Self-Esteem Treatment Plan: Help Clients Feel Better

A man leaning on his hand, possibly as a result of low self-esteem.

Our perception of ourselves has a direct impact on how we live our lives, and those with low self-esteem are often held back by a negative self-image. Low self-esteem can be helped through therapy, with methods such as CBT challenging core beliefs.

In this guide, we’ll take a look at methods for treating low self-esteem.

Treating Low Self-Esteem

Low self-esteem can have a serious negative impact on a person’s quality of life, keeping them from engaging with hobbies, work, and the people around them. Low self-esteem can also affect relationships, as rigid life rules create uncomfortable barriers.

Treatment for low-self esteem involves consistently challenging core beliefs, and creating positive associations. The client must continue work from the session at home, putting new skills into practice.

Self-Esteem Treatment Plan

Below is an outline of a self-esteem treatment plan, focusing on identifying and replacing negative beliefs and thought patterns.

Identify Core Beliefs

Core beliefs are the ideas we hold deep down. These beliefs are often formed by the responses and reactions we receive from other people. For example, a client who grew up with academically focused parents might feel highly critical of their own work. 

A person with low self-esteem will have negative core beliefs. They might feel that they are worthless, or inherently bad. These beliefs will seem like unshakable truths, and inherent parts of who the client is, to the client

However, having identified core beliefs, you can begin to work on breaking down the thought patterns that uphold them, and creating new, positive beliefs and reactions.

Identify Thought Patterns

A client will often create rules that protect the core belief from confrontation. Having to confront a core belief is upsetting, so instead of challenging these negative thoughts, they create a series of rules to keep them safe. 

For those with low self-esteem, these rules will often be firm and limiting. For example, they might feel they have to be constantly pleasing others, or they’ll have to confront their belief they are worthless.

These rules prevent the client from being exposed to their negative beliefs, so they stop them from ever challenging this bottom line. When it looks like a rule is going to be broken, the client can become anxious. And when a rule is broken, the bad feelings that ensue can reinforce the core beliefs.

Challenge Thought Patterns

The thought patterns caused by these rules and beliefs are highly critical in those with low self-esteem. The client needs to challenge these negative thoughts by introducing positive responses.

For example, when they feel they aren’t good enough for a course, they can bring to mind all the times they have achieved academic success. 

Ask the client to create a list of their achievements and positive attributes, to refer to when negative thought patterns provoke bad feelings.

A man yelling at a woman who holds her hand up against his yelling.

Identify And Eliminate Negative Environments

Negative environments can nurture negative beliefs, leading to the negative thought patterns that damage self-esteem. While positive coping methods can partly help combat bad thought patterns, a toxic environment will give them strength.

A client should identify people, behaviors, and activities they engage in that leave them feeling low. This can be critical friendship groups, a toxic home life, or even an overwhelming social media feed.

From here, the client can find ways to remove themselves from these environments. 

Create Positive Replacements

Despite the inherent toxicity, it can be hard to convince a client to leave a negative environment. Why? Because these environments are often a key part of their life, and leaving them behind can leave a noticeable space. And with no positive alternatives, negative thoughts will quickly flood into the gap.

Having identified negative environments, start looking for positive replacements. New friend groups and positive hobbies can replace people and activities that only nurtured negative beliefs. Even small changes, such as adjusting a news feed, can have a noticeable impact.

Confront Negative Predictions

Low self-esteem will often prevent a client from entering new situations, as their core beliefs tell them they won’t find success/aren’t good enough for/or don’t deserve the experience. Doing so ensures these core beliefs aren’t challenged.

While those with low self-esteem will often assume the worst case scenario, the reality is rarely that unkind. Behavioral experiments can be used to identify and confront these predictions.

A client must first identify a belief that they hold that reinforces their low self-esteem. This belief assumes a negative reaction from those around them. They must then identify a method to test that belief, (ensuring the method is unlikely to cause harm).

They must then test the belief. Finally, they must assess how this experiment has affected the initial belief.

Confront Negative Situations

There will always be situations in life that knocks a persons’ confidence, and even those with high self-esteem will feel moments of self doubt. Part of treatment is developing coping methods, so a client can enter negative situations, without relapsing into negative thought patterns.

Before facing these fears, a client must work on positive coping strategies that challenge negative thoughts. When negative thoughts occur, the client will remember times they were successful and confident. This will redirect their thoughts to a positive environment.

It’s best to start small, so the client can practice the technique before putting it to the test. As their confidence grows and they become more comfortable with the technique, they’ll have more positive memories to turn to in stressful situations.

Acknowledge Progress

Both small and large achievements can be overlooked when a client is struggling with low self-esteem, but success must be acknowledged. These successes can be used to challenge the core belief.

Spend time with the client looking back at what they’ve achieved during these sessions, and how far they’ve progressed. This can be used to help set new goals for the future, as they can see clear results of their hard work. 

When progress is slow, and a client feels they’ve failed a task, focus on self-nurture, not self-criticism.

Final Thoughts

Low self-esteem comes from an inherent belief that the person just isn’t good enough. A successful treatment plan must challenge this belief, and provide the client with positive responses to situations that can provoke anxiety and negativity.

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