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Westminster Director of Counseling talks about imposter syndrome

Since the start of the Fall semester, several Westminster students arrived on Richer Commons for the first time in nearly a year and a half. Forum staff reporter Maddie Cushing wasn’t feeling the warm and fuzzy feelings she normally did when starting a new school year. Instead, Cushing was experiencing imposter syndrome.

Forum Staff Writer Maddie Cushing chats about imposter syndrome in the podcast studio with Erin Gibson, the director of counseling at Westminster College Aug. 31. Imposter syndrome is a growing phenomenon amongst students and has only been exasperated by the pandemic. Photo courtesy of Anthony Giorgio.

Cushing knew she couldn’t be unique in feeling she didn’t belong after such a long break from being on campus. The Forum sat down with Erin Gibson, the director of counseling at Westminster College, to discuss where these feelings of being out of place came from, and why so many students experience them following time away from their college campus.

“More often, when people start talking about this in circles and groups, they find that everybody feels this way, or most people feel this way,” Gibson said.

Imposter syndrome is a mental health phenomenon in which an individual feels that they don’t belong, or that they’ve somehow fooled everyone into thinking they are more qualified to be in their position than they actually are, according to Gibson. The actual term “imposter syndrome” did not show up until the mid 1980’s in a psychological research study. Gibson said that this term is kind of an imposter itself– “imposter syndrome” is not really a syndrome at all. 

“I think it’s a very loaded term to begin with,” Gibson said. “Because when you think of imposter, you think, literally, you’re not supposed to be here. And syndrome, being this medicalized term, that there’s something wrong with you. It puts the onus on the individual to fix something that really is more complex than that.”

Gibson said the first step to fighting off feeling of not belonging is recognizing the cultural context surrounding imposter syndrome.

“Not feeling as though you fit is an internal process, but it’s also reflected within your environment,” Gibson said. “I think one way to deal with this is to zoom out, and be aware that we live in a culture that still upholds exclusion. When we uphold exclusion, we lead to the damage of individuals.”

Gibson said that confronting exclusionary ideals such as homophobia, white supremacy, and the patriarchy may ultimately lead to a solution to the imposter syndrome problem.

From there, Gibson said it’s all about understanding the stories people tell themselves in order to justify their imposter syndrome. 

“I think if we are able to build compassion for ourselves and recognize we are in a process of learning, that will bring us to a different conclusion about ourselves,” Gibson said. “The conclusion isn’t that you can’t do this, the conclusion is that it’s different and hard for you. And that’s okay.” 


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Maddie Cushing is a senior at Westminster College studying communication and psychology. When she’s not busy cracking down on her schoolwork, Maddie can be found exploring spooky spots around the Salt Lake Valley and trying out new coffee shops with her dog, Arya.

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