Episode 237 - Dr. Danna Bodenheimer: The Imposter Syndrome Within the Social Work Profession: Recognizing Your True Potential

Monday, April 09, 2018, 7:34:19 AM

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In this episode, our guest Dr. Danna Bodenheimer discusses the concept of imposter syndrome as it relates to the social work profession and why social work students often fail to recognize the value and benefits of their work. She describes how multiple external factors contribute to shaping this sensation of falseness and offers strategies that can aid in diminishing feelings of insecurity and incompetence.

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Average Rating: 4.7 stars (12 listener reviews )

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Average Rating: 5stars  a good listen for all experience levels , Monday, February 08, 2021

By Anonymous :

This is an important podcast for anyone in the field of social work regardless of how long they have been part of it. As Dr. Bodenheimer mentioned, it is understandable that some recent MSW students feel unsure of themselves and the impact they are having, given the huge asks of the profession. There is something to be said about getting comfortable with being uncomfortable and knowing that those are growth moments, however, I appreciated the normalization of feeling like an imposter at the beginning of one’s career. It is equally as important for more experienced social workers to remember what it was like when they started and offer support in the way they might have wished they received. Dr. Bodenheimer gave good advice when she said supervisees should advocate for themselves and protect their supervision time for more than just going through tasks. I imagine it is easier said than done, but it is something that I will carry with me moving forward.

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Average Rating: 5stars  imposter syndrome , Monday, February 10, 2020

By Shiva Campbell :

I found Dr. Danna Bodenheimer’s podcast The Imposter Syndrome Within the Social Work Profession: Recognizing Your True Potential extremely interesting and informative. Prior to listening to this podcast, I had never heard of imposter or fraud imposter syndrome in relation to the field of social work. While the podcast mentions that this syndrome is especially felt by new social work graduates I have felt this feeling as a current social work student, both in class and in my field placement. This podcast has helped me to lessen these feelings of being an “imposter”. In my field placement, because it is not a traditional placement, I often feel that I am not doing actual “social work”. The beginning of the podcast addressed this exactly when Dr. Bodenheimer says “there's so much happening in that dialogue there's so much tension and the building of attachment and attunement that recurring that the work was subtle is quite great and sometimes really hard to recognize that you're doing”. This really resonated with me because it directly answered my concerns that I have been having with field. This podcast also showed me the importance of supervision during field and how it can help eliminate feelings of imposter syndrome. Usually my supervision meetings are filled with awkward silences, and rarely if ever last the full hour. Dr. Bodenheimer gave great examples of what field’s purpose is, and how it is a transfer of wisdom and experiences between generations. This podcast was an extremely useful tool in increasing my confidence in my social work skills.

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Average Rating: 5stars  very useful listen! , Saturday, February 08, 2020

By Marissa Biondolillo :

I'm a foundation year MSW student and imposter syndrome is something that my cohort and I discuss all the time. We usually talk about it as a product of our own individual failiing; that we are just insecure and it's our fault we feel this way. This feeling persists despite excellent grades and even despite successes in our field placements.
Listening to this podcast brought to light the structural factors that make imposter syndrome particularly prevalent among social workers and I found the conversation liberating. Being able to see more clearly where the feeling of being an imposter is coming from, I am afforded more tools to fight this feeling. It's not that we don't have the answers we're supposed to have, it's that our clients and often our colleagues from other disciplines look to us to answer unanswerable questions. And it's not that we're not being effective, it's that the effects of our work are hard to see, measure, and define. Explaining and defending our work to people and systems whose frame of reference is completely different from ours makes us feel like we're lying.
Now that I see that, I can be more gentle with myself about having imposter syndrome. It's not my fault and I'm not a fraud. I can also learn to anticipate these problems of communication and think more critically about how to define my work. Lastly, imposter syndrome can actually be a useful tool for empathy when we realize that so many other people, and our clients to no small measure, likely feel the same.
One thing I'm interested in is if there are any differences along the lines of gender. I am thinking of socialized expectations that boys will be adventurous and get into trouble, make mistakes, and learn from them. Does this decrease the imposter syndrome? To complicate matters, if that socialized safeguard exists, does it loose its effectiveness when a man enters the female dominated realm of social work?

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Average Rating: 5stars  humanizing ourselves , Sunday, February 10, 2019

By Renee Henry :

In listening to Danna Bodenheimer’s podcast, The Imposter Syndrome within the Social Work Profession: Recognizing Your True Potential, I could relate to the feeling of feeling like an imposter. This is how I felt when I first started my field placement at a domestic violence shelter. I did not feel confident in myself and as mentioned in the podcast supervision is key to social work success. My field educator has been extremely supportive to me in helping me to stay on task, but also on opportunities to assist me in building self-confidence. After listening to this podcast and incorporating my supervision from my field placement I realize how important empathy is to mankind. As stated in the podcast, literally just being in the presence of somebody, looking at them and listening to them and being interested in what they have to say creates a neurobiological change in the individual. It was explained that being genuine is what literally humanizes and brings people back to life. This statement really hit home for me because I feel like I have to have all the answers and now I have learned that I can help someone just by truly caring and listening. Building this attachment is crucial to establish with the client but it is also essential to build peer relationships with other social workers. I like to interpret this as nourishing our souls. This podcast has truly changed the way I think about myself as a person and a social work student. I have learned that I do not need to have all the answers just to do my best with what I have at the moment. I only wish that I had learned this sooner then later. This podcast is an excellent resource and should be mandatory for all students.

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Average Rating: 4stars  imposter syndrome , Sunday, February 10, 2019

By Rasheeda L. :

I found this podcast to be very interesting. Prior to listening to this discussion I had no knowledge of the imposter syndrome. As a MSW student I can identify with this discussion because I have often felt unsure of my competence as a social worker. I am glad to know I’m not alone in feeling this way. After listening to this podcast I see that it is normal to have insecurities about entering the field social work. I agree that these feelings should be normalized so that students and new social workers know that these feelings will likely occur.

There are times in my field placement when I sometimes feel like I’m not doing enough by just talking to clients. Dr. Bodenheimer raised an important point about new social workers having a fantasy that they can transform the lives of others. I think that having this fantasy and wanting to help others often gets overwhelming for new social workers and contributes to the anxiety and fear of not being competent.

The podcast also raised important points in terms of utilizing supervision to eliminate imposter syndrome. I especially like KD that supervision was referred to as an exchange of practice wisdom and experience. I believe that supervision is essential in eliminating insecurities about competence because I gives you the opportunity to discuss your feelings, insecurities and any consequent fears. I believe that having supervision is essential for self reflection and clinical guidance.

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Average Rating: 4stars  "the best is the enemy of good.", Wednesday, February 06, 2019

By Whitney M. :

As someone who questions her competence often, this resonated with me. It is comforting to know I am not alone; this field attracts empathic, idealistic individuals who are called upon to reconcile many competing demands to improve individuals’ lives and create a more just world. That is a tremendous undertaking and it is easy to lose sight of positive contributions given the nature of this work. It is a bit ironic that we help clients with positive self-talk strategies yet we judge ourselves so harshly when things we accomplish or work on are not “the best” or as perfect as we might like. I like that this piece highlights the importance of social connection with people who “get it” (e.g., supervisors and/or fellow students, though as an online student the latter can be a challenge) to keep us grounded and calls attention to how much we accomplish simply by being present for clients. I think an element of this phenomenon that the podcast did not address was how it can elicit timidity that holds us back from professional fulfillment. I spent my first year at UBSSW believing I had nothing to offer as well as wondering when someone would “find out” that I do not belong here, which limited my courage to ask questions, pursue opportunities, make connections, and contribute to discussions. I still sometimes engage in unhealthily harsh critiques of myself this year, but I am better at counteracting the ways in which this previously held me back. In addition to being more open about my internal struggles with people whose perspectives I respect as this piece prescribes, a few strategies help me from succumbing to self-doubt. Practicing affirmations increases my feeling that I have something worthwhile to contribute and to own my achievements, and bullet journaling helps me simplify to provide clarity on what I CAN do rather than what I cannot do, which relieves self-inflicted pressure to accomplish the impossible and thus the feeling of failure that typically follows.

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Average Rating: 5stars  imposter syndrome viewed in a new light, Wednesday, February 06, 2019

By Lauren Markos :

I think that every student in a social work program should listen to this. As an individual grappling with many of the thoughts and emotions discussed, I found Dr. Bodenheimer’s comments about Imposter Syndrome not only comforting but also profound due to her challenge to consider this concept in a radically different way. Dr. Bodenheimer’s conceptualization of Imposter Syndrome as an issue that originates in problematic social structures and discourse rather than within the individual is remarkably empowering. Rather than being a pathological state of mind that exists solely on an intrapersonal level, Dr. Bodenheimer reframes Imposter Syndrome as a normative response to the intense complexity of our professional and personal contexts.

I think Dr. Bodenheimer’s strength-based perspective on Imposter Syndrome may also be the key to unshackling social workers from some of the burdens linked to this issue. Her suggestion that this experience can be viewed as a manifestation of our empathic reaction to the anxiety experienced by clients empowers social workers to gain from it via its potential to support stronger connections with the systems we serve. Further, Dr. Bodenheimer’s perspective offers us a chance to use our insecurities as a means of understanding, empathizing and connecting more genuinely with our colleagues outside of the social work profession rather than merely trying to deny or alleviate them.

I began listening to this episode with the expectation that I would gain new coping strategies but ended with something much more important: a perspective that allows me to embrace the lessons of Imposter Syndrome and strengthen my practice rather than one that dictates the need to ‘fix’ myself.

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Average Rating: 5stars  food for thought , Monday, February 04, 2019

By Brianna Carlson :

This particular podcast episode resonated with me as a current MSW student, learning and experiencing major growth and change in the classroom as well as in my field placement with hands on experience. There are many times when I do not feel confident or I feel overwhelmed as to how to gauge my success or level of mastery over the content and in the field. There is also a level of honesty that comes with admitting to yourself that you feel doubt and discomfort as a professional, paired with the realization that your client sees you not necessarily as the helping professional that you are trying to be, but as yet “another” in a long line of individuals who may have let said client down.
There is a certain assumption when you enter into a Master’s program or any program of higher learning, that you are somewhat “good” at the field you are going into. I appreciate the way that Dr. Bodenheimer spoke about the imposter syndrome and social work, as I think it helps to name something that is universally felt at some point in your practice or learning. A perspective shift for me after listening to this episode is that I can only try to be the best social worker I am capable of being, and not be the best social worker at my agency, in my classroom, or in the entire profession. As a professor recently stated to my class, what “you” bring to the table is important and valued. If you care about your clients, you are already headed in the right direction. Trusting yourself and the process, and reaching out to supervisors and peers to talk about this subject matter is something that I think should be front and center. The attractive quality of the social work field is that it is dynamic, changing, and client-centered yet is rooted in values and ethics. It is important we allow ourselves the same consideration as professionals-we are dynamic and changing, yet rooted and grounded.

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Average Rating: 5stars  the value of authentic connection, Sunday, February 03, 2019

By Anonymous :

Having recently grappled with a sense of “playing at” doing casework in my MSW field placement, I was relieved to hear Dr. Bodenheimer’s perspective on the phenomenon of Imposter Syndrome. Expectations placed upon us from various directions may compound a sense of inadequacy at not meeting those objectives - a common thread of many external requirements seems to be in viewing client interactions simply as a means to an end. Dr. Bodenheimer articulated the importance of what we bring to the worker client relationship, and how that distinguishes our work.

I particularly appreciated Dr. Bodenheimer’s validation of attachment, as she emphasized how crucial it is to simply listen, allowing ourselves to become authentically curious about our clients. There is so much of value that goes into that subtle practice.

I enjoyed Dr. Bodenheimer’s point that social workers expose false dichotomies, in terms of creating distinctions between micro and macro, clinical work and policy, and individual and group cognitive processes. For me, this significantly expands the idea of understanding a person in context. Having the ability to hold multiple systems in mind will be an important skill to develop in seeing the wholeness of clients as I move forward. (I wonder if discerning this overlapping interplay among social systems is somehow related to the activities of mirror neurons? If so, how might this natural entrainment be harnessed in conflict resolution? ) This podcast helped me consider the nature of social work in creating connections at multiple levels. Feeling like an imposter, I think, comes out of the dissonance in trying to accommodate a notion of what we should be doing as workers that frequently overlooks the essential gifts we have to offer. Strengthening our attachments to one another within this field will enhance our sense of authenticity, and ability to communicate with those outside with more clarity and confidence.

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Average Rating: 4stars  imposter syndrome , Sunday, February 03, 2019

By Anonymous :

I had not known what the imposter syndrome was prior to this podcast, but as a current MSW student I understand and relate to the concept whole heartily. One of the aspects I appreciated in this podcast is the way that Dr. Danna Bodenheimer broke down this concept for the listeners. She talked about the imposter syndrome as three different phases. She and Laura were also able to closely relate the concept to current MSW students, students at field placements, and those who are recent graduates. I thought it was really crucial that they mentioned the importance of supervision in our field placements. While our tasks may seem menial, they are creating building blocks for our future success and knowledge. It is in our hands to make the most of the experience. Something I feel I have taken away from this podcast is supporting social workers. As Dr. Bodenheimer stated no one person has all the answers. However, having the support from other social workers and working positively with other professions could benefit everyone including the client. One comment that both Laura and Dr. Bodenheimer made that I think needs to be readdressed is how fast paced MSW programs are. They stated that often time’s topics are only covered one week out of the entirety of the program and students leave feeling unsure about themselves, their knowledge, and their practice. I think this is such a shame! Students work hard and pay a lot of money to be in the program and often leave the program lost. I would have like to have heard Laura and Dr. Bodenheimer talk more about the graduate program system has a whole. To learn what can be done to best support MSW students both inside and outside of field could benefit so many.

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Average Rating: 4stars  feeling like an imposter by trying to aviod feeling like an imposter, Saturday, February 02, 2019

By Anonymous :

I was pleased to see this podcast on imposter syndrome because I think that it is a concept that not many are aware of. It is an important topic of discussion I think for any profession, especially a helping profession. Danna gave a very thorough explanation of the multiple factors that can lead to imposter syndrome for professionals.
As a student I have consistently struggled with imposter syndrome both in Psychology and as an MSW student. In fact, while listening to this podcast I realized that this imposter syndrome is in large part the reason I switched from applying to social psychology graduate programs and instead entered an MSW program. I feared that I was not good enough at research and because I am drawn to social issues, I chose an academic program that would teach a variety of skills (including research). With an MSW I’ll learn many skills, rather than research alone (in case I am not good enough in research). Unfortunately, this switch has led to an intensification in imposter syndrome. Now my internal voice is saying “you don’t belong here” despite having always been interested in social issues. I wonder if perhaps another aspect of imposter syndrome not mentioned, might be the idea we are supposed to feel certain about our career choices (a basic intolerance for ambiguity). Yet, many people are likely as unsure as I am if they are on “the right path” and this uncertainly leads to a sense that we are imposters or phony.
Though I do not think this is unique to social work the stakes may feel higher because of the added responsibility that is involved in a helping profession. Having listened to Danna's suggestions, I think I will focus on the ways in which I have often behaved like a social worker throughout my life (by being genuine), rather than on how I got to the field of Social Work.

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Average Rating: 5stars  we are not alone, Wednesday, January 23, 2019

By Kristen Fisher :

So much of what was discussed in this podcast resonated with me as an adult, an experienced chemical dependency clinician and emerging social worker. I feel like an impostor in much of my life and am heartened to realize that I’m not alone: I can’t be alone if my feelings have a name and syndrome attached! I so often feel like I don’t know what I am doing, or that everyone else is doing a better job. Especially now, in this era of social media and self-promotion, we tout our victories on Facebook, but our little moments of insecurity are never discussed. It’s easy to feel alone.
As social workers, and maybe people in general, we want to save the world and feel unsuccessful and uncomfortable when we can’t see a change in our lives, or our clients, or society. What I drew from this podcast is to look toward the subtle work that is being done and use this as a measure of success. Maybe I don’t make Pinterest-worthy lunches for my kid but maybe it’s equally important that I carry him to bed every night. Maybe I sat for half an hour with a client who gave one-word answers and glared daggers at me and didn’t appear to gain any insight, but maybe he’s also comforted by knowing that I’ll be there for our session the next week. Maybe I can’t fix anything for the elderly clients at my nursing home field placement, but maybe I’m the only one who asks them about their emotions and really listens to their answers. The notion that the little things count for something is extremely comforting.
I am grateful to Dr. Bodenheimer for reminding me that I am not alone in my performance anxiety, and for encouraging social workers to take time to reflect on the little things that we do well.

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DISCLAIMER: The content shared by the presenter(s) and/or interviewer(s) of each podcast is their own and not necessarily representative of any views, research, or practice from the UB School of Social Work or the inSocialWork® podcast series.