3 Ways to Help Clients to Practice Self-Compassion

Self Compassion ConceptIn the past, there was a big push among clinicians in regards to helping clients to improve their self-esteem. However, there has been a substantial amount of research to suggest the benefits of helping people to practice self-compassion.

[1] Self-esteem is often hinged upon external factors that individuals do not have complete control over. Thus, an individual’s sense of self-esteem could fluctuate based on their perceived successes and failures. However, self-compassion is a powerful resource that is always available.

Self-compassion involves treating yourself kindly, especially in the face of setbacks and disappointments. According to Dr. Kristin Neff, it can be helpful to say to yourself:

“This is really difficult right now. How can I comfort and care for myself in this moment?”[2]

Self-compassion involves self-kindness, recognizing our common humanity (i.e. that all human beings are imperfect and make mistakes), and also cultivating a sense of mindfulness in the present moment.[3]

The following are three ways to help our clients to begin to shift from self-criticism, to a practice self-compassion.

1.Ask them to start to pay attention to their inner dialogue.

The first step in any behavioral change is to develop an awareness of the behavior itself. Thus, it’s important to begin by asking clients to start to pay attention to the things that they frequently say to themselves.

Often, they might not naturally have an awareness of their own inner dialogue. So, asking them to be more mindful of the thoughts that they are having is a great first step. You might consider asking them to pick a time during the week when they are experiencing a strong emotion and then have them write down the specific thoughts that they are having.

2.Encourage them to practice speaking kindly to themselves.

Often people say things to themselves that they would never say to someone that they love. Remind your client that “beating themselves up” when they are struggling will only serve to make them feel even worse.

Encourage your clients to practice speaking kindly and gently to themselves, especially during times of stress or when they have made a mistake. If they are struggling to be kind to themselves, one exercise could be to look at a photo of themselves as a child. They could then work to respond to themselves as they would to that child.

Additionally, it could be helpful for clients to think about how they would respond to a loved one who was struggling or having a difficult time.

3.Explore with them some ideas for self-care.

I often share with clients the critical importance of self-care. Especially during times of increased stress, it is so important that they work to take good care of themselves. It can be helpful to remind clients that we cannot effectively help others if we are not taking good care of ourselves first.

You can also collaborate with clients to brainstorm activities and relaxation strategies that they find to be enriching. They might also decide to “schedule in” self-care into their calendars as a way to ensure that they set aside adequate time.

It’s important when deciding on self-care strategies that clients ask themselves, “What would feel nourishing or calming to me in this moment?”

The Bottom Line

Incorporating psychoeducation and clinical tools that promote self-compassion can be incredibly beneficial for the clients that you serve.

Self-compassion is a powerful tool that can help our clients to better cope with setbacks and empower them to feel equipped to handle any difficulties that come their way.


[1] Neff, K. (n.d.). Self-compassion publications. Retrieved from:

[2] Neff, K. (2016). Definition of self-compassion. Retrieved from:

[3] Neff, K. (2016). Definition of self-compassion. Retrieved from:

3 Ways to Help Clients to Practice Self-Compassion

Jennifer Rollin, MSW, LCSW-C

Jennifer Rollin, MSW, LCSW-C is a therapist in private practice in Rockville, Maryland, specializing in working with teens and adults struggling with eating disorders, body-image issues, anxiety, and depression. She writes for The Huffington Post and Psychology Today. Connect with Jennifer at


APA Reference
Rollin, J. (2016). 3 Ways to Help Clients to Practice Self-Compassion. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 18, 2020, from


Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 16 Dec 2016
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 16 Dec 2016
Published on All rights reserved.