Self-Esteem Therapy: 22 Activities for Your Practice

Self-esteem therapyRegardless 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.

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

Self-loveWhether 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..

Download 3 Free Self-Compassion Exercises (PDF)

These detailed, science-based exercises will equip you to help others create a kinder and more nurturing relationship with themselves.

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.

Build Confidence

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

Group TherapyClinical 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.

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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.


Beyond “self-esteem”- how to feel self worth

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

self-monitoringThere 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).

17 Exercises To Foster Self-Acceptance and Compassion

Help your clients develop a kinder, more accepting relationship with themselves using these 17 Self-Compassion Exercises [PDF] that promote self-care and self-compassion.

Created by Experts. 100% Science-based.

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, PositivePsychology.com 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:

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

There Is Nothing to Fix

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.

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

The Mindful Self-Compassion Workbook

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.

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

Radical Acceptance

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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What our readers think

  1. Modupe

    This is quite inspiring . Pls how can I use psychodynamic approach for low self-esteem ?

    • Nicole Celestine, Ph.D.

      Hi Modupe,

      Glad you liked this article! Are you interested in a psychodynamic approach to self-esteem from the perspective of a practitioner or for yourself/someone you know (i.e., more a self-help angle)? Let me know and I’ll point you in the direction of some suitable resources 🙂

      – Nicole | Community Manager

      • '-Claudia

        Hello, I am looking for resources that my teen daughter can use to increase her self-esteem and make friends. She is amazing but her introversion limits her experiences and relationships.

        • Nicole Celestine, Ph.D.

          Hi Claudia,

          We actually have another post containing worksheets and activities targeted at teens and adults which you may find helpful here. You might also find the resources in our social skills training post useful.

          I hope this helps!

          – Nicole | Community Manager

  2. Jennifer Jarrett

    Indepth and insightful. Clients will not be bored but provided with the essential qualities to ensure that their healing comes directly from them, but positively supported by their coynsellor. Brilkiant work. This is so realistic to the every day human.


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