Working With Self-Esteem

Self-esteem is a common presentation in the counselling room. Most people will come through the door, wanting to address their more obvious issues but what normally lies underneath is a low self-esteem or low confidence.

As a counsellor it is important to address these presenting issues, but I feel personally I would not be doing my client any justice if I did not help address and work with their low self-esteem, especially if I felt it was a factor which could potentially affect the effectiveness of counselling.

It is extremely important for a client to learn to love and like themselves and feel confidence in their ability. This will help them feel valued and more willing to try and do new things.

I would firstly educate my client on what self-esteem is linking it to relevant information regarding them, to help them understand what having low self-esteem looks like in their world. 

Educating my client on low self-esteem will help them see why perhaps they feel how they feel or why they react how they do in any given situation. It will also help clients make the link between the past and the present, and therefore they will be more motivated to change for the future.

I would then address any negative thoughts that people have in relation to themselves and how they perceive others and the world. In doing this I challenge the reliability of their thoughts, based on truth and evidence. By illustrating this to the client that they are having negative thinking errors, such as: 

  • Black and white thinking
  • Catastrophising
  • Jumping to conclusions
  • Self-critical thinking
  • All or nothing thinking
  • Mind reading

Restructuring their negative thoughts and helping them understanding thinking errors will change their overall thinking for the future. Therefore, they will be more willing to begin to build their self-esteem, create a healthy self-belief and build the truth of it through behavioural experiments.

"Having a healthy self-esteem is paying attention to how others make you feel and then choosing those with whom we spend time with" - Catherine Cardinal

Behavioural experiments aim to target an irrational self-belief. When considering self-esteem as a therapist, I address the main low self-esteem core beliefs, including: 

  • I am not good enough
  • Others are better than me
  • I am a failure
  • They do not care about me, I am unlovable

These beliefs can be difficult for clients and they will find them hard to talk about and to change as they have been there for perhaps a long period of time, and have contributed to the development of a low self-esteem.

I will allow the client to discuss and explore how these beliefs feel and when they come into play. 

When a client expresses themselves, you need to be emphatic and understanding, employing active listening. In doing this, the client will feel more listened to and understood when links are made, and again more on board to change for the future.

I will then help come up with possible behaviour experiments which will target particular things or people that affect their self esteem, a case example could be:

Sibling continually asks for childcare when your client is off work, the client feels they are not strong enough to say no because they do not have children, therefore continuously agreed and then never has a moment to themselves, start building up resentment towards their sibling and feeling ultimately weak. A potential behavioural experiment would be to firstly make a small change and get the client to shorten the length of time they child mind, to eventually saying they are unable to mind children because they have plans. To help this process I would actually get them to plan an activity of themselves. In doing this, the client learns that they are strong and that they matter despite personal situations.

I would then move on to personal affirmations, within this I will ask the client to keep notes and diary entries to help build evidence to discount their negative self belief. I will get them to explore positive comments made to them by friends, families and work colleagues. These comments can range from someone saying the client is wearing a nice top to saying they can talk to them without fear of judgement.

A client will find it hard feeding back the positive information but in doing this, they will learn that their negative self-beliefs are not based on truth and that they can start to like or love their self again.

I would also encourage clients to build upon self-esteem through self-care, attending to their personal needs, which is not saying be over indulgent but allowing themselves to have a treat every now and again. Encourage them to try new things because what is the worse thing to happen by trying it?

"Greater self-esteem produces greater success and greater success produces more high self esteem, so it keeps spiralling up"- Jack Canfield.