Schema Therapy is an integrative therapy developed by Jeffrey Young and his colleagues in the 1990's. It blends concepts from a wide variety of psychological theories including Coginitive Behavioral Therapy, Attachment, Gestalt Therapy, Psychodynamic and Constructivist schools of thought. It has been found especially effective in the treatment of individuals with entrenched behavior patterns that have not responded to treatment. To help address these long standing issues, Schema Therapy places greater emphasis on exploring the childhood and adolescent origins of these problems, on the therapeutic relationship, on maladaptive coping strategies that tend to perpetuate the entrenched behavior patterns, and on emotion focused, experiential interventions that facilitate emotional healing.
What is a Schema?
Young, Klosko and Weishaar (2003) describe a schema as a "broad organizing principle for making sense of one's life experience. Schemas, many of which are originate early in life, continue to be elaborated and superimposed on later life experiences, even when they are no longer applicable. They contribute to maintaining a stable view of oneself and the world even if it is inaccurate or distorted. A schema can be positive or negative, adaptive or maladaptive, and can be formed in childhood or in later life" (p.7). Young (1990, 1999) defined a subset of 18 schema which he labeled Early Maladaptive Schema that often developed as a result of unmet core emotional needs in childhood. Maladpative behaviors result as a way of coping with these self defeating emotional and cognitive patterns.
The four main concepts in the Schema Therapy model are:
Early Maladaptive Schemas - self defeating core themes/patterns
Schema Domains - the basic emotional needs of every child, including connection, mutuality, reciprocity, flow and autonomy
Coping Styles -the way a child adapts to and learns to cope with damaging childhood experiences, including surrendering (giving in) to the schema, avoiding, escaping or blocking out the distressing experiences and emotions, or fighting against them through overcompensating responses.
Schema Modes - the moment-to-moment emotional states and coping responses that we all experience.
Our maladaptive schema modes are triggered by life situations that we are oversensitive to (our "emotional buttons"). Many schema modes lead us to over or under react to situations and, thus, to act in ways that end up hurting us or others.
The primary goal of schema therapy is to help patients get their core emotional needs met. This is accomplished through helping heal schema and by replacing maladaptive coping styles and modes with healthier schema/modes, within the context of a responsive, attuned relationship.
Adapted from Jeffrey Young, Ph.D. (2003) and George Lockwood, posted on SchemaTherapySociety.org on Dec 21, 2008)
Yuong, JE. (1990) Cognitive Therapy for Personality Disorders. Sarasota , FL: Professional Resources Press.
Young, JE. (1999) Cognitive Therapy for Personality Disorders: A Schema Focused Approach (rev.ed). Sarasota, FL: Professional Resources Press.
Young,JE, Klosko, JS. & Weishaar, ME. (2003) Schema Therapy: A Practitioner's Guide. The Guilford Press.