Schema Therapy

Schema therapy was originally developed as an expansion of traditional cognitive-behavioural treatments and integrates elements of cognitive therapy, behaviour therapy, attachment theory, and emotion-focused therapies. In comparison to cognitive-behavioural therapy, schema therapy emphasizes lifelong patterns, affective as well as cognitive change techniques, and the therapeutic relationship.

Schema therapy places considerable emphasis on limited and adaptive re-parenting and is particularly well-suited for people experiencing the symptoms of entrenched, chronic psychological disorders, including personality disorders, eating disorders and seemingly intractable relationship problems. It has also been found to be effective for relapse prevention in depression, anxiety, and substance abuse. Clients frequently report that after repeated attempts to shift long-term emotional and psychological distress, the active, systematic, flexible, and depth-oriented schema approach often leads to new levels of progress.

Conceptually, Schema therapy is based on the following constructs:

  • Early Maladaptive Schemas: Self-defeating, core themes or patterns that are repeated throughout one’s lifetime, and which develop in response to basic emotional needs not being adequately met during the developmentally sensitive years of childhood and adolescence. Each schema represents specific, unmet emotional needs across a range of domains.
  • Schema Modes: Emotional states which are also often associated with habitual behavioural responses which are triggered by life situations that we are sensitive to (our "emotional buttons").  Schema modes can shift from minute-to-minute and may lead people to act or react in ways that actually result in increased longer-term distress.
  • Maladaptive Coping Styles: Environmentally driven ways in which a child has attempted to adapt to, or manage distressing experiences in order to survive and continue with daily life. For example, blocking out pain, fighting back, or people-pleasing. Often the Maladaptive Coping Styles developed during childhood continue into adulthood with detrimental results.

Dr Margret Walker has undertaken advanced training in Schema Therapy and is a member of the International Society of Schema Therapists (ISST).

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