Dr. Patrick Keelan Self Esteem CounsellingIn self-esteem counselling, I help clients with low self-esteem make changes in their thinking, behavior and relationships to develop a positive view of themselves. By doing so, clients become less dependent on positive feedback from others to feel good about themselves.


As with depression, behaviours and activities play an important role in contributing to low self-esteem.  People with low self-esteem, like those suffering from depression, often lack pleasurable activities. More importantly, they also lack mastery activities. These are activities which instill a feeling of competence, accomplishment and self-efficacy—the positive feeling which comes from believing you can do things well. In counselling, I work with clients with low self-esteem to help them add these mastery activities to their routine. These activities can often be identified by exploring with the client their interests and talents.

Performing activities which bring feelings of pleasure and mastery also help to build self-esteem because of the ‘fake it ‘till you make it’ principle or, in psychological terms, the theory of cognitive dissonance. Research on this theory shows that people want  their attitudes and behaviours to be consistent with each other including the attitudes and behaviours they have about themselves. So if you have low self-esteem—a negative attitude toward yourself—and you start to do more positive activities and behaviours for yourself, your negative attitude about yourself is likely to improve so that it matches the positive behaviours you perform for yourself. Therefore, one of the secrets to improve your self-esteem is not to wait until you feel good about yourself before you start participating in these positive behaviours and activities. Your participating in these behaviours and activities, by itself, should help you feel better about yourself.


Research indicates that low self-esteem is largely the result of the way a person thinks about themselves. For example, someone with low self-esteem is less likely to be aware of and acknowledge their positive qualities and abilities.

As a Calgary psychologist, I work with my clients to help them change their thinking in a direction which helps them build their self-esteem. For example, I teach clients skills like thought records and behavioural experiments to test the validity of negative thoughts they have about themselves and help them gather evidence in support of positive thoughts about themselves which build self-esteem.

People who have suffered from low self-esteem for a long time may have long-held negative core beliefs at the root of their issue. Such beliefs as “I am inadequate,” “I am worthless,” “I am unlovable,” “I am incompetent,” or “I am a failure” often result from the person having been subjected to very negative experiences over a period of time. Once these beliefs are instilled, it is very difficult to notice and accept positive information because it is inconsistent with these deeply ingrained negative beliefs. I work with clients whose low self-esteem is driven by negative core beliefs to help them slowly but surely build positive core beliefs about themselves. Once they have constructed these positive core beliefs, it is much easier for the person to notice and accept positive information and experiences regarding themselves which fosters their development of self-esteem.


Spending time with people with whom you feel good about yourself is an important piece of the self-esteem puzzle. I work with my clients to help them construct a routine in which they have regular exposure to people and relationships which foster these positive feelings about themselves. This may involve taking steps to gradually spend more time with people you enjoy being with and less time with people you don’t enjoy being with. Social skills training may be helpful in connecting with people to make it easier to build these positive relationships. Work on assertiveness and boundary-setting can help you consistently communicate to others that you are only interested in relationships based on mutual respect. Practicing skills to make effective decisions regarding whether to continue or end a particular relationship typically leads to a person having better relationship experiences. Many clients find it beneficial to work on how to end relationships which are not in their best interests. I also help clients break negative relationship patterns such as having difficulty establishing healthy relationships or regularly moving from one unhealthy relationship to the next.

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