we try to manage our anxiety and calm down?” you may ask. Not really.

Recent studies are showing that reframing your anxiety into excitement is more effective than trying to calm yourself down. I mean, since when has being told to “calm down” really been effective when you were anxious?

Going from a state of fear and anxiety to calm and serene is a huge leap.

What about going from anxiety to excitement? You body feels very similar in these states, so it’s not a huge stretch.

In a study by the American Psychological Association, this notion was supported: “People believe that trying to calm down is the best way to contend with pre-performance anxiety. However, across several experimental studies, I found that reappraising anxiety as excitement is more effective than trying to calm down.”

 

Reframing Anxiety In Action

I have a personal story that I think applies here. I was really nervous before my first grad school residency. Like so anxious that I didn’t even want to go.

My marriage and family therapy program required us to attend two residencies as a requirement for graduation. So, if I wanted to become a therapist, I had to go.

The residencies were 7 days long and the faculty assessed our readiness and proficiency related to our counseling skills during our stay. And there was a possibility of not “passing” the residency if your professor determined that you were “not ready” – which I completely understand because there is a standard related to gatekeeping in the counseling field.

Anyway, I had severe imposter syndrome and felt like I didn’t know anything. If any of you struggle with imposter syndrome, it is real and vicious! There’s no reasoning with it. Even with a 4.0 GPA, I still could not convince myself that I was “good enough” to get through the residency.

My anxiety was getting the best of me, so I intuitively tried something different. I convinced myself that I was excited about going to the residency. When my classmates asked me if I was nervous about it, I replied with “No, not really. I’m looking forward to it”, “Maybe a little, but I think it will be a great growth/learning opportunity”, and “I’m more excited than nervous.”

An amazing thing happened. The more I actually said that I was excited, not nervous, and was looking forward to the residency, the more it became a reality.

Give it a try and see if this strategy works for you.

 

Suggestions For Keeping Fear At Bay

  • Surround yourself with friends and colleagues who understand what you are going through and can offer both support and commiseration. It’s important to know that you are not alone.
  • Find role models in the field to look up to for guidance and inspiration, but be careful not to compare. It’s important to see where you can go with all your hard work, dedication, and persistence.
  • Continue learning about private practice through podcasts, webinars, books, and other resources dedicated to helping you be successful on your journey.
  • Be productive when your private practice fears are getting to you. Here’s a great article from Good Therapy on 7 Creative Ways To Turn Anxiety Into Productivity.
  • Get curious about your fear. It’s probably not that scary if you really think about it. Kind of like David S. Pumpkins. For those of you who don’t know who he is, watch this…

 

I Want You To Be Successful In Private Practice!

Starting a private practice is a big deal. It's super-exciting and super-scary all at the same time. I created Mountain Practice Journeys to support you through the difficult and muddy terrain, and to celebrate with you when you have reached each summit of the many mountains you will conquer on your journey.

Happy Climbing, Cindy