Working on self esteem in therapy

How to Improve Your Client's Self-Esteem in Therapy: 7 Tips

When children first master the expectations set by their parents, the experience provides them with a source of pride and self-esteem.

As children get older, the origins of self-esteem shift to social comparison and internal standards (Larsen, Buss, Wismeijer, & Song, 2017).

Self-esteem is our sense of worth. It is a self-evaluation of who we are and is often neither fair nor objective. In turn, a negative relationship with ourselves can damage our relationships, careers, and overall satisfaction with our lives (Orth, 2017).

This article explores elements of therapy that can help clients with low self-esteem increase their self-acceptance and progress along their journey to self-worth.

Before you continue, we thought you might like to download our three Self-Compassion Exercises for free. These detailed, science-based exercises will not only help you increase the compassion and kindness you show yourself, but also give you the tools to help your clients, students, or employees show more compassion to themselves.

This Article Contains:

  • Self-Esteem & Self-Acceptance Explained
  • How to Help Clients With Low Self-Esteem
  • 3 Ways to Improve Self-Esteem in Therapy
  • Helping Clients Foster Self-Acceptance: 2 Exercises
  • 7 Tips for Supporting Clients in Their Journey
  • Helpful Resources From
  • A Take-Home Message
  • References

Self-Esteem & Self-Acceptance Explained

Self-esteem is vital because it ensures psychological survival. A heightened awareness of self, defined as “the ability to form an identity and then attach a value to it,” is what differentiates us from other animals (McKay & Fanning, 2016, p. 1).

And yet, self-esteem and our measure of self-worth can bring a great deal of pain. If we reject elements of who we are, the psychological structures required to maintain us can become damaged.

What do we mean by self-esteem and self-acceptance?

Self-esteem is typically understood as someone’s self-evaluation of their worth as a person (Orth, 2017). It is, therefore, a subjective construct. It does not “necessarily reflect a person’s objective characteristics and competencies” or even how others may see and evaluate them (Orth & Robins, 2019, p. 329)

Self-esteem refers to our feelings of self-acceptance and self-respect, unlike narcissism, which suggests feelings of superiority and entitlement and points to a lack of empathy (Orth & Robins, 2019).

After all, “a sense of belonging or feeling accepted, liked, and included by others is a fundamental human need” and is linked to both our perceived and actual belonging (Cameron & Granger, 2017, p. 1).

Self-acceptance, like self-compassion, involves relating to ourselves with care and support. And, as with self-compassion, we benefit from learning self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness (Neff & Knox, 2017).

Self-acceptance is intimately connected to an individual’s relationship with themselves and their deficiencies and weaknesses. It is very much a sense of allowing ourselves to be who we are and accepting our self-worth (Neff & Knox, 2017).

Changes between and within individuals

Self-acceptance, like self-esteem, is not fixed; it changes over time. Research into self-worth agrees that across a lifetime, self-esteem typically (Orth, 2017):

  • Increases continuously from adolescence through to middle adulthood
  • Peaks between 50 and 60 years of age
  • Decreases in old age

Despite changing within individuals throughout our lifetimes, differences in self-esteem between individuals remain relatively stable throughout our lives. Those differences, however stable across a lifespan, show considerable variation between individuals (Orth, 2017).

Several factors influence self-esteem to differing degrees, including (Orth, 2017):

  • Gender
  • Socioeconomic status (indicated by income and education)
  • Ethnicity
  • Personality characteristics (including extraversion, emotional stability, and conscientiousness)
  • Stressful life experiences (such as illness, serious accidents, and unemployment)
  • Relationships

Some individuals experience more fluctuation in their degree of self-esteem than others. Influences include people’s reliance on external feedback and even the degree of cultural focus on self-esteem (Orth, 2017).

Situational and trait self-esteem

There are two types of self-esteem problems faced by clients attending self-esteem therapy: situational and characterological (or trait). Situational issues depend on the circumstances; the client may experience low self-esteem as a parent, sexual partner, or workplace. Low characterological self-esteem is more general and often has its roots in early experiences, including abuse, neglect, or abandonment (McKay & Fanning, 2016).

Why does it matter?

Self-esteem can have a very real effect on our lives. Our sense of worth influences our experience of careers, relationships, education, criminal behavior, and wellbeing (Orth, 2017).

In our personal lives, self-esteem researchers have found that levels of self-esteem can predict relationship satisfaction and quality of life. At work, it can indicate our degree of job satisfaction, performance, and career success (Orth, 2017).

How to Help Clients With Low Self-Esteem

“Judging and rejecting yourself cause enormous pain,” (McKay & Fanning, 2016, p. 1).

Low self-esteem can lead us to avoid anything that might increase our likelihood of experiencing suffering or discomfort from self-rejection, including taking few social, relationship, or career risks. As barriers get raised, we turn to blame and anger and rely on bragging, perfectionism, and excuses (McKay & Fanning, 2016).

The client can stop self-judging and increase self-esteem by seeing themselves differently. Cognitive restructuring techniques are practical and highly effective, especially for low self-esteem, whether situational or state (McKay & Fanning, 2016).

We can confront cognitive distortions, emphasize strengths over weaknesses, and develop specific skills to handle criticism and mistakes. Changing maladaptive thinking patterns in the situations they arise can boost self-confidence and self-worth (McKay & Fanning, 2016).

Characterological low self-esteem is more complex, deriving from feeling bad about ourselves. Changing thoughts alone is unlikely to be sufficient to change our underlying identity statement. Instead, it is necessary to quiet the inner critic before addressing “the negative identity that gives rise to negative thoughts” (McKay & Fanning, 2016, p. 2).

Ongoing therapy, including visualization and defusion techniques, can support the growth of self-esteem and help reinforce self-compassion and the commitment to nonjudgment.

3 Ways to Improve Self-Esteem in Therapy

Therapy is a powerful approach for increasing an individual’s sense of worth. Clients undergoing the therapeutic process typically begin to see themselves as “more okay, more deserving, more capable” (McKay & Fanning, 2016, p. 2).

Several activities can help therapists focus on the factors that influence our sense of self-worth, including the following:

Recognizing your ‘shoulds’

Like it or not, we have all been handed down many ‘shoulds’ – literally, things we are told we should do – from our parents. And the more our parents confound our own judgments, preferences, tastes, and issues, the more likely we are to have a fragile self-esteem (McKay & Fanning, 2016).

Such expectations can leave us captive to beliefs that we may be bad if we don’t follow the rules. Becoming enslaved to such opinions can damage our sense of self-worth and, in turn, our self-esteem (McKay & Fanning, 2016).

As a result, it can be a valuable exercise in therapy to understand the ‘shoulds’ we carry with us. The following four questions can help your client (modified from McKay & Fanning, 2016).

Ask your client to consider the following questions regarding a particular area of their life:

  1. Do you feel guilty or experience self-recrimination?
  2. Are you experiencing feelings of conflict? Perhaps you are torn between what you should or should not do.
  3. Do you feel obligated or owing?
  4. Are you avoiding something you feel you should be doing?

Feelings of guilt, avoidance, and obligation typically point to underlying ‘shoulds. ’ For example, parents’ feelings of conflict regarding not spending all their free time with their children probably arise from learned ‘shoulds’ (McKay & Fanning, 2016).

Challenging your ‘shoulds’

Once identified, ‘shoulds’ can be challenged, often for the first time in a person’s life. While some such beliefs are healthy guides, recognize that others may be damaging to self-esteem. Spend time working with your client to reduce or remove the effect of an unwanted ‘should’ (McKay & Fanning, 2016).

  • Help your client consider why the ‘should’ arose in the first place. Perhaps it originated in a very different situation from the one the client finds themselves in now.
  • Encourage them to weigh up the benefits of the belief versus the negatives. What impact does it have on their own and others’ lives?

Understanding why the ‘should’ arose and whether or not it is beneficial will help the client manage it with more positive replacements, such as:

  • Recognize the should – “I should have a more impressive job.
  • Replacement – “An influential career and corporate prestige was my father’s rule, not mine. I have job security and enjoy what I do.”

Improving awareness

Improved awareness can lead to a more realistic sense of self-worth and self-esteem. Understanding the likely consequences of actions can be an essential part of the client’s ability to handle the impact of adverse events on their self-esteem (McKay & Fanning, 2016).

The following questions help clients become more aware and avoid ill-thought-out decisions. Ask clients to reflect on a decision they are facing (modified from McKay & Fanning, 2016):

  1. Have I experienced something like this before?
  2. What were the negative consequences last time, and what can I expect this time from the decision I’m considering?
  3. Are the consequences (negative versus positive) worthwhile?
  4. Are there alternatives with less adverse outcomes?

Examining the potential consequences before making a decision and adopting a questioning mind can result in fewer mistakes or an increased acceptance that errors are essential to learning. In either case, there will be less risk of damage to the individual’s self-esteem.

Helping Clients Foster Self-Acceptance: 2 Exercises

Poor self-acceptance and lower self-esteem are often found together in individuals.

Like fostering self-esteem, learning to own weaknesses and mistakes can be valuable in improving self-acceptance (MacInnes, 2006).

Accepting who we are

We don’t experience reality objectively or with 100% accuracy. McKay and Fanning (2016) describe it as similar to a fuzzy image on a TV screen, where the picture we create in our head can lack details or be misleading.

To help your client understand that we all have an individual, possibly faulty, version of reality, use the image of a mental TV screen as a metaphor for our internal view (modified from McKay & Fanning, 2016):

  • Everyone has one.
  • Only you can see and experience your screen.
  • You can never fully experience another person’s screen.
  • You can never fully communicate what is on your screen; some of it is unconscious.
  • You cannot be 100% sure of your screen’s accuracy.
  • Your self-talk is internal and can create a negative interpretation of what you ‘see.’
  • Often, when our screen is most distorted, we are most sure of its accuracy.
  • You can control elements of your screen some of the time. Such as, closing your eyes, listening to your favorite music, etc.
  • You can control all of your screen some of the time, such as when you successfully meditate.
  • You cannot control all of what you see all the time.
  • You can learn to see your screen more clearly, though it will never be 100% accurate. Self-help and therapy can improve your self-awareness and knowledge of how your feelings and beliefs influence how you see the world.
  • Critics are criticizing how they see you on their screens. They never see the real you.
  • How you perceive reality is shaped by many factors, including the environment and your physical and mental state.

Ask your client to bear these points in mind and recognize that we may mistake others as they mistake us. We ca be aware that we all have a partial view of reality, be more accepting, and practice compassion to ourselves and others.

Making mistakes

While we all try to avoid making mistakes, some are inevitable. The following steps help clients accept mistakes as part of everyday life; they do not make us wrong or bad people (modified from McKay & Fanning, 2016):

  • Recognize that everyone makes mistakes
    From doctors to ministers, everyone is imperfect. Things go wrong, and failures are inevitable. Yet, mistakes are important; they lead to growth and learning.
  • Recognize that you are no different
    The client needs to understand that like everyone else, they make mistakes. Ask the client to list their top 10 biggest mistakes. Consider what needs, wishes, and circumstances led to the decision that caused the mistake.
  • Forgiveness
    No matter how painful the consequences, self-forgiveness is key to maintaining self-esteem and feelings of self-worth. Reflect on the following points to help:
    • Most likely, the decision was the right one at the time, based on the knowledge available.
    • The mistake has happened, and the price has been paid.
    • Mistakes are unavoidable.

Dwelling on mistakes once lessons have been learned serves no purpose and is ultimately damaging.

7 Tips for Supporting Clients in Their Journey

Self-esteem plays a valuable role in mediating between shyness and loneliness. And equally, shyness has a part in low self-esteem and lacking confidence in our social behaviors (Zhao, Kong, & Wang, 2013).

The following actions help clients overcome shyness and offer a boost to self-esteem (modified from Larsen et al., 2017):

  1. Start by showing up
    When shy or suffering low self-esteem, we can overestimate how uncomfortable a situation may be, and it becomes tempting to hide away. And yet, things are rarely as bad as they first seem.
  2. Don’t be your worst critic
    Give yourself credit for how you perform and the person you are. Don’t blow mistakes out of proportion.
  3. Baby steps are better than nothing
    If you aren’t ready to take the plunge and begin something new or take on something you have previously failed at, start with small steps. Experience every partial success.
  4. Give unto others
    When we have issues with self-esteem, self-acceptance, or shyness, we focus too much on ourselves. Focus instead on others and what they say. Offer encouragement and support and move your attention off your discomfort.
  5. Exude warmth
    People low in self-esteem or shy can be unfriendly or tense and may be challenging to engage with. Try to create a more positive, warm, and friendly demeanor. Smile and make eye contact.
  6. Anticipate and accept failure
    All of us make mistakes. Failure is a part of life and a vital part of learning. If you do or say something wrong, learn from it and move on.
  7. Join the crowd
    When we lack self-esteem or self-confidence, small talk can seem terrifying. However, when you observe it, you begin to realize it is nothing more than light chat. Don’t expect too much of yourself.

If your client can see that life is a little like a school science project, they will realize there are many unknowns, and things don’t always work out as planned. When we learn from our mistakes and don’t take ourselves too seriously, we can begin to enjoy the small successes in life, accept who we are, and understand our self-worth.

Helpful Resources From

For even more self-esteem tools that will help your clients strengthen their self-acceptance and self-image, check out the following worksheets, handouts, and exercises.

  • Shifting Codependency Patterns
    This handout explores drivers of codependency, such as low self-esteem, by comparing and contrasting examples of codependent versus adaptive thoughts and behaviors.
  • Designing Affirmations
    This worksheet helps clients design positively focused, goal-oriented affirmations that they can regularly practice to encourage greater self-esteem.
  • Self-Esteem Journal For Adults
    This worksheet presents a series of journaling prompts that inspire reflection on one’s best attributes and positive aspects of life.
  • My ‘Love Letter’ to Myself
    This exercise helps clients recognize and consider the applications of their many great qualities as a means to strengthen self-esteem and resilience.
  • 17 Self-Compassion Exercises
    If you’re looking for more science-based ways to help others develop self-compassion, check out this collection of 17 validated self-compassion tools for practitioners. Use them to help others create a kinder and more nurturing relationship with the self.

A Take-Home Message

Our self-esteem begins to form in early childhood and develops and fluctuates throughout our lifetime. What we are told by our parents and society, our personality, stressful life experiences, and our gender impacts the development of our self-worth as we grow (Orth, 2017).

And it’s important, not only to our general psychological wellbeing, but also to the success of our relationships, education, and career (McKay & Fanning, 2016).

Low self-esteem can cause enormous pain, making life satisfaction appear out of reach for many. We may hide behind barriers that we put up, make excuses for not taking part in life, and respond with anger to hide how we truly feel.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Therapy is remarkably helpful at increasing self-esteem, focusing on strengths over weaknesses, using cognitive restructuring techniques to favor positives, and sharing skills for coping with criticism and handling mistakes.

Try out some of the exercises and tips within this article with your client. Work toward increasing their sense of self-worth and accepting who they are.

We hope you enjoyed reading this article. Don’t forget to download our three Self-Compassion Exercises for free.

  • Cameron, J., & Granger, S. (2017). Self-esteem and belongingness. In V. Zeigler-Hill & T. Shackelford (Eds.), Encyclopedia of personality and individual differences. Springer.
  • Larsen, R., Buss, D., Wismeijer, A., & Song, J. (2017). Personality psychology: Domains of knowledge about human nature. McGraw-Hill Education.
  • Neff, K., & Knox, M. C. (2017). Self-compassion. In V. Zeigler-Hill & T. Shackelford (Eds.), Encyclopedia of personality and individual differences. Springer.
  • MacInnes, D. L. (2006). Self-esteem and self-acceptance: An examination into their relationship and their effect on psychological health. Journal of Psychiatric and Mental Health Nursing, 13(5), 483–489.
  • McKay, M., & Fanning, P. (2016). Self-esteem: A proven program of cognitive techniques for assessing, improving, & maintaining your self-esteem. New Harbinger.
  • Orth, U. (2017). The lifespan development of self-esteem. In J. Specht (Ed. ), Personality development across the lifespan (pp. 181–195). Elsevier Academic Press.
  • Orth, U., & Robins, R. W. (2019). Development of self-esteem across the lifespan. In D. P. McAdams, R. L. Shiner, & J. L. Tackett (Eds.), Handbook of personality development (pp. 328–344). Guilford Press.
  • Zhao, J., Kong, F., & Wang, Y. (2013). The role of social support and self-esteem in the relationship between shyness and loneliness. Personality and Individual Differences, 54(5), 577–581.

22 Activities for Your Practice

Regardless of where life takes us, we must always face ourselves. So, we might as well make our self-relationship our absolute best relationship.

As Oscar Wilde wrote:

“To love oneself is the beginning of a lifelong romance.”

He had a point, and in this article, we will guide readers in developing self-esteem, which is defined as “a realistic, appreciative opinion of oneself” (Schiraldi, 2016, p. 24). We will include various research-supported therapies, activities, and tips designed to improve self-esteem and related constructs.

By employing these resources, individuals will be empowered to face today’s tough challenges with a healthy dose of confidence and courage!

Before you continue, you might like to download these three Self-Compassion Exercises for free. These detailed, science-based exercises will not only help you increase the compassion and kindness you show yourself, but will also give you the tools to help your clients, students, or employees show more compassion to themselves.

This Article Contains:

  • Types of Therapies for Self-Esteem
  • 7 Activities for Your Sessions
  • 6 Brilliant Techniques
  • Exercises for Group Therapy
  • A Look at Art Therapy for Self-Esteem
  • 4 Ideas for CBT Sessions
  • The Science of Self-Acceptance Resources
  • A Take-Home Message
  • References

Types of Therapies for Self-Esteem

While self-esteem-focused approaches may be included with most types of mental health treatment, they are particularly suited to those outlined below.

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a proven therapeutic approach that addresses the impact of thoughts and behaviors on a person’s feelings in a given situation. CBT enables nonadaptive learning processes to be replaced by those that are positive and in line with the client’s objectives (Hofmann & Smits, 2008).

Because self-esteem is maintained by cognitive factors, CBT is especially suited to self-esteem enhancement. CBT, which is often combined with a variety of approaches such as cognitive restructuring and meditation, has been found to be effective for treating a wide range of psychological issues (Hofmann & Smits, 2008; Stewart & Chambless, 2009).

Humanistic/Client-Centered Counseling

Initially developed by Carl Rogers, who later founded Client-Centered Therapy, this approach is based on the philosophy that individuals already possess the qualities needed to flourish.

By encouraging curiosity, creativity, empathy, and intuition (Giorgi, 2005), Humanistic/Client-Centered counseling supports clients in reaching their full potential. Humanistic Therapy has been shown to produce large and stable improvements in psychological functioning (Elliott, 2002).

Rational Emotive Therapy

Cognitive psychologist Albert Ellis developed Rational Emotive Therapy (Ellis & Powers, 1975) to treat distress by addressing irrational or faulty thinking. The focus of such therapy is not the situation per se, but the client’s belief about the situation.

The clinician helps the client to examine their cognitive appraisals of how an event may have created an outcome (Gonzalez et al., 2004). It is an active and directive approach that has been found to be effective for the treatment of a range of issues (David, Cotet, Matu, Mogoase, & Stefan, 2018), as well as specifically for the enhancement of self-esteem (Valizadeh & Emamipoor, 2007).

Mindfulness-Based Therapy

Mindfulness-Based counseling is designed to increase relaxation while removing negative judgments. It is grounded in Buddhist philosophy and a mental process “characterized by nonjudgmental awareness of the present moment” (Hofmann, Sawyer, Witt, & Oh, 2010, p. 169).

This approach, which incorporates various meditation practices, has been found to be effective for treating numerous emotional and psychological problems (Khoury et al., 2013).

Narrative Therapy

Narrative Therapy counselors work collaboratively with clients to address how the stories we tell about ourselves affect our perceptions and behaviors. When a person’s narrative becomes damaging, the therapist supports the client in re-authoring their story (Madigan, 2011).

Narrative counseling has been found to be efficacious for reducing self-stigma associated with mental illness, as well as for increasing self-esteem (Chadwick, Smyth, & Liao, 2014; Roe et al., 2013).

7 Activities for Your Sessions

Whether practicing CBT or another therapeutic approach, therapists have many self-esteem-promoting activities from which to choose.

Here are seven examples of worksheets designed to boost self-esteem.

Self-Esteem Sentence Stems

The Self-Esteem Sentence Stems worksheet aids clients in revealing feelings and other personal issues that may be impacting their self-esteem. It is recommended that clients spend 5–10 minutes on this activity each week over an extended period.

Clients complete the provided sentences, which may then be shared with their counselor as a way of enhancing self-awareness and monitoring for positive change. The worksheet contains 19 sentences; here are four examples:

  • “This week, I would enjoy doing…”
  • “It made me feel great when…”
  • “Something I deeply desire is…”
  • “Something I do secretly is…”

The Self-Esteem Survey

The Self-Esteem Survey is an instrument designed to help clinicians assess their client’s strengths and needs in terms of self-esteem. Individuals read 15 self-esteem statements and then indicate how true each item is for them. Here are four examples:

  • It is easy for me to be myself.
  • I am lovable.
  • I am deserving of respect.
  • I am good at what I do.

Once the self-esteem questionnaire is scored, the therapist will be in a better position to develop an individualized, self-esteem-boosting treatment plan.

Self-Esteem Journal for Adults

This exercise is a practical journaling template that promotes positive self-reflection, a useful approach to enhancing self-esteem. Using the prompts, your client can note down meaningful daily events and reflect on them to enhance your self-knowledge.

Three different prompts are provided each day. A few examples include:

  • My best attribute is…
  • 3 unique things about me are…
  • I feel most proud of myself when…

Regular journaling will provide clients with plenty of material to reflect on, helping them become aware of any trends in their feelings and emotions.

An initial 14-day commitment

Similar to the Habit Tracker, the 14-Day Commitment worksheet enables clients to monitor their behaviors over two weeks. By first charting behaviors, healthy goals can be identified and may be adjusted until they are both realistic and appropriately challenging.

This example of the 14-Day Commitment worksheet includes an empty second page for personal use.

Catching Your Critic

This worksheet helps clients to identify their internal judge.

On Days One and Two, individuals are instructed to keep count of the number of critical statements they say to themselves and record them alongside the time they notice those thoughts. An example is provided: “My boss must be fed up with my endless questions.”

They are then asked to reflect on each critical statement and complete write down the purpose of that thought:

  • Does it have a positive or a negative impact?
  • Does it allow me to do something good (positive) or avoid something unpleasant?

After two days of reflection, clients then review the list. A few example questions for thought are offered:

  • Are there any basic themes?
  • Do they typically drive higher performance and achievement?
  • Do they discourage me from doing what I want to do?

Goal Setting For Self-Esteem

This goal-setting exercise can help individuals capture aspects of their life that they currently feel bad about and assign goals to fix them or reduce their impact.

The client begins by considering eight areas of their life and whether or not they have negative aspects, for example:

  • Material
  • Family and Friends
  • Health
  • Leisure

After considering each area, the client is encouraged to capture any negative aspects in the left-hand column of the provided table. Then, in the right-hand column, they can create a concrete goal describing something they might change.

Track and Measure Success

This exercise helps clients become more cognizant of their your wins and notable achievements.

Individuals are asked to keep a digital or a handwritten copy of all that has gone well, and then review it regularly or before a future challenge. Some prompts are provided to help them unpack their victories:

  • “What was the situation?”
  • “What was my involvement?”
  • “What challenges did I face?”

By understanding the role they played in their successes, clients are more able to build self-esteem by focusing on times they were successful, rather than remembering what went wrong. .

4 Brilliant Techniques

According to former American First Lady Michelle Obama:

“We need to do a better job of putting ourselves higher on our own ‘to do’ list.”

It’s true that many of us create ‘to do’ lists for all sorts of household and work-related tasks. So, why not also create such lists for our emotional wellbeing? The following techniques provide some brilliant examples of how to make our psychological health a top priority.

Self-validation and Self-respect

This activity helps individuals to build up their confidence, self-respect, and self-esteem. The client provides three self-validating statements they have used in the past week, then answers the provided questions to improve their self-validation skills.

Where clients can’t come up with such examples, they are asked to think of instances when they could have used self-validating statements but didn’t. A few prompts are provided, such as:

  • I reminded myself that there is a cause to all behavior and that I am doing my best.
  • I was compassionate to myself.
  • I admitted to myself that it is hard when someone invalidates me, even when they are correct.

The questions provided give clients an opportunity to recognize situations where they might improve their self-esteem by validating their sense of self-worth.

Self-Care Checkup

Self-care activities help us enhance our well-being and maintain good mental health. This Self-Care Checkup activity is designed to help clients consider the frequency and quality of their self-care in five important life domains:

  • Emotional
  • Physical
  • Social
  • Professional; and
  • Spiritual.

For each domain, individuals are asked to rate how well or how often they believe they engage in the listed examples of self-care activities, for example:

  • Getting sufficient sleep
  • Enjoying hobbies
  • Making time for friends or family

Ultimately, by using a self-care checklist, individuals will have a greater understanding of which self-care activities they would like to engage in more to promote a healthy body and mindset.

Use mantras

A mantra is a motivating phrase that has been found to promote both physical and emotional health (Deekshitulu, 2015). For example, a mantra might be “I am talented in my field.” The mantra may be displayed in a visible location, or it may be taken with a person and used whenever encouragement is needed.

Mindfulness exercises are excellent ways to incorporate positive mantras into meditation. A great deal of information and resources for engaging in gratitude meditation is available in the following article: Guided Gratitude Meditation Scripts & Mantras.

Use an app

With today’s technological advances, there are innovative ways to increase confidence and/or break undesirable habits.

For example, the HelloMind app is a popular tool that was created by a leading hypnotherapist.

It contains numerous treatments aimed at decreasing problematic symptoms or behaviors, as well as boosters designed to promote positive constructs like self-esteem.

Similarly, the Build Confidence with AJ app by Andrew Johnson employs mindfulness techniques intended to promote healthy
habits, relaxation, confidence, and resilience.

Exercises for Group Therapy

Clinical research has shown that group therapy is an effective approach for treating a variety of issues such as depression, addiction, and anxiety (Novotney, 2019).

Group therapy reduces feelings of isolation by promoting bonding with others experiencing similar problems. It also enables individuals to benefit from multiple perspectives. Various exercises may be used to maximize group effectiveness. Here are seven examples:

Ice breakers

Ice breakers are great for easing awkwardness and getting people talking. There are many types of ice-breaking techniques, such as having everyone share something unexpected or humorous about themselves.

Another way to break the ice is to have each person state four self-descriptive adjectives that begin with the first letter of their name, such as “My name is Beth, and I’m blue eyed, bossy, brave, and big hearted.


This approach involves having individuals act out a role in a particular scenario, typically switching roles with a partner. It is especially helpful for promoting empathy or for practicing a challenging situation, such as asking for a raise.

Role-play may also be used to practice resisting temptations. Self-care group therapy provides an excellent context for role-play. If the group is too large, it may be broken down into smaller groups of two to three individuals.


For this activity, group members discuss what gratitude means to them, as well as the specific things for which they are grateful. Doing so creates a climate of gratitude while reminding individuals of the good things in their own lives.


Hypnotism is an effective way to influence cognitive and emotional processes such as self-esteem by inducing a highly suggestive state of consciousness. It may be employed in a group setting, which has the benefit of reaching more people at once.


Compliments are an easy way to brighten someone’s day and promote self-esteem. One way to use compliments in group therapy is to have each person say something positive about everyone in the group.

After each compliment, the recipient is asked to repeat the phrase with an “I” statement such as “I have pretty eyes.”

Success sharing

When group members share their successes, they enable others to see that positive outcomes are indeed possible. Moreover, hearing positive group feedback is a powerful self-esteem booster.


Mindfulness activities such as relaxation and deep-breathing exercises are easily implemented in group settings and help group members feel calmer during sessions. Along with relaxation exercises, yoga is another great option for mindfulness-focused group therapy.

A Look at Art Therapy for Self-Esteem

Artistic expression is not only fun, but it promotes the cathartic release of positive feelings (Curl, 2008).

Examples of creative therapy activities include healthy image posters, collages, clay modeling, and painting.

Scientific research supports the efficacy of art therapy for the promotion of positive qualities such as self-worth, self-esteem, resilience, and self-confidence (Hartz & Thick, 2011; Roghanchi, Mohamad, Ching Mey, Momeni, & Golmohamadian, 2013).

4 Ideas for CBT Sessions

There are many excellent add-ons when it comes to self-esteem-focused CBT. Here are four ideas:


Meditation involves relaxing the mind in a way that promotes calmness and serenity. For those who battle negative ruminations, meditation facilitates the ability to allow triggering thoughts to simply float on by with no emotional reaction.

Cognitive restructuring

This technique involves identifying dysfunctional automatic thoughts and cognitive distortion (for example, thinking, “I’m a loser because I didn’t get the part. ”). Automatic thoughts are then disputed, and rational rebuttals that are more conducive to positive wellbeing are constructed (for example, “I’m a talented actor and will get plenty more parts.”).


Regardless of a person’s writing skills, getting into the habit of writing down thoughts, feelings, and reflections is a terrific way to inspire self-discovery. Read more on the benefits of journaling.


This approach involves having clients keep track of their goals, as well as any associated challenges or feelings.

Along with being a practical tool for charting progress, it also has therapeutic value because the mere act of self-monitoring is associated with greater adherence to behavioral objectives (Burke, Wang, & Sevick, 2011).

The Science of Self-Acceptance Resources

Self-actualization is considered the highest level of purpose and fulfillment. However, getting there requires a good degree of self-acceptance. Fortunately, there are some effective and readily available self-acceptance tools. For example, offers the Science of Self-Acceptance Masterclass©.

This innovative program provides practitioners with a research-based approach that helps clients feel that they are good enough – even in the face of past failures or a lack of approval from others.

If you’re looking for more science-based ways to help others develop self-compassion, this collection contains 17 validated self-compassion tools for practitioners. Use them to help others create a kinder and more nurturing relationship with the self.

Along with the masterclass, many useful self-acceptance books are also available. Here are three examples:


There Is Nothing to Fix: Becoming Whole Through Radical Self-Acceptance – Suzanne Jones, 2019

This book supports readers in gaining self-acceptance by providing a step-by-step way to build the emotional
tools needed to become more self-confident, self-compassionate, and self-accepting.

In doing so, Jones empowers readers by supporting them in discovering their most authentic selves.

Available on Amazon.


The Mindful Self-Compassion Workbook: A Proven Way to Accept Yourself, Build Inner Strength, and Thrive – Kristin Neff and Christopher Germer, 2018

This science-based workbook is designed to enhance emotional wellbeing by enabling readers to break free of negative self-judgments and unrealistic standards.

It contains many tips and exercises, including guided meditations and compelling stories.

Available on Amazon.


Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life with the Heart of a Buddha – Tara Brach, 2004

This book is designed to reduce suffering by offering Buddhist-based teachings, case histories, and guided meditations.

The author encourages readers to live more full and meaningful lives by stopping the emotional wars within themselves and embracing their innate goodness.

Available on Amazon.


A Take-Home Message

If you wish to experience a joyful life with meaningful relationships, you must first look inward. How you feel about yourself affects everything you do.

Psychologists know this, which is why promoting self-esteem is a top priority among mental health clinicians. Luckily, they have numerous effective tools at their disposal.

For anyone grappling with a poor self-concept, it is important to remember that self-esteem is neither indulgent nor selfish. Rather, it is essential for positive emotional health, as well as for making a significant difference in society. You could even say that self-esteem is emotional armor that helps us weather the highs and lows of life with strength, confidence, and resilience.

“Self-esteem isn’t everything; it’s just that there’s nothing without it.”

Gloria Steinem

We hope you enjoyed reading this article. Don’t forget to download these three Self-Compassion Exercises for free.

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  • Curl, K. (2008). Assessing stress reduction as a function of artistic creation and cognitive focus. Art Therapy, 25, 164–169.
  • David, D., Cotet, C., Matu, S., Mogoase, C., & Stefan, S. (2018). 50 years of rational-emotive and cognitive-behavioral therapy: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 74, 304–318.
  • Deekshitulu, B. (2015). Role of mantras in mental health. International Journal of Humanities & Social Science Studies, 1(6), 34–39.
  • Elliott, R. (2002). The effectiveness of humanistic therapies: A meta-analysis. In D. J. Cain (Ed.), Humanistic psychotherapies: Handbook of research and practice (pp. 57–81). American Psychological Association.
  • Ellis, A., & Powers, M. (1975). A guide to rational living. Wilshire Book Company.
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  • Gonzalez, J., Nelson, J., Gutkin, T., Saunders, A., Galloway, A., & Shwery, C. (2004). Rational emotive therapy with children and adolescents. Journal of Emotional and Behavioral Disorders, 12, 222–235.
  • Hartz, A., & Thick, L. (2011). Art therapy strategies to raise self-esteem in female juvenile offenders: A comparison of art psychotherapy and art as therapy approaches. Art Therapy, 22, 70–80.
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  • Hofmann, S., Sawyer, A., Witt, A., & Oh, D. (2010). The effect of mindfulness-based therapy on anxiety and depression: A meta-analytic review. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 78, 169–183.
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  • Madigan, S. (2011). Narrative therapy. American Psychological Association.
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Building Self-Esteem: 5 Creative Ways to Use Today


Know YourselfPractices how to


so. How to determine if it is normal or low?

“Self-esteem is considered to be the ideas that we have formed about ourselves, our abilities, capabilities, character traits and values ​​of our inner world,” says art therapist Polina Postelgina. - Our opinion about ourselves is formed in the process of communicating with others and comparing ourselves with them, as well as on the basis of feedback, external evaluation. Without this, it would be difficult for us to make life choices, set goals and achieve them, and make decisions.

It is self-esteem that serves as a motivator for learning new things, developing in one capacity or another, and developing certain traits in oneself. Based on self-esteem, we analyze our actions, remain satisfied or dissatisfied with ourselves.

Working with her is not a tribute to fashion, but the harmonization of an important component of the psyche. It allows you to adapt in society: find yourself in some business and achieve success in it, show talents and abilities, establish relationships and feel belonging to some social group and humanity as a whole.

A "social person" is nowhere without the ability to evaluate himself. Another thing is that often self-esteem does not correspond to reality.

What are the criteria for the norm?

“Self-esteem can be adequate or inadequate: low or high. The key point here is that healthy, adequate self-esteem corresponds to the real state of affairs. A person is aware of his strengths and weaknesses, adequately assesses the possibilities, feels confident in communicating with other people - without superiority or without constraint and insecurity, ”says the psychologist.

A balanced subjective self-image can serve as a criterion for adequate self-assessment. For example: "I'm good at this, but in another area I still need to work on myself in order to get a higher position." And this self-image is confirmed by the objective requirements of the employer.

Low self-esteem makes us insecure and makes us give up ambition, even if we have the ability, avoid contacts and opportunities, fearing failure

Inflated self-esteem makes a person overconfident and arrogant. It often creates a misleading image of its resources. Because of this, some important project may not be realized and people who rely on a specific result will suffer.

“As practice shows, the problem most often lies in the underestimation of one's own importance, so self-esteem has to be increased. And few people with inflated self-esteem will voluntarily strive to “descend from heaven to earth”, that’s how we are arranged, ”explains the art therapist.

Self-esteem is formed closer to adolescence and "ripens" to a young age, by the age of 22-25. “Until then, other people’s assessments are important to us, but as we grow older, we learn to rely on our own ideas and knowledge about ourselves and correct them. If this process is difficult and it is difficult for a person to assess himself adequately, you can turn to a psychologist and separate other people's projections from yourself, identify strengths, identify areas of growth, and learn self-support,” notes Polina Postelgina.

Societal standards are arranged in such a way that a man's self-esteem can be underestimated if he shows sensuality and faces disapproval of this from relatives and society. It is not customary for a man to cry, he can only be upset. But if such a sensitive man gets into an environment where this quality is useful, for example, in an acting or other creative field, his self-esteem can be strengthened.

Women are often judged by external data. From childhood, they are divided into beautiful and ugly, and soon the girl herself looks at herself through the eyes of others. But the standards of beauty are changing rapidly

“The psyche cannot immediately adapt to these changes. What was laid down in childhood can have a strong influence on the self-esteem of an adult, although it will not be confirmed outside. But as a psychologist, I am convinced that every person has value, has a unique combination of personal qualities and properties, abilities and talents. All of them can already be the basis for feeling the value of oneself in society and the world,” states Polina Postelgina.

Creativity, art therapy is a universal way to increase self-esteem. This awakens in a person the ability, inherent from birth, to be a creator: to manifest himself outside, to order the world around him, to create, to invent something new and unique. This is the basis for self-respect and self-acceptance, the art therapist believes.

“Unfortunately, we also often lose contact with this ability “thanks to” criticism and evaluation of our creativity. But art therapy can become that means and that environment where a person freely and without judgement manifests himself again, as in childhood. Over time, he gains the ability to follow his creative energy, rely on it and trust it, and therefore himself.

In the course of art therapy, a person acquires the following beliefs: "I can do it, I can do it", "I, my feelings and manifestations are valuable in themselves." Interaction with the color and tactile properties of visual materials also helps to relieve stress and enhance the adaptive qualities of the individual, ”explains the specialist.

Five techniques to increase self-esteem

1. Self-portrait

You will need: A4 white paper, colored pencils or crayons.

Draw a self-portrait (draw quickly without concern for artistic value) and answer the questions:

  • How would you describe this person?

  • What are his strengths?

  • What is this person missing?

  • What would you like to wish him?

  • Is there anything you would like to correct or change in the drawing? Do it on the same sheet or draw the portrait again.

The technique allows you to look at yourself from the outside, explore self-esteem and express approval and support for yourself.

2. Mandala

You will need: A4 sheet of a color you like, pencils or felt-tip pens, the base for the circle.

Draw a large circle using a compass or plate. Fill the space inside the circle as you wish, after saying to yourself: “It's me. I am a part of this world, and I am such (such), what (what) I am.

Look at the finished drawing:

  • What do you like about the mandala?

  • What are your qualities and properties?

  • What message could this mandala give you?

If you want to correct or add something, do it.

Mandala is a harmonizing form and a slice of the inner state. By drawing mandalas regularly, with a theme or just like that, you can balance your mood, relieve stress, improve contact with the inner world, and find answers to exciting questions.

3. Postcard to yourself

You will need ready-made sets for making postcards. You can use what is at hand: paper, paints, magazine clippings, ribbons, decor. Find the content you like.

As a child, we often drew or made postcards for our loved ones: remember what delight and awe they caused! But even if someone did not appreciate such a gift, now you will have the opportunity to make it yourself. Enjoy the creative process and write wishes and thanks to yourself, funny phrases or add kind drawings. Let this work serve as an anchor of self-support, love and attention to yourself.

4. A letter to yourself

You will need: a piece of paper and a pen.

Text practices are also part of art therapy. If you are not ready to draw and create a postcard, or want to complement other techniques, write yourself a letter. Just as if you were writing to a friend. Share what you want, say something important, ask for advice or support. This practice allows you to get rid of tension and pent-up feelings, sort out your thoughts, as well as establish and strengthen contact with yourself, learn self-support.

5. My personal coat of arms

You will need: colored paper and cardboard, paints and felt-tip pens, scissors, magazines and images, colored tape and other decorative materials.

Create a personal coat of arms reflecting your achievements, values, unique personality, talents and goals - whatever you see fit. You can come up with a motto and put it on the coat of arms. Crests often have animal holders - this can be your "power animal".

Technique strengthens not only self-esteem, but also the boundaries of the individual. As a result, we better understand our values ​​and symbolically protect them: after all, the coat of arms is often depicted as a shield and placed on roadside plots, where it marks the beginning of a new territory.

Art therapist, leader of art therapy groups for women, member of the Russian Art Therapy Association

Personal website

Gene Haynes "Watercolor Practices.

The Power of Color for Healing, Positive Mood and Inner Support"

This book will be useful for those who have never painted, and for those who were told in childhood that they "never will succeed." It is for those who like to play with color, distracting from the stresses of modern life.

All of Jean Haynes' books talk about the invigorating effect of painting, about creativity as a way to cheer up, but in Watercolor Practices this idea is the main one. The book will inspire readers to take up a wonderful life-changing hobby.


Text:Olga Kochetkova-Korelova

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How to increase self-esteem and overcome self-doubt


Self-doubt is a common “ stamp ”, which we used to designate the whole complex of sensations, thoughts and behavior. It's the idea of ​​yourself as a person who can't do something, or isn't good enough for something, doesn't do something well, or something like that. Self-doubt is accompanied by:

Thoughts: Emotions: annoyance
probably not very decent to do that, what might they think of me… shyness

What a huge choice :) , but, as a rule, an insecure person can be seen immediately . You think you're great at hiding your insecurities - well, you're wrong. That is noticeably . There may be hand trembling, and appropriate postures, posture, in a group such a person tries to stay behind, his voice is rather quiet, and so on.

What is the real problem with self-doubt?

Largely due to self-doubt, it is difficult for us to take on new projects, protect our interests, be effective, make a career, be happy, and so on and so forth. Therefore, one of the most common requests to a psychologist for psychological help is “ how to deal with self-doubt? ", while each specific client has its own unique case.

It also happens quite often that self-doubt is accompanied by low self-esteem - or feeling of low self-esteem. Objective methods make it possible to find out whether this is really so. Often, clients define themselves as low assertiveness - or the ability to live and be happy regardless of external assessments, the ability to independently regulate their behavior and decisions. All three of these things - assertiveness, self-esteem, self-confidence - are interconnected, and changing to one of them, in all likelihood, it will be possible to affect others.

👉 On the same topic: Check your self-esteem on the Rosenberg scale

How to get rid of self-doubt?

Is it possible to get rid of self-doubt on your own or can you do without consulting a psychologist? You can try on your own, but you have to try: learn, try new things, overcome fear, think a lot, after all. Sometimes it can be helpful to read some books on the subject. You can attend a couple of assertiveness or self-confidence trainings, and then try to cope on your own.

👉📒 A notebook for increasing self-esteem and self-confidence - 10 exercises for independent work on yourself

With a psychologist it will be faster and possibly easier. And, perhaps, it turns out that self-doubt is the tip of the iceberg. Since, as a reminder, self-doubt is a complex set of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors (as well as the resulting problems), the approach to overcoming this will be complex. But, fortunately, with the proper work of the client, it is relatively fast.

First, it will be necessary to determine what exactly manifests itself in self-doubt:

  • thoughts;
  • emotions;
  • behavior;
  • consequences.

Then find out what reasons underlie the developed self-doubt (since are not born like that, but become ) and how much self-doubt really interferes in life now, what and how strongly it affects. Further, individual work with these causes is being carried out. It is impossible to give any universal recipe, because all clients are different people. As a rule, it turns out the existence of a certain belief or several interconnected beliefs about oneself or about other people, which underlie self-doubt.

If it is decided together with the client that we will work on beliefs, then the work may take a little longer. But the result will be longer-term, perhaps even forever. Such psychological help is called psychotherapy, and it is a deeper study of problems.

In parallel, the client performs various tasks at home, which are aimed at overcoming self-doubt in practice. I give tasks that are directly related to what the client is most unsure about. :) Because this is the most effective and fastest way to get rid of self-doubt: if a tooth hurts, it must be treated, even if you don’t feel like it or it’s scary. But then it will not hurt and bother. :)

This is the complex usually used to overcome self-doubt: work on beliefs (I call them “cockroaches in the head”) + work on causes + work on behavior.

It may also be helpful to send the client to a therapy or training group where they can practice new behaviors or discuss concerns with other people with similar problems.

What is the result?

If you worked on yourself, you become more self-confident, self-esteem increases. Problematic beliefs and emotions are identified, which you can continue to work on on your own or in a group. As a result, you cope better with stress, become more positive, and your mood improves. All this together has a positive effect on your physical health.

Learn more