Dr. Levy's CBT Blog
Insights on Well-Being, Contentment, and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
How do you define competence? Your answer to this seemingly simple question can have a large impact on how you interpret your academic and professional achievements and how satisfied you feel about them. Some views of competence can be particularly detrimental to your emotional well-being, so it’s worth watching out for them.
Dr. Valerie Young has described five unhelpful “competence types”: views of what defines aptitude and proficiency that actually hold us back. They are:
1-The Perfectionist: in this view, competence is defined by “how” things are done. If they are 100% correct, 100% of the time, then you’re competent. Any small deviation from that equals total defeat. And since it’s impossible to get everything right all of the time, you are often aware of your misses and the distress that accompanies them in the form of self-doubt, worry, or shame.
2-The Natural Genius: here, competence is defined by “when” things are done right. For the Natural Geniuses out there, being competent means getting it right the first time, and doing it naturally, effortlessly, and immediately. This is the view that talent is congenital and you either have it or not. If you don’t get it right on the first time or struggle to master a skill or project, then you’re actually not that competent. That’s a huge disappointment.
3-The Soloist: This is the “who” view of competence, in which it equals the ability to perform tasks independently at all times. If you need help, you are incompetent, so you might as well take on immense mountains of work to do all by yourself. When you struggle or get stuck, feelings of failure, shame or defeat follow.
4-The Expert: The focus of competence for the Expert is in “what”. If you are competent in this definition, then you know everything there is to know about a task, challenge, or project even before you start. You fear being exposed as ignorant or inexperienced, so you spend inordinate amounts of time getting better educated, more informed, and more deeply acquainted with whatever topic is at hands; often times, at the expense of actually getting stuff done.
5-The Superhuman: For this type, competence is measured in throughput. It parallels how many roles you can juggle, how many projects you can deliver, how often you volunteer, or how much time you spend on turbocharge, doing more than everyone else around you. This overload can lead to many short-term accomplishments, at the cost of long-term stress and burn out.
Do you see yourself in any of the types above? If so, how has this definition of competence served you over time? If the answer is not that well, then you can start working on changing it. You can do that with the help of a CBT therapist by first understanding your current belief system, then challenging assumptions that are unhelpful, and finally building new ones that are more realistic, take into account several viewpoints, are more complete, and help you truly succeed in the long-term.
Empathy is a fundamental ingredient of any psychotherapy treatment. It is so important in TEAM-CBT that it gets its own letter in the acronym: The 'E' in TEAM actually refers to the phase of treatment when offering and receiving empathy is the main goal. In my experience, it is a necessary - although most often not sufficient - element for successful therapy.
Through empathy, the therapist attempts to develop a deeper understanding of the client's idiosyncratic experiences in certain situations. That hinges on the therapist's ability to put themselves in the place of the client, reflecting the client's thought processes and feelings, acknowledging the client's strengths and struggles, and sharing, in a professional manner, the impact that these aspects have had on them, the therapist. With clear communication and a genuine desire to connect, empathy builds a sense of shared experience that allows the therapeutic alliance to flourish.
Empathy is not sympathy, though. Empathy is a process where two people meet at the same level. In sympathy, one 'stronger' player attempts to rescue the 'weaker' one, often times by minimizing their experience in a well-meaning maneuver to quickly sweep away negative feelings. Renowned psychologist Dr. Brene Brown has developed a short video that illustrates this distinction. It's well worth three minutes of your time:
Dr. Daniele Levy is a licensed psychologist offering CBT via Teletherapy from Menlo Park, CA. Her background uniquely combines leading edge training in behavioral sciences with deep expertise coaching and mentoring working professionals in dynamic organizations.