On his podcast, Akimbo, Seth Godin discussed Alexanders Theorem of Professional Exceptionalism. Simply stated, this postulates that most high barrier to entry professionals perceive themselves to be in the top quartile of ability.
As a potent example of this dissonance, Godin cites a recent study showing that 90% of drivers stated that they are better than average. Additionally, he stated that surgeons perceive themselves to not only be just better than average, but most perceive themselves to be in the top 90% of their field.
So are we as therapists as good as we perceive ourselves to be? Many variables are at play that may be skewing the perceived reality of our skill. I will outline a few
For starters it is a high resistance field to get into. Test scores, financial investment, and time all limit the pool of players. Thus, this limits the perception that anyone could do the job beacuse logistically, they can’t or choose not to. Compared to a creator of logos or a writer, where most are literate and have access to a marker and paper, the competitive market is much smaller and perception of the ability gap is much larger.
Second, we are shielded by regression to the mean. A statistical phenomenon that pushes outliers back to the middle. Many enter our care as outliers and will naturally slide back to homeostasis with no intervention or a slight nudge. Many will get better and attribute this to our work whereas they would have improved without intervention
Third, our raving fans come back while the critics just simply fade away. That patient that didn’t get better and stopped coming could have been the result of a million different reasons that had nothing to do with our quality of care. While the fans come back and bring their friends. And unless the care is egregious or negligent many will not disparage the medical practitioner on a review as the relationship was personal and the intent was ultimately to help. Additionally, many who have come to you because they may not have liked their last therapist. This can be interpreted as, “I must be better than all of the schmucks down the street.” We do not see those who have left us. In our purview, they typically cease to exist. As therapists, we are most likely living in a echo chamber of fans.
Creatives live with self doubt. They wade in failure and embrace it by stepping back up to the plate and improving. Many creatives have the opposite problem of seeing themselves as below the mean. So humble therapist, there is no one size fits all blueprint. The person in front of you is primed to like you but their problem is one in need of a creative solution. Be weary of resulting. Be weary of praise. Be weary of perceiving that you are special. Embrace the creative process and work to improve the elements of your practice.
Judge yourself by the quality of your process not the quantity of your results. And remember, you are likely not as good as you think.