Back to Top

How a Conman Can Help You Believe in Yourself as a Therapist

Is 'imposter syndrome' preventing you from doing your best work?

“Hi Mark,

Here are the issues I have the most difficulty with in being a practitioner:

1 – Charging the appropriate amount of money.
2 – Taking the risk to put the practice out and make it big. I somehow keep it low profile because I have had the experience that success makes people jealous.?”

I spend a lot of time emailing and talking to therapy practitioners all over the world about their work. It’s funny how often the same themes keep coming up, regardless of what sort of practitioner a person is, their age, sex or where they live.

Prefer to watch instead?

The email above is just one of the hundreds I get, from intelligent caring therapy practitioners who do a great job of helping others – but find it difficult to encourage and empower themselves!

So if you struggle with ‘imposter syndrome’ and don’t feel entitled to set the rules in your own therapy room, then I think you’ll find this podcast my business partner Roger recorded will change the way you perceive your own value.

You can listen to 50 more Audio Insights with a Growth Zone Membership.

If you would prefer to read this insight, please see below.

Hi, and welcome to your Audio Insight on how to claim your true sense of entitlement. I want this audio to help you have a sense that you – yes you! – can really make a difference in the world.

The reason we decided to present this session right now is because just lately my colleague Mark Tyrrell has been communicating one to one with many of our online subscribers who happen to be therapists of one kind or another and also life coaches.

New Ways of Seeing Ebook

FREE Reframing Book! Just subscribe to my therapy techniques newsletter below.

Download my book on reframing, "New Ways of Seeing", when you subscribe for free email updates

Click to subscribe free now

We were talking about this the other day and he tells me that so many of them have been telling him that they feel unable to truly get themselves out into the world as therapists. Some of them feel under-qualified, embarrassed about charging what they are worth, too inexperienced, or just unable to be assertive enough or uncertain about how to take their business to the next level.

I want to give you a few ideas about developing a positive sense of entitlement in your life to help you bring your dreams to fruition. Now the term ‘sense of entitlement’ has a rather negative vibe in many people’s minds. We use it to refer to people who are spoilt and selfish, we might even talk about the ‘entitlement culture’ in which people focus more on what they think they should get rather than what they need to contribute. Sociopaths, ruthless people lacking scruples or morals, are commonly said to have a sense of entitlement. But I want you to think about the idea of entitlement a little differently today.

It’s perfectly true that people can have an overdeveloped sense of entitlement but it’s not so widely recognized that people can also, in some important areas of their lives, have an underdeveloped sense of entitlement – a lack of awareness of their own power, of what they can or could do. This underdeveloped sense of entitlement where it matters can spoil things not only for them but also for those people they could be helping if only they took the bull by the horns in a particular area of their work lives.

Anyway, this is the conversation Mark and I were having and we both agreed that some of the wonderful therapists Mark’s been in contact with – in fact, not just some but many of them – perhaps need to develop more of a sense of entitlement when it comes to doing what they do for a living.

In a sense, who are you not to do what you want?

As long as it’s legal and doesn’t harm others. And if it helps others, then all the better!

How might you go about this? Well, you could follow the example of Ferdinand Waldo Demara Jr.

Demara was a notorious conman, which might make you wonder why you should take any lessons from him, but remember we can learn things to our benefit from anyone. This was a conman who also saved lives and who, weirdly, didn’t seem to be motivated by money. Generally conmen or women don’t have a problem with creative entitlement.

Demara’s con was pretending to be other people. He was so good at it that he became known as ‘the Great Impostor’, masquerading in roles ranging from monks to surgeons to prison wardens.

Blessed with high intelligence, a photographic memory, apparent fearlessness and super self belief, Demara at different times impersonated a ship’s doctor, a civil engineer, a sheriff’s deputy, an assistant prison warden, a doctor of applied psychology, a hospital orderly, a lawyer, a child-care expert, a dentist, a Benedictine monk, a Trappist monk, an editor, a cancer researcher, and a teacher. I am not making this up. He didn’t get much money from any of these positions, just temporary respect. You can see him in a small movie role in the 1960 horror film The Hypnotic Eye.

During the Korean War Demara impersonated a Canadian doctor and in 1951 he worked on the naval destroyer Cayuga for several months. During that time he carried out major operations, including removing a bullet embedded in a man’s chest thanks to the help of a medical textbook he had consulted and memorized before the op. He not only saved that man’s life but the lives of thirteen men in total. He was hailed as a hero but when the truth came out no one could believe he wasn’t a real surgeon. After all, how could such an effective life saver not be a doctor?

Tony Curtis played Demara in the movie of his life, The Great Impostor. Isn’t it interesting that nobody thinks that Curtis ‘impersonated’ Demara for this movie?

Now I’m in no way suggesting that you should impersonate someone you are not in order to become more successful, but Demara himself had some really interesting things to say about power and entitlement. And I want you to really think about this.

Demara told his biographer that the reason he was so successful in his roles was because he expanded into a vacuum where no one else was around to fill the void.

He explained that he had come to two beliefs. One was that in any organization there is always a lot of loose, unused power lying about which can be picked up without alienating anyone. Power can be picked up and used. This is an idea that anyone who has created and forged a path for themselves has instinctively understood.

The second rule, according to Demara, is this: if you want power and want to expand, don’t encroach on anyone else’s domain; open up new ones.

So now I’m got to quote Demara in his own words:

“I call it ‘Expanding into the power vacuum’. It works this way. If you come into a new situation, don’t join some other professor’s committee and try to make your mark by moving up in that committee. You’ll, one, have a long haul and two, make an enemy.”

So Demara’s technique is to set up your own committee or, in our language, carve out your own niche, and thereby become the authority in that niche. Again, I’ll quote him directly. He said:

“That way there’s no competition, no past standards to measure you by. How can anyone tell you aren’t running a top outfit? And then there’s no past laws or rules or precedents to hold you down or limit you. Make your own rules and interpretations. Nothing like it. Remember it, expand into the power vacuum!”

Now this is a guy who saved thirteen lives. Thirteen lives that maybe a real surgeon wouldn’t have saved. He also knew how to lead and how to assume power naturally. Again, I want to stress that I’m not advocating that anyone should lie or con their way to success. But what I am saying is that this guy hit upon some pretty profound psychological truths we can all use.

Take his observations about power vacuums.

If you think about it, every organisation – whether it’s religious, scientific, political, medical, financial or business – however well established and respected it may now be, was started at one time by a person or people who found, in Demara’s words, a power vacuum and sought to fill that vacuum by creating something new. Demara founded his own college which he even managed to get officially chartered by the state. His self-founded college continued to flourish for many years.

Anyone who starts anything gathers the courage, if they don’t already have it, to find some spare power lying around and pick it up. They look for a power vacuum, even if it’s just a small niche or in their local area, and they begin to fill it. In a way Demara was an extremely creative, even if dishonest, entrepreneur who happened to do some good in the world by assuming power that didn’t always really belong to him. But we can take the good elements of this extraordinary man’s actions and glean some real truths.
Mark and I didn’t start our business off with any sense that we were something special. Looking back, we ourselves probably didn’t have enough of a sense of entitlement to success.

We used to get really nervous when a doctor or a psychiatrist or a psychologist came to our workshops to learn about hypnosis. But what we found is that these people, the ones we assumed were the absolute experts, loved what we had to teach them. We didn’t think of it in this way at the time, but we certainly did find some ‘spare power’ lying around and picked it up. Or, to use Demara’s other metaphor, we’d found a power vacuum and filled it. Now we have over ten million people visiting our web sites every year.

So really the take home messages from this audio insight are:

1) We can learn from anything and anyone, including someone who in the eyes of the world might not be completely respectable.

2) We shouldn’t be so intimidated by life that we never seize the initiative and create something new – even if it’s just new to our very specific geographical area.

So create your own niche and assume your power. Knowing you can do this is the first step to doing it.

I’m not saying getting trained is not important, and we all need to learn. The great impostor himself had to learn how to do surgery – it just happened that he was expert at speedy self education. But if you wait for others to tell you it’s okay before you do anything, you may end up doing nothing.

Demara eventually become a real life chaplain, visiting the Good Samaritan Hospital of Orange County in California. He was liked and even loved and respected.

Never fall into the trap of believing that you can’t carve out a niche for yourself and create your own authority from scratch within this great tribe, the human race.

I hope you’ve found this interesting and useful. And to listen to other Audio Insights, check out the member’s section, The Growth Zone. Members get access to all the downloads on the site, plus exclusive members only downloads. To find out more just go to and click on the members link.

I’m Roger Elliott of Uncommon Knowledge. I hope you enjoyed this Audio Insight from

You can listen to 50 more Audio Insights with a Growth Zone Membership.

New Ways of Seeing Ebook

FREE Reframing Book! Just subscribe to my therapy techniques newsletter below.

Download my book on reframing, "New Ways of Seeing", when you subscribe for free email updates

Click to subscribe free now

Mark Tyrrell

About Mark Tyrrell

Psychology is my passion. I've been a psychotherapist trainer since 1998, specializing in brief, solution focused approaches. I now teach practitioners all over the world via our online courses.

You can get my book FREE when you subscribe to my therapy techniques newsletter. Click here to subscribe free now.

You can also get my articles on YouTube, find me on Instagram, Amazon, Twitter, and Facebook.

Search for more therapy techniques: