In Consultation


A Buddhist Approach to Helping Low Self-Esteem: Teaching Self-Compassion in Therapy

March/April 2012


Q: I’m working with a client who suffers from low self-esteem, and I feel like I’ve tried everything. Are there any Buddhist practices that might help?

A: While many therapists have begun to incorporate mindfulness into their work, additional Buddhist practices hold potential for helping clients, particularly those suffering from low self-esteem. One of the main goals of Buddhist meditation is cultivating compassion and love, and several techniques focus on developing these qualities toward oneself.

For example, Joseph, a young software engineer, came to see me to work on disarming his fierce inner critic. As he and I entered the resource-building phase of therapy, I taught him a form of metta (loving-kindness) meditation. This practice dates back more than 2,500 years, and, next to mindfulness, it’s one of the most commonly taught forms of Buddhist meditation.

When I use metta practice with clients, I generally begin by asking them to identify an image that easily inspires feelings of love, compassion, and warmth in them. Traditionally, this practice begins with using oneself as the first object of compassion, but for clients with low self-esteem, that can sometimes be too difficult. Many clients have an easier time picturing a baby, an animal, a religious figure, or a benefactor for this first step. The important thing is finding someone or something that naturally inspires uncomplicated and…

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5 Comments

Friday, March 16, 2012 8:04:41 PM | posted by Jeff White
Great article. I'd love to learn more.

Friday, March 16, 2012 8:07:42 PM | posted by Elly van Laar
I feel so touched by reading this article. I recognize much of Joseph's experience, including having a mom with mental health issues. I feel relieved to connect to the positive intentions and efforts of my inner critic. I feel more empowered to send love and compassion to those parts in myself that I found hard to accept. Thank you so much.

Sunday, March 25, 2012 12:49:28 PM | posted by Martha Smith
This brought comfort and enlightenment to me.

Thursday, May 3, 2012 3:59:41 PM | posted by Nicole
excellent advice!

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