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What is Schema Therapy?

Schema therapy was developed by Jeffrey Young with the intention of treating those with longstanding problems with manging their emotions and relationships with others, including people with a diagnosis of Personality Disorder. However, this approach is not solely for those with this diagnosis and is an effective therapy for anyone who has difficulties that are persistent (or even lifelong) and causing problems in multiples areas of their lives. It is particularly beneficial for those who have attachment difficulties that can prevent traditional therapeutic approaches from making lasting or effective change.

Schema therapy is an integrative therapy, which means that it takes ideas, theory and techniques from a range of different therapies including cognitive behavioural, attachment, psychodynamic, object relations, and Gestalt. In doing this, it aims to work at deeper level beliefs that a person has about themselves and others and the problematic behaviours that often occur as a result of these beliefs. Schema therapy has a strong relational focus, so the therapeutic relationship is a key driver in therapeutic change. The therapist aims to provide ‘limited re-parenting’ to the client, meeting needs that were unmet during childhood in a way that is boundaried yet compassionate.

The primary aim of schema therapy is to identify what are described as ‘early maladaptive schemas’ (or just ‘schemas’) that are developed during childhood and adolescence and to bring about change in these core beliefs through the dynamic therapy process. It looks at deep emotional change as well as cognitive and behavioural change, healing the schemas by reducing their emotional and physical intensity and reducing the unhelpful coping behaviours that have developed as a result of the schema (e.g. rejecting and pushing people away, detaching, subjugating your needs in favour of others etc.)

Schema therapy uses a number of strategies including cognitive and behavioural, interpersonal and powerful experiential techniques (e.g. imagery re-scripting, chair work and roleplay) within the context of the Limited Re-parenting framework. It is this that aims to provide an antidote to an individual’s unmet needs from childhood within the boundaries of the therapeutic relationship.

You can read more about the different types of schemas here and in the book Reinventing Your Life.