Schema therapy is an innovative psychotherapy developed by Dr. Jeffrey Young for personality disorders, chronic depression, and other difficult individual and couples problems. Schema therapy integrates elements of cognitive therapy, behaviour therapy, object relations, and gestalt therapy into one unified, systematic approach to treatment.
The four main concepts in the Schema Therapy model are: Early Maladaptive Schemas, Core Emotional Needs, Schema Mode, and Maladaptive Coping Styles.
The 18 Early Maladaptive Schemas are self-defeating, core themes or patterns that we keep repeating throughout our lives.
Early Schemas relate to the basic emotional needs of a child. When these needs are not met in childhood, schemas develop that lead to unhealthy life patterns. Each of the 18 schemas represent specific emotional needs that were not accurately met in childhood or adolescence.
Maladaptive coping styles are the ways the child adapts to schemas and to damaging childhood experiences. For example, some children surrender to their schemas; some find ways to block out or avoid pain; whilst other children fight back or overcompensate.
Schema modes are the moment-to-moment emotional states and coping responses that we all experience. Often our Schema Modes are triggered by life situations that we are oversensitive to (our ‘emotional buttons’). Many Schema Modes lead us to overreact to situations, or to act in ways that end up hurting us.
What happens in Schema Therapy?
The main goals of Schema Therapy are: to help clients to strengthen their Healthy Adult Mode; weaken their Maladaptive Coping Modes so that they can get back in touch with their core needs and feelings; to heal their Early Maladaptive Schemas; to break Schema-driven life patterns; and eventually to get their core emotional needs met in everyday life.
Schema-Focused Therapy consists of three stages. First is the assessment phase, in which schemas are identified during the initial sessions. Questionnaires may be used as well to get a clear picture of the various patterns involved. Next comes the emotional awareness and experiential phase, wherein clients get in touch with these schemas and learn how to spot them when they are operating in their day-to-day life. Thirdly, the behavioural change stage becomes the focus, during which the client is actively involved in replacing negative, habitual thoughts and behaviours with new, healthy cognitive and behavioural options.