Select Page

Post University Blog

For mental health counselors and other healthcare professionals, encountering patients with a negative self-image is becoming increasingly common. In fact, according to a survey by the Mental Health Foundation, about one-third of adults report feeling anxious or depressed due to a negative self-image or body image.

Unfortunately, low self-esteem and negative self-image problems are not limited to adults. Approximately 20 percent of teenagers experience depression before they enter adulthood, with low self-esteem or feelings of being “not good enough” prevalent in 70 percent of teenage girls.

Whether you are studying to become a mental health counselor or are just starting off your career, one of the most important things you will do in your work is to help your patients let go of perfectionism and learn how to improve their own sense of self-worth.

What Is Positive Self-Image?

A person’s self-image refers to how they see themselves, especially in comparison to the world around them. Self-image may also refer to how a person believes they are perceived by others.

A person with a positive self-image will have generally healthy self-esteem and high levels of confidence. They will speak and think kindly of themselves while choosing to see themselves in a positive light.

On the other hand, those with a negative self-image may suffer from feelings of inadequacy. They may hold unrealistic expectations for themselves and fall into a pattern of negative thinking that eventually leads to low self-esteem and a lack of confidence.

Why Is Promoting Positive Self-Image Important in Counseling?

Promoting a positive self-image is vital in mental health counseling because a person’s self-image is integral to other aspects of their mental health. When a person has a negative self-image, they are more likely to struggle with other mental health conditions, such as:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Body dysmorphic disorder (BDD)

Likewise, when a person suffers from a low self-image, they can fall into a vicious cycle of perpetuating their own negative thinking.

By improving self-worth, mental health patients can overcome other challenges while boosting their overall self-esteem and confidence. With a positive self-image, mental health patients also tend to have more realistic goals for themselves and a better sense of self-awareness.

How Can Mental Health Counselors Promote a Positive Self-Image?

There are several ways mental health counselors can promote positive self-image in their patients, ranging from positive self-talk and psychotherapy to identifying strengths and focusing on self-compassion.

Using Self-Talk to Promote Positive Self-Image

One of the most effective strategies that mental health counselors can use to help patients overcome a negative self-image is to use self-talk. Specifically, self-talk refers to the thoughts people have about themselves throughout the day. Some people may even speak these thoughts aloud, though most will simply think them without even realizing it.

When it comes to self-talk and self-image, someone with a negative self-image may think or say such things as:

  • “I look so ugly.”
  • “I am way too shy to join this conversation.”
  • “I am a failure.”

Mental health counselors can work with patients to be more mindful of the kind of self-talk they use each day. From there, patients can be guided to make a conscious effort to improve self-talk to more positive phrases, such as:

  • “I look great in this outfit.”
  • “I can learn to socialize.”
  • “I am capable, and I am doing enough.”

Building Self-Worth Through Psychotherapy

Other techniques, such as psychotherapy, can also be useful for building self-worth and improving a patient’s self-image. Some specific examples of these techniques include cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), competitive memory training (COMET), and compassion-focused therapy (CFT). All these psychotherapy treatments have proven effective in targeting low self-esteem and self-worth, so they may be worth exploring in patients who are struggling.

Encouraging Self-Confidence by Identifying Strengths

Another useful exercise for those struggling with self-confidence and low self-esteem is that of identifying strengths. In this type of exercise, the patient is tasked with writing down some of what they perceive to be their greatest strengths. This could be anything from being a hard worker and a loving friend to being a skilled writer or knowing how to knit. The idea here is to get patients to focus on the positive qualities they see in themselves. Oftentimes, patients will be surprised by how long their lists turn out to be—which can be a great exercise to boost self-worth.

Teaching Self-Compassion to Boost Self-Image

If you work in the mental health field, then you already know that the world could really use more compassion. However, the reality is that we live in an all-too-often harsh world, and sometimes we are our own worst critics.

Teaching patients to focus on being compassionate—not just toward others but toward themselves —can make a huge difference in building a positive self-image. A good rule of thumb for patients is to be as compassionate to themselves as they would be toward a friend. If more people exercised this strategy, perhaps negative thinking would not be such a prevalent issue in mental health.

The Role of Societal Influences on Self-Image

Mental health counselors should also have a solid understanding of the role that outside influences play on self-image, especially when it comes to body image and social media.

Exploring Body Image and Its Impact on Self-Image

While body image and self-image are technically two different concepts, they are often very closely related to each other. This is because those who suffer from a negative body image also tend to have negative thoughts about themselves as a whole. Likewise, those with a negative self-image will have low self-esteem and thus find ways to see imperfections and other problems with their bodies. With patients who suffer from both low body image and self-image, body image counseling may be a good starting point.

Addressing Cultural Influences on Self-Image in Therapy

Cultural influences can have a profound impact on a person’s self-image. This is especially true among those who are raised in cultures that suppress body positivity or confidence. Likewise, a person’s life events stemming from cultural influences can trigger negative self-image and body image problems. Mental health counselors should learn to identify these influences and be able to address them with patients during therapy.

Navigating Social Media and Its Impact on Self-Image

These days, social media and the internet seem to perpetuate the idea of perfection. “Instagram-worthy” pictures leave people feeling as though they need to look and feel their best at all times. In reality, patients should be taught to understand that what they see on a person’s social media is only a highlight reel—and that aspiring to achieve perfection based on what they see on social media is a recipe for low self-esteem.

How Can Mental Health Counselors Measure Self-Image Progress?

Mental health counselors working with patients who suffer from negative self-image, low self-esteem, or both should track their patients’ progress using tried-and-true techniques.

Using Assessments to Track Progress

Patient assessments can be instrumental in measuring the improvement of body image and self-image over time. Depending on how frequently the patient is coming in for counseling sessions, it may make sense to repeat assessments once per week or once per month, being careful to use the same questions each time. Ideally, the responses to each question should indicate a gradual improvement in overall self-worth and self-image.

These assessments can also be helpful for identifying areas that the counselor and patient may still need to focus on for the next session.

Qualitative Methods for Measuring Self-Image Improvement

There are other proven methods for measuring self-image improvements in mental health patients. Two of the most commonly used in the field include the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale and the Coopersmith Self-Esteem Inventory, both of which can be extremely useful in tracking progress and improvement in an objective way.

Best Practices for Promoting Positive Self-Image in Counseling

As a mental health counselor, it is your responsibility to help patients struggling with feelings of low self-esteem, lack of confidence, and a negative body image. In addition to the tips offered above, there are also some best practices that all mental health professionals can follow to promote positive self-image in their everyday counseling sessions.

Creating a Safe and Inclusive Therapeutic Environment

First and foremost, mental healthcare professionals always have a duty to create a safe and inclusive therapeutic environment for their patients. When patients feel safe entering into a counseling appointment, they are more open to discussing their feelings and communicating openly with mental healthcare workers.

Unfortunately, a counseling environment that comes off as harsh or judgmental/non-welcoming can have precisely the opposite effect, leading patients to become closed off. This, in turn, can inhibit progress and prevent counselors from doing their jobs.

Mental health professionals are encouraged to occasionally assess their own offices. Does the environment seem welcoming and inclusive? Are there any changes that can be made (such as adding warmer lighting or creating more personal space for patients) to make the space more comfortable and inclusive?

Tailoring Interventions to Individual Client Needs

Mental health professionals should also remember that there is no one-size-fits-all solution to any mental health condition. Each patient must be uniquely assessed, evaluated, and treated with a custom-tailored intervention.

Such an approach means taking the time to really get to the root of what is causing the negative thinking. From there, mental health counselors can figure out which interventions and treatments may be the most effective based on the patient’s unique needs. Not all strategies will have the same effect on all patients, so tailored interventions can make all the difference in progress.

Collaborating With Other Healthcare Providers to Address Client Needs Holistically

In some cases, it may be necessary to reach out to other health professionals for additional recommendations or suggestions. Remember that mental health counselors are not expected to have all the answers 100 percent of the time. At the end of the day, they are still very much practicing healthcare—which means they will need to draw on resources and assistance from others on occasion.

If you are dealing with a patient who is still struggling after multiple sessions and interventions, there is nothing wrong with collaborating with other healthcare providers to come up with the next best steps.

Work with Clients to Promote Positive Self-Image as a Counselor

Unfortunately, a negative self-image has become a very real mental health problem across the population, impacting adults and adolescents alike. Mental health professionals, including counselors, are tasked with helping patients improve their self-worth and self-image. With the right strategies, counselors can help patients overcome their negative self-image to boost confidence, set more realistic goals, and improve self-awareness.

Interested in a career in mental health counseling or want to take your education to the next level? Post University’s Master of Science in Clinical Mental Health Counseling could be an excellent option. This program is offered online to accommodate your busy schedule while ensuring that you receive a quality education.

Learn more about our Master of Science in Clinical Mental Health or our Graduate Certificate in Professional Counseling by reaching out to our friendly and knowledgeable team. Ready to apply? You can complete your application online!

Thank you for reading! The views and information provided in this post do not reflect Post University programs and/or outcomes directly. If you are interested in learning more about our programs, you can find a complete list of our programs on our website or reach out directly!

Please note jobs and/or career outcomes highlighted in this blog do not reflect jobs or career outcomes expected from any Post program. To learn more about Post’s programs and their outcomes, please fill out a form to speak with an admissions advisor.