Schema therapy gives us a clear map of destructive habits, it details the emotional contours, of say, the fear of abandonment, with its constant apprehension that a partner will leave us, or of feelings of vulnerability, such as the irrational fear that a minor setback at work means you will end up jobless and homeless
– Tara Bennett-Goleman
Childhood Needs & Schemas
Schema Therapy is becoming an increasingly popular psychological model for working with individuals who have a variety of mental health and personality difficulties. This form of therapy focuses on healing dysfunction that results when basic childhood needs (such as needs for safety, acceptance, and love) are not adequately met. When this happens we develop unhealthy ways of interpreting and interacting with the world, that show up in various unhelpful emotional and behavioural patterns that are referred to as schemas or lifetraps.
Schemas represent a type of negative bias that interferes with our ability to manage life challenges, achieve goals and find and maintain positive relationships.
How it works.
The initial goals of schema-focused therapy is to identify relevant schemas and to link these schemas to past events and current symptoms.
Following this, the therapist and patient then work on ways of processing emotions related to the schemas and altering unhealthy coping styles that are the result of maladaptive schemas (unhealthy schemas that could be causing negative symptoms). For example, the therapist and client may conduct exercises focused on venting anger, breaking unhealthy patterns of behaviour, and changing unhelpful ways of thinking.
ST was initially developed as a treatment for ‘Personality Disorders’ and complex clinical problems. However, over the past 20 years, its application has broadened to an increasing range of clinical syndromes.
When to consider Schema Therapy.
Schema Therapy is particularly helpful for people with entrenched or chronic challenges, that are often linked to lifelong personality-based difficulties and challenges. Such individuals often get very little positive change from conventional therapeutic techniques (e.g., identifying thoughts and emotions, completing thought records and homework assignments).
One reason for the limited benefit of conventional therapy is that more entrenched difficulties tend to experience a more significant gap between intellectual & emotional change. Whilst cognitive challenging can lead to intellectual change, at an emotional level their problems may remain entrenched (e.g. I understand intellectually that I am not unlovable, but I still feel unlovable)
Social Isolation: People who hold a schema that they are separate or unaccepted in the world may isolate themselves from others.
Defectiveness / Shame: People who believe that they are fundamentally unloveable may sabotage their relationships because they are afraid of being abandoned.
Enmeshment: People who hold a schema that they cannot be happy or successful without the support of other people, often family members, may become overly dependent on their loved ones. They may lack a sense of direction, autonomy, and individuality