Schema Therapy

What is schema therapy?

Schema therapy is a psychotherapy developed specifically for treating complex and long-standing emotional difficulties. It incorporates elements of cognitive behavioural therapy, psychoanalytic therapy and gestalt therapy.

Schemas refer to painful self-beliefs, usually develop early on in life, which underlie emotional and relationship problems. For example, an individual may see themselves as fundamentally unloveable (a "defectiveness" schema) or strive to meet impossibly high standards (an "unrelenting standards" schema). When groups of schemas become activated, they are called "schema modes”. When modes dominate how a person thinks and behaves, emotional difficulties often arise.

Schema therapy aims to change the negative self-beliefs and modes which lie at the root of psychological problems. It does this using the most effective clinical techniques used in different psychotherapies, including the relationship between the client and the therapist. 

What can schema therapy help with, and does it work?

Schema therapy is particularly helpful for long-standing emotional difficulties which have not responded to other psychotherapies. It is also useful when you understand what the problem is intellectually but struggle to make lasting behavioural changes. Research indicates that schema therapy is an effective treatment for many difficulties including personality disorders, relationship problems, eating disorders, anxiety and depression.

How is schema therapy different from treatments like CBT?

Schema therapy differs from CBT in a number of important ways:

  • Schema therapy focuses equally on how problems first developed (the past) and what has kept them going (the present).
  • Schema therapy works with beliefs which have been in a person’s life for a long time. These beliefs take time to change and for this reason schema therapy is often longer than CBT.
  • Schema therapy incorporates techniques drawn from a variety of different therapies which are proven to be effective.