Quick Tips for Therapists

Four Validating Phrases to Help Build Teen Self-Esteem in Session

By Lisa M. Schab, LCSW

Nearly all teens, especially those entering therapy, need help with self-esteem. Their challenging developmental stage combined with receiving continuous corrective messages makes them ripe for self-doubt.

Therapists can help by always starting with words of validation and acceptance, showing teens they’re being heard instead of judged. This both opens teen clients to the therapeutic relationship, and helps them to accept themselves. Note that validating phrases should only be used sincerely, and that accepting a teen client’s thoughts and feelings doesn’t mean you’re condoning inappropriate behavior.

Example phrases:

1. “You’re right.”

Teen client: “My sister drives me crazy.”

Therapist: “You’re right, it seems like she really irritates you.”

Teen client: “I hate coming to therapy.”

Therapist: “You’re right. I see that. It must be hard to do this when you really don’t want to be here.”

2. “What you just said is really important.”

Teen client: “My parents treat me like a child.”

Therapist: “What you just said is really important. You recognize it’s hard for your parents to let go and trust you.”

Teen client: “I hate coming to therapy.”

Therapist: “What you just said is really important. It sounds like this feeling comes from deep inside you. Am I sensing that right?”

3. “That’s a good insight.”

Teen client: “I smoked a lot this week.”

Therapist: “That’s a good insight. What do you think was going on?”

Teen client: “I hate coming to therapy.”

Therapist: “That’s a good insight. It’s healthy you recognize what does and doesn’t feel good to you.”

4. “That’s OK.”

Teen client: “I’m SO angry, I want to break something.”

Therapist: “That’s OK. You have a right to feel angry. But I’m not going to let you break anything here.”

Teen client: “I hate coming to therapy.”

Therapist: “That’s OK. I accept that. Let’s talk about anything we might do to make it more tolerable.”

Lisa M. Schab, LCSW, is a practicing psychotherapist in the greater Chicago, IL, area; and author of eighteen self-help books, including The Anxiety Workbook for Teens, and the teen guided journals, Put Your Worries Here and Put Your Feelings Here. She has been interviewed as an expert on the Milwaukee television stations WTMJ-TV and WISN-TV, and for articles in The New York Times, Scholastic’s Choices magazine, Teen Vogue, Psych Central, and Your Teen Magazine. Schab has authored regular columns on tweens and teens for Chicago Parent, and on healthy families for The Sun Newspapers. She is a member of the National Association of Social Workers (NASW).

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Quick Tips for Therapists