Psychoanalytic Voices

From Confidence to Incompetence: A Backwards Journey

From Confidence to Incompetence: A Backwards Journey

From Confidence to Incompetence: A Backwards Journey

Amanda Neas, BGSP student

In learning theory there is the idea that we move from being in a place of “unconscious incompetence” to unconscious competence, stopping in between at conscious incompetence and conscious competence.  This has been my story. I had to learn I wasn’t the therapist I thought I was, in order to get on the road toward being the therapist I wanted to be.

I remember the days when I felt like I knew what I was doing. I graduated from my master’s program in social work. Let’s be honest- who wants to graduate and not feel confident? Cognitive dissonance would dictate that I needed to believe the time and money I invested in schooling meant something. I remember feeling satisfied with what I had learned in my graduate program and internships. Teachers and supervisors always praised me for my high level of self-awareness and ability to recognize how my past was influencing my experiences with my patients. I was feeling proud and ready to begin my journey as a social worker.

Fast forward two years: add after thousands of hours of experience, fifty new patients, years of supervision and analysis, and what do you get? A feeling of complete incompetence. Most days I feel I have no clue what I am doing. And I think to myself, “how in the world did I get here?”

I didn’t believe my psychoanalytic supervisor who said, “it’s all part of the journey.”  I remember sitting in my own analysis and supervision and through tears asking, “why can’t I get this right?” or “why do I keep making the same mistakes?” And I often get the same response “Let’s think about what’s happening in the case, it’s probably related.” Yes, it could be an induction or part of the transference-countertransference matrix.. I recognize that I am feeling pressure from the patient’s parent or teacher. However, some of this stuff is my own. And I want it to go away! I know I can’t. The “I am not good enough” thought will always be there, but I don’t want it to be as loud.

Being in analysis is hard; I won’t lie. Many days I wish I could rewind the clock to the time I felt good about the work I was doing. I want to return to the time when I did not yet realize how little I knew. Ignorance was bliss! However, in that bliss I lost patients to various clinical judgements: referring patients out instead of exploring complaints about treatment; not knowing when to set a limit about an adolescent’s phone use in session when they were supposed to talking to me.

Despite how difficult and painful it was to come to the idea that I didn’t know what I was doing (unconscious incompetence), I wouldn’t trade it in. I still have hope that I will come out on the other side with ongoing training, supervision and self reflection. I have learned more about myself and my patients in the last two years than I did in my four years of undergraduate school and three years of graduate school combined. I am more willing to sit back and listen than I was before, and my insecurity has helped me seek out more consultation. I know I am a better psychotherapist to my patients than I was before. I am learning that conscious incompetence is part of the growth cycle.

In some ways I think I am a good candidate for the study of psychoanalysis. I look forward to this transition into conscious competence and eventually unconscious competence.  I think staying with my personal analysis and supervision will help me get there.  I appreciate the support and most of all, I appreciate that this is all part of my journey to becoming the best psychotherapist I can be.