Therapy for Low Self-Esteem: How It Works

May 8, 2019 Sam Woolfe

There are many techniques that can help you build self-esteem on your own, but sometimes, therapy for low self-esteem is necessary. You might feel you need therapy for self-esteem issues if they are showing no signs of improvement. Also, your low self-esteem may be interfering with your life – you may be so self-critical that you notice this impacting your work, social life, and relationships. Therapy for low self-esteem can help you address the negative patterns of thinking and behavior that you’re trapped in, as well as allow you to address the root causes of your feelings of unworthiness.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): A Practical Therapy for Low Self-Esteem

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is designed to help you change unhealthy habits of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. The main idea behind CBT is that these three things are connected. For example, if you have low self-esteem, you may make a mistake, which can lead to a self-critical thought about being a failure, and this can then lower your mood. This can also lead to a vicious cycle, with low mood making you more prone to think critically about yourself should another mistake be made.

When you have low self-esteem, thoughts, feelings, and behaviors can also influence each other in a way that stops you from living life to the fullest. For instance, one day you may be ruminating, turning around negative thoughts about yourself in your head. This can lead to a feeling of hopelessness, which then stops you from leaving the house to meet people or go to work. Cognitive behavioral therapy can provide you with practical tips for interrupting and gaining control over this chain of events. It teaches you to become mindful of negative thoughts and respond to them with realistic statements. A CBT therapist will also help you to act differently when self-critical thoughts arise.

Psychodynamic Therapy for Low Self-Esteem

Psychodynamic therapy for low self-esteem works differently than CBT. For a start, psychodynamic therapy is conducted on a more long-term basis (a round of CBT sessions may take six weeks, while psychodynamic therapy can last for months or even years). A psychodynamic therapist works with low self-esteem at a deeper level, exploring how your past is impacting your mental health today. There are many different types of psychodynamic therapy, each of which could prove useful in building your self-esteem. But, there are some general reasons1 that psychodynamic therapy for low self-esteem may be effective:

  • This type of therapy can show you unconditional positive regard. This is a concept developed by humanistic psychologist Carl Rogers. It involves a therapist accepting and supporting you exactly as you are. Unconditional positive regard can be helpful if you struggle to develop self-acceptance. It can show you that you’re not the broken, terrible person you think you are.
  • Psychodynamic therapy may help you figure out the reason that you have a harsh inner critic. Our critical inner voices develop in childhood, with parents or authority figures usually being the source of them. Understanding why you have an inner critic will allow you to see that this voice is an outside force and doesn’t have your best interests at heart. Coming to terms with your inner critic is the first stepping-stone in managing it and allowing your authentic voice to come through instead.
  • Deeper therapy for low self-esteem can allow you to see how certain past experiences have created a negative self-image that you constantly carry around. For example, childhood experiences such as trauma, abuse, and neglect can lead to issues in later life, such as low self-worth, a lack of self-confidence, self-doubt, and self-criticism. This is because, during childhood, we depend on validation and love from caregivers in order to develop a healthy self-image. When we’re harmed or neglected as children, this implants the notion that we deserve it or we’re ‘wrong’ in some way.

If you struggle with negative thoughts about yourself, you don’t have to stay stuck in that way of thinking. Therapy for low self-esteem offers many techniques and insights that will allow you to build self-esteem and move forward in your life.


  1. Mollitt, P.H. "Psychodynamic Psychotherapy for Low Self-Esteem". Private Therapy Clinic. June 2016.

APA Reference
Woolfe, S. (2019, May 8). Therapy for Low Self-Esteem: How It Works, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, May 19 from

Author: Sam Woolfe

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