Tips from CAPS: Dealing with imposter syndrome

By University Counselor Patricia Dixon

Graduate studies are difficult, and when a student is dealing with the belief that they “don’t really” belong in the program, despite the efforts and skills it took to be accepted, the process becomes more challenging.impostor syndrome cartoon

This phenomenon was first introduced in 1978 when a group of women was studied by Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes. Individuals from marginalized groups based on gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity, religious beliefs and economic status are at higher risk of developing imposter syndrome.

The major symptoms of imposter syndrome are thoughts. Thoughts can fuel how we feel, physical reactions and behavior choices. Knowing when your thoughts are distorted helps to combat the negative impact of imposter syndrome.

One way to overcome imposter syndrome is to learn how to challenge and reframe automatic negative thoughts. Often these thoughts are not based in fact and are unrealistic. Mental health professionals refer to these thoughts as cognitive distortions.

There are seven types of distortions that fuel imposter syndrome:

  1. All-or-nothing thinking
  2. Fortune telling
  3. Mental filtering
  4. Mind reading
  5. Catastrophizing
  6. Labeling
  7. Personalization

If you think you have a pattern of using cognitive distortions to guide your thoughts, try these three simple steps:

  • Identify the type of distortion.
  • Gather evidence, ask what the facts are, acknowledge other explanations.
  • Think what advice you would tell a friend having similar thoughts.

Imposter syndrome chart

Taking a breath and slowing your knee-jerk reaction can help you recognize the cognitive distortions that fuel imposter syndrome.

If you are struggling to challenge these distorted thoughts, CAPS is here to help. We offer an array of services, including in-person as well as telehealth sessions, groups, workshops and more.


Clance, P.R., & Imes, S.A. (1978). The imposter phenomenon in high achieving women: Dynamics and therapeutic intervention. Psychotherapy: Theory, Research & Practice, 15(3), 241-247. 

7 ways cognitive distortion may be bending you out of shape

Michelle Obama explains imposter syndrome – video

What is imposter syndrome and how can you combat it? – video

6 signs you might have imposter syndrome – video

Remember that CAPS is always here for you! You can reach out to me directly at 313-577-3243 or If you need help after hours or on the weekend, call CAPS at 313-577-9982.

WSU Applebaum offers dedicated Counseling and Psychological Services support to students on a group or individual basis. To get started, visit and complete the initial consultation form, making sure to note that you are an EACPHS student.

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