Reviewed by our psychologist : Mirte Verkuijlen
Last update: 22 november 2021
Schema therapy is aimed at breaking ingrained patterns that are no longer serving you. Amongst other things, it is used for personality disorders and depressive disorders. Read on to learn more about schema therapy.
An overview of this article:
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What is schema therapy?
Schema therapy focuses on addressing patterns that are no longer working for you. In psychology, schemas are the beliefs, feelings, and attitudes you have about yourself, others, and the world around you. For example, think of damaging emotional beliefs or persistent patterns. These schemas can be or become the cause of mental health problems and harmful behaviors. We might describe these dysfunctional schemas as ‘traps’.
During schema-focused therapy, you’ll learn to identify your current patterns and traps. You’ll develop an understanding of your emotional needs and feelings. It is an intuitive therapy, where the therapist combines different types of therapy. It all depends on what your needs are. The goal: Breaking ingrained patterns.
How do unhelpful schemas come about?
Most schemas develop during childhood. They arise because your basic needs aren’t adequately met as a child. This creates frustration and causes psychological symptoms. A child’s basic needs include:
- Play and spontaneity
- Reasonable boundaries
A child’s basic needs might not be met due to violence, abuse, mistreatment, bullying, or a lack of love. Too much or too little attention is also harmful: In other words, a lack of care and attention is harmful, but so is being overprotective of a child.
How does schema therapy work?
During schema-focused therapy, a psychologist tries to give you back a piece of what you missed out on as a child. This is done in a warm and understanding manner. In this way, the therapist tries to work with you to repair the schema.
In addition, schema therapy uses a variety of different techniques. These are all aimed at giving you insight into your emotional needs and feelings. And to ultimately break your unhelpful patterns.
Here are some examples of these therapeutic techniques:
- Chair work: This a role-playing game involving two chairs. One chair represents the part of you caught up in a schema and the other is how a healthy adult would think
- Re-experiencing: Here you’ll relive painful moments and traumas through a role play, for example
- Empathetic confrontation: Your therapist works through why your ‘traps’ or unhelpful schemas keep coming up in an understanding manner. But at the same time, they also confront you with the fact that you need to break your patterns.
- EMDR: EMDR is not a standard part of schema therapy, but it can supplement schema therapy. Using EMDR, your therapist helps you to rewrite your past, imagining an alternative scenario where your needs are met.
What is required of you during schema therapy?
In order to obtain your desired outcome during schema therapy, it is important that:
- You are willing to face your dysfunctional patterns
- You understand what your ingrained patterns are doing to you and the consequences they have
- You’re also engaged in change and observing your patterns as part of your daily life. You can’t break a pattern overnight, it’s something you need to keep practicing, and this requires discipline.
Schemas and schema modes
Your schemas cause you to switch into a particular mode: A particular version of yourself. Schemas are the way you view yourself, others, and the world around you. A schema incorporates, memories, beliefs, physical sensations, and emotions. A schema arises as a result of:
- Experiences in childhood
- Degree to which your basic needs are met
Positive experiences create schemas that are useful to you. They help you to progress through life. If you were lacking something during your childhood, dysfunctional schemas can develop.
Modes are temporary states of mind activated by your current schemas. A dysfunctional schema leads to a mode that doesn’t serve you.
For example, take a negative belief that you have about yourself. This negative belief is a dysfunctional schema. The belief causes you to have unpleasant thoughts and feelings about yourself. These thoughts and feelings are modes.
Read on here for more information about schema therapy and the different schemas and schema modes that can arise.
Schema therapy: Who does it work for?
Schema therapy is used in a variety of cases, including:
- Personality disorders
- Depressive disorders
- Anxiety disorders
- Eating disorders
Is schema therapy covered on my health insurance?
Check out the ‘Costs and Insurance‘ page for more information about whether schema therapy is covered by your health insurance.
Where can I find a good schema therapist?
Do you have any questions about schema therapy? Or would you like to speak to a psychologist? iPractice is there for you whenever you need us. Wherever you are.
Call or request an exploratory consultation online. This way you can see if you feel comfortable with your therapist and if you click with them. During your consultation, your psychologist will determine if schema therapy is right for you. We’ll make sure you receive appropriate support and expert treatment.