Why Some People Mistakenly Think They’re Smart

Do you think you are the best? Whether it’s teaching, singing, drawing, writing, competing in a sport, or conducting psychotherapy, a healthy dose of confidence is a must! But there is a psychological phenomenon called the Dunning-Kruger effect wherein people overestimate their levels of skill. This highlights the importance of attaining objective feedback data about outcomes from clients.

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The Dunning-Kruger Effect

Dunning and Kruger, the psychologists for whom this phenomenon is named, asked college students to rate their logical reasoning abilities compared to peers. The students then took a test of these abilities. Here’s what the duo found: the students who were least competent on the test overestimated their skill the most. They were, on average, in the 12th percentile in logical reasoning, yet they put their own skills at about the 70th percentile. Quite a difference!

Simply put, people who are not competent in an area tend to overestimate their abilities. It is incredibly difficult to evaluate ourselves objectively, as we must essentially “step outside” our ourselves and view our skills as others do. We may not be as funny, as charming, as likable, as capable (in certain areas), etc., as we think we are. Just watch some American Idol auditions, and you’ll see exactly how the Dunning-Kruger effect plays out in real life. More relevant, a study by Walfish, McAlister, O’Donnell, and Lambert (2012) surveyed practitioners and found that therapists likely inflate their effectiveness, reporting that 85% of their clients improve and seeing themselves
as above average in effectiveness (90% saw themselves as above the 75th
percentile).

Using Client Feedback Data to Improve Effectiveness

Now, when it comes to client outcomes, and our own efficacy as practitioners, it is important to use the client feedback data to overcome this disparity. Therapeutic assessment tools - such as Better Outcomes Now, the true web application of the Partners for Change Outcome Management System (PCOMS) - provide us with the insight we need to accurately evaluate client progress, as well as the value we are truly delivering to them.

A healthy dose of confidence is a must - and when we deliver a simultaneous dose of data-driven reality, we can achieve positive outcomes in terms of client change and professional development.

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