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How Imposter Syndrome Could Affect Massage Therapists

How Imposter Syndrome Could Affect Massage Therapists

“I have written eleven books, but each time I think, ‘uh oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out.’ “ – Maya Angelou

“There are an awful lot of people out there who think I’m an expert.  How do these people believe all this about me?  I’m so much aware of all the things I don’t know.” Dr. Chan, Chief of the World Health Organization


Sometimes I feel like I don’t know what the hell I’m doing.

And it doesn’t just apply to one aspect of life, with each activity I’m involved in, I question myself.

When I first started supervising at the college, students would sit down and rattle off orthopaedic tests they were doing and while I know I had heard learned those tests, I hadn’t done many of them since I was in college. I sat there and nodded, hoping I’d look like I knew what I was doing.

The first couple times I had to rush to help one of our players get off the ice after a big hit, all I could think was “there’s 1200 people, the team and three students watching, don’t mess this up”.

I’m guilty of comparing how busy I am at the Massage clinic to the other practitioners and wonder why some weeks, I’m just not as busy even though it fills up by the end of the week.

I’ve jumped on a firetruck and responded to hundreds of calls over the years, but there’s always questions in the back of my head coupled with a little bit of fear as we roll down the road, sirens blazing and wondering what we’re going to see when we get there.

Little did I realize that I’m not alone. In fact someone who is well respected (and who I respect) in the physical therapy community posted on Facebook a couple weeks ago that sometimes he feels like a pretender.

I was shocked.

Turns out this whole thing has a name.

“Imposter Syndrome”

Imposter Syndrome Defined

The Cal Tech Counselling Centre defines Imposter Syndrome as:

“A collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist even in face of information that indicates that the opposite is true. It is experienced internally as chronic self-doubt, and feelings of intellectual fraudulence.”

The worst part of this is when people are experiencing Imposter Syndrome, they don’t believe they deserve the success they are achieving. Accomplishments and accolades are often dismissed as luck or good timing. 

But here’s the thing, people dealing with this are achieving success, they are just downplaying the difficulty, time and effort that went into achieving it.

I know that I’m not alone in feeling like this sometimes, in fact over 70% of people have experienced this at some point in their lives.

Even the likes of Albert Einstein, Kate Winslet and Tina Fey have experienced this.

But luckily there are ways to overcome and have confidence in your worth.

Ways For Massage Therapists To Overcome Imposter Syndrome

It’s time to let go of the voices in your head (especially if they’re answering), or at least acknowledge and realize they are there.

It’s a common tendency that if we feel passionate about something, then we think it must be true. Limiting questions will come up in practice and in life, but what can you do to reframe those questions? When these types of feelings come up, try to switch and reframe those thoughts.

“Why aren’t I busier this week in clinic?” = “What can I do to get busier this week in clinic?”

“I don’t belong here” = “I do belong here, look what I’m doing”

There is a drastic difference between feelings and reality. Just because you feel strongly about something doesn’t make it real. Your feelings can trick you about reality.  Shift your focus to what you have done and what you have accomplished.

I remember sitting in College and thinking that if I’d known school was that hard I wouldn’t have taken the course. But, I passed.

Then came board exams.

I  stared at the clinical science exam, completely frustrated about half way through and shaking my head, saying out loud “I’m gonna f&*#ing fail this”. The girl beside me probably thought I’d lost it. But I passed those too.

Take the time to make a list of your accomplishments and successes, then keep adding to it as you continue to progress.

When was the last time you paused to celebrate and appreciate all you have done? After you make that list,  celebrate and enjoy it. Take a day off, go for a hike, go for a nice dinner, enjoy a good scotch, do something to recognize all you’ve done. 

Too often nowadays we accomplish something and immediately look for the next problem we need to defeat, rather than focusing on what we have done to be successful.  

Focus on what you HAVE done versus what you haven’t done.

You Don’t Have To Know Every Aspect Of Massage Therapy

Be confident in what you are doing.

Humility is a great thing, and has its purpose. But it can also help to reinforce imposter feelings.

When we avoid showing confidence in our abilities, we can persuade ourselves that we don’t deserve a positive outcome or success.

As I read through Facebook threads in Massage Therapy groups, the one thing that always gets me feeling negative is all of the topics on science. I’m not an overly scientific guy and struggled with some of the Anatomy and Physiology classes in college. Some of the other MT’s seem like they have it all together and talk fluently about their knowledge.

Sometimes I just stare at the screen and think “why can’t I be more scientific”? (Honestly I say sciencey, but I don’t think that’s a word).

But here’s the thing, science is just one aspect of Massage Therapy. So is experience, techniques, first aid (yeah I snuck it in there), education and so many other things. Just like you learn new techniques as your career grows, you can also learn more about these other aspects.

The pounding drive to improve can wear you down. The need to make things happen feeds the sense that you are faking it. Develop the awareness that you can get things done without pushing, forcing and going harder.

You are living evidence of your success.

You don’t have to overcompensate so that others believe you. You are the only one that needs convincing.

There will always be things that you do not know, there are things that you will never know and there are things that you can decide to learn.

When I see those Facebook threads, I’m essentially comparing myself to those MT’s who have spent so much more time researching and putting effort into learning a science based practice.

If you find that you’re comparing yourself to others, don’t compare forwards, compare backwards. If you must compare at all, look at the people behind you, or look at where you were one, two, three years ago. How much more do you know now? Think about all the expertise you have gained through life, practice and your experiences.

Look at those behind you as those you can teach, your peers as your peers and those ahead of you as mentors. You can learn from each group.

Photo by: Sylvia Duckworth

Your Failures And Mistakes Make You A Better Massage Therapist

We all make mistakes in life and in our Massage practice.

The difference is what we do with it. Rather than being hard on yourself about it, work with them.  Use it as a lesson and research in the name of personal and professional growth.

Get support from others. Talking with a more experienced Massage Therapist might help you understand that you are not alone and can give you the reality check you need. Just because you might need some help doesn’t mean you are inferior or unintelligent. In fact, knowing when to ask for help is one of the smartest things you can do.

The reality is, we will all have ups and downs within our career. While we all need to continue improving, taking CEC’s and expanding our education, you don’t have to do it all. Reaching out for help when needed, having confidence in our abilities and embracing our success are all steps we can take to overcome imposter syndrome. You do not have to attain perfection to make a difference in your practice or to be worthy of success. Question any negative thoughts that come into your head and reshape them to shift your thoughts into a positive state. It’s not about lowering the bar, it’s about resetting it to a realistic level that doesn’t leave you forever striving and feeling inadequate.

As the creator of the site, I hope you like what you’re reading. I’m a Registered Massage Therapist in Victoria BC, former Massage college clinical supervisor, First Responder instructor, hockey fan and volunteer firefighter. Come hang out on the facebook page, where we can share some ideas about how to improve the perception of the Massage Therapy industry.

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Jamie Johnston

Founder at The MTDC
As the creator of the site, I hope you like what you’re reading. I’m a Registered Massage Therapist in Victoria BC, former Massage college clinical supervisor, First Responder instructor, hockey fan and volunteer firefighter. Come hang out on the facebook page, where we can share some ideas about how to improve the perception of the Massage Therapy industry.
Jamie Johnston
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  1. Lauren February 5, 2016

    Great post and a great reminder – I think every new RMT grad must go through this. I know I still struggle with it, and I’ve been practicing for almost a year and a half. Keeps me humble, and keeps me a perpetual student always learning to become a better therapist. Thanks for the encouragement 🙂

    • Jamie Johnston February 5, 2016

      Thanks Lauren, I’ve been at it 5 years and struggle with it as well. Being a perpetual student is a great thing!

  2. Eric January 26, 2018

    Thank you thank you THANK YOU! I’ve been at massage full-time for 11 years now, and this is a struggle I’ve always had, regardless of the fact that I’m routinely booked solid now from 2 to 4 weeks in advance. THANK YOU for finally addressing it! I thought I was alone.

    • Jamie Johnston January 27, 2018

      Definitely not alone Eric, I think it’s natural to doubt ourselves, otherwise we’d probably be obnoxious! Great to see your success.

  3. Cath Cox January 27, 2018

    Love this, Jamie! It’s a common misconception that celebrating success is gloating or bragging. Our world would be so different if we not only acknowledged our own awesomeness but that if others as well.

    • Jamie Johnston January 27, 2018

      Thanks Cath! I’m certainly acknowledging youre awesomeness!


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