What does it take to be an “expert”? / What’s in a label?

This is a question I have been reflecting on recently…

As you may have seen on a recent post, I was recently invited to host a Health Ask Me Anything online interview. I’d never heard of this website before, so I read the descriptive text on it and saw the word “experts” mentioned somewhere within it. My first thoughts on seeing this word were along the lines of “but I’m not an expert, the people who’ve taught me, they are the experts”. In my mind Prof. Willem Kuyken who trained me in delivering mindfulness courses, Prof. Paul Gilbert who facilitated most of the Compassion Focused Therapy (CFT) training I’ve attended and Dr. Steven Hayes and Dr. Kelly Wilson who have led Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) workshops I’ve participated in, they are the experts.

Then I stopped and noticed what my mind had just done. It had immediately lurched into comparisons. And of course, the most extreme unhelpful comparison possible! I had compared myself to some of the developers of the therapies themselves…not to members of the public asking questions on a website or even to my own peers. It felt illuminating to see this process play out so clearly in my own mind. Clients so often tell us therapists about these sort of social comparisons as they play such a big part in how we perceive and feel about ourselves. And when I thought it all through logically after realising what had happened, I was able to acknowledge to myself that the “real experts” as I saw them would have been busy heading up large scale research trials, writing academic papers and books for publication and doing interviews with journalists for radio broadcasts and national newspapers. They wouldn’t actually have time to do a crowd-sourced online interview.

So, then my mind went to thinking about the two or three cohorts who trained before me at Exeter and how they would be more experienced than me to do it. My mind was clearly still trying to talk me out of the whole thing! Luckily, I saw that for what it was and the concern that probably underlay it that I might be asked questions I didn’t know the answer to. But then I realised I have piles of books on those therapies and if I didn’t know an answer I could look it up or just acknowledge that a particular area was one I was less familiar with. So, with some reservations, I agreed to do it and was asked 30 questions. There were a few that were slightly out of my area (e.g. relating to therapy with children) but otherwise I found I could answer and actually quite enjoyed the experience.

This seems a great lesson to me. Ten years ago, I wouldn’t have dreamed of putting myself up for something like this and even this time I almost wrote it off straightaway. But I’m glad I didn’t, and that instead I questioned the way I interpreted the label of “expert”. I went back on the website just now and it was difficult to even find where I saw that word in the first place so it’s not even that prominent, but my mind seemed to have filtered out everything else and homed in on it!

I’m sharing this experience here as I think it’s good for everyone to question when they instantly dismiss themselves as not being a particular positive label and compare themselves with those people they view as the perfect embodiment of that label. It’s also great to question when we negatively label ourselves but that’s another whole post for another time…

search previous next tag category expand menu location phone mail time cart zoom edit close