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Building self-esteem can be an adventure

Q: How can adventure improve self esteem?

Self-esteem is a familiar topic in classrooms, youth groups, and therapist offices. For many of

us, learning to love and embrace ourselves is challenging work that doesn’t come easily. As a

youth therapist, I strive to empower and strengthen my young clients’ self esteem by highlighting

their strengths through adventure.

Adventure therapy integrates seven core tenets to help individuals make change: challenge,

safety, trust, empowerment, enjoyment, connection and communication. In a typical adventure

session, clients engage in a challenge designed for their goals and clinical needs. For example,

in a group therapy session, I might ask one participant to blindfold themselves while the rest of

the group uses verbal instructions to guide that participant to find a hidden object in the space.

This activity requires many layers to be successful: trust, teamwork, communication, and

problem solving. The blindfolded individual often experiences some level of anxiety, and the

group members providing instruction might become frustrated by the communication

challenges. However, with support and encouragement, overcoming the challenge can be

illuminating and allow the group to see their abilities and believe in themselves. The insights the

group shares afterwards demonstrates how we can learn and grow quickly by pushing

ourselves safely outside our comfort zone.

As we elevate therapy challenges, clients build their belief in themselves and their ability to

overcome their fears, anxieties, and self-doubt. Even in failure during a challenge, a client

typically walks away with a lesson and healthy coping skills to use in daily life. Clients prove that

they’re ready to speak up for themselves, express who they are, recognize their strengths, and

find solutions that work for them when things get tough.

Healthy challenges are good for all of us. We can learn endurance, self acceptance, advocacy

for ourselves, healthy relationships, and effective problem solving. It’s one of my greatest joys to

share space with my clients while they process their pain, failures, success, hopes and dreams,

as they become stronger in their own self esteem.

Emma Ottenhoff, LCSW is the owner and psychotherapist of Adventurous Heart Therapy, PLLC.

Emma’s practice focuses on serving youth and young adults in helping them to improve their

mental health and self-esteem using an array of clinical tools to assess the client’s strengths

and needs, and match their goals with best practices in treatment approaches. For more

information, please visit

*This article was written by Emma Ottenhoff and published in the Grosse Pointe News on 12/30/22 and in the Family Center newsletter


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