Finding Presence in the Face of Doubt


As an intern at Torus Therapy and someone who is newly heading into the field of social work, I admit that I struggle with feelings of imposter syndrome. At times I question if I will truly make a positive impact as a therapist.

Will I talk too much? Listen enough? Notice enough? Will I seem confident? How will people trust me? Will I hold enough space? Will people feel at ease around me? How will the clients feel?

There are many problems that people have experienced that I have admittedly not walked in their shoes. In many respects, my life has afforded me many privileges that I only wish most people would have had the opportunity to receive.

What does this all mean? Am I cut out for this work? Am I right for this path? Do I deserve to be here? Who would even open up to me anyway? What do I even know about life? Have I healed myself enough?

It is easy to get lost in internal chatter, but if you pay attention, there is often a message between the lines.

I have these doubts because I care, and it is completely okay to feel this way.

When starting new roles in my life, I have often felt on edge because I have quickly wanted to prove my competence. I would often make sure to read up and research what I was going to do, as quickly as possible. Take initiative and show eagerness. While these traits may seem good on the surface, the root of them is more insidious…. Avoidance.

Avoidance is a ubiquitous concept in therapy that manifests in many ways. In The Confidence Gap: A Guide to Overcoming Fear and Self Doubt, well-known writer and proponent of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) Dr. Russ Harris explains how avoidance manifests in many different ways. Some of the ways avoidance manifests include fantasizing, procrastination, rumination, becoming lost in one’s work, hyper-fixating on being productive, distracting yourself from true feelings, and ingesting substances. While on the surface, some of the concepts people may see as forms of avoiding discomfort, others may come as surprises.

For me, the biggest realization was that hyper-fixating on productivity was a form of avoidance. This is driven by what is known in ACT as the “Dictator in your mind”, for many of us that dictator is calling the shots far too often. For many years I have equated performing well with being well, which at times could not be further from the truth. There have been many points in my life where I have had to “white-knuckle” my way through times to achieve my goals. To some that might seem like a sign of work ethic, but it comes at a price. Having tunnel vision towards goals can cause you to lose sight of perhaps the most important thing you experience in life, which is the present.

If you are not in touch with the present, are you experiencing life in its truth?

One such method of healing practiced at Torus, which has made a notable impact on me being in touch with the present has been meditation. Since going to the Torus Center’s Community Meditation sessions hosted by the serene instructor Michael Volpe, I have made meditation a daily practice. Meditation has allowed me to identify what my body is telling me in the present moment, to explore the depths of my imagination, and to be in touch with states of awareness that I have been looking past for so long.

So what does this all mean? Has meditation allowed me to fully let go of my worries and constantly be present? Have I silenced the doubts? The internal chatter?

If you were hoping so, I am sorry to inform you that this is not the case. I still get worried, I still get frustrated, I still overthink things, and I still have doubts. Admittedly, I have many doubts about writing this blog. As someone going into a field with a heavy clinical emphasis, a part of me feels concerned about publicly revealing doubts about my ability or potential. However, I feel compelled to open up about these feelings because they are feelings, which we all experience in one way or another.

So far in my early stages of being at Torus, I have been blessed to meet many wonderful people and learn some invaluable lessons.

Perhaps the most direct of which I can attribute to the practice of therapy comes from what has been expressed to me about the nature of therapeutic relationships. While clinical approaches certainly have veracity, it is important to recognize that the therapeutic relationship is a uniquely human relationship. It involves subtleties, nuance, and awareness that often encompass many of the unexplainable aspects of the human condition.

This relationship requires deep vulnerability on both ends to be as fruitful as possible. There may be moments of mistake, doubt, uncertainty, and frustration, but there may also be moments of great courage, insight, compassion, and connection. As I write these words, I cannot help feeling a bit of nerves and excitement in my stomach, since I have thus far only experienced this relationship from the client’s point of view. While I certainly cannot predict the future, when the day comes that I get the privilege to work in a therapeutic capacity I am setting an intention- I intend on being fully present in that moment.

Written by Nick Shaw, MSW Intern

Harris, R. (2011). The Confidence Gap: A Guide to Overcoming Fear and Self-Doubt. Boston, MA: Trumpeter Books.