SCHEMA THERAPY

All things grow with care and love

 

The glory of gardening: hands in the dirt, head in the sun, heart with nature. To nurture a garden is to feed not just the body, but the soul.


— Alfred Austin

 

SCHEMA THERAPY


Do you often feel like you are just overwhelmed with the everyday demands of life? Are you always worried that your loved ones will abandon you or that you will end up alone? You do not feel you have the competence to deal with day-to-day activities at work or at home? Or are you always worried that a disaster is about to strike, either a natural disaster or criminal, medical or financial? Do you find yourself having high rigid standards of perfection, you strive to meet extremely high expectations of yourself? Or do your patience is limited and you disregard the needs of others and then blame them? 

Daily overwhelmed, constant worry, never feeling good enough, unsatisfactory relationships or a sense of being unfulfilled – these are the kinds of problems that can be solved by changing internalized messages about yourself. These self-defeating behavior patterns are life patterns that repeat again and again.  Schema Therapy can help you take the first step to stop these negative cycles that keep you from having a meaningful life.

Schema therapy is a  psychotherapy that draws from cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), emotion-focused therapy, attachment theory as well as psychodynamic theories, such as object relations, self psychology, and relational psychoanalysis, and uses gestalt and experiential techniques. Jeffrey Young who developed Schema Therapy, in his book Reinventing Your Life: The Breakthrough Program to End Negative Behavior...and Feel Great Again co-written with Janet S. Klosko called recurring life patterns “Schemas”. These life patterns start in childhood or adolescence and repeat in adulthood. In Schema therapy you begin by first becoming aware of these life patterns and their origins.  In our work together, we look at these life patterns that are enduring and continue to repeat themselves in your life.


You will know that they are life patterns because you feel that the same themes keep on recurring in your life, “I am always abandoned by those I love” or “Men can’t be trusted” or  “women will always betray me” or “I cannot ever get along with a boss or with my coworkers”  and “I must do everything perfectly” or “I can say or do what I need to do because that’s who I am, even if it hurts you.” The theme is enduring, it is also self-defeating and blocks you from achieving your goals and getting your emotional needs met. 


Schema therapy aims to teach you how to ensure your emotional needs are met in healthy ways. In Schema therapy you learn how to see how emotions are triggered by your Schemas and modes. A mode is a temporary way of thinking that includes both how you feel at that time and how you are dealing with how you feel. A mode is a combination of the life pattern (Schema) and the way you cope with it (Modes). Modes can be helpful (adaptive), they are not out to hurt you, but when out of control, they can be unhelpful (maladaptive).


So, in Schema therapy, you learn how to link your emotions with the triggering life pattern, (Schema) and the ways you react to them. You learn to understand your emotional reactions. Through experiential and mindfulness practices you learn to observe your schemas and modes, you learn to notice how they impact your behavior. Rather than attempt to change if you learn to focus on cultivating awareness of your schemas and modes. In our practice together, you learn to observe and monitor your emotions, bodily sensations, and your go-to coping strategies even when this strategy creates difficulty for you and in your relationship with others. Willingness or acceptance means being open to your personal experiences either comfortable or uncomfortable without avoiding them or trying to escape them. It does not mean you want it, like it, or approve of it, but you are willing to be curious. A poem by Rumi, the Guest House, is a reminder to see our emotions as guests in our house. 


A joy, a depression, a meanness, some momentary awareness comes as an unexpected visitor. Welcome and entertain them all!

 — Jelaluddin Rumi, translation by Coleman Barks (1997).

Full poem here

 
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LIFE PATTERNS

How do I recognize a Schema or Life pattern?

How do I know I have a life pattern?  Just take a moment and think of recurrent patterns in your life. Think for a moment about your emotional reactions? What tends to repeat again and again?  Do you feel that these repeated interactions, these emotional patterns are other people's fault? Do you meet the same type of intimate partner? Do they all have the same characteristics?  Do you have friends you can trust, or do you meet friends who you feel betray you again and again?  Do you feel like you do not belong? Do you feel like no one understands you? What issues do you encounter repeatedly with family and friends, or intimate partners?


In Schema therapy you begin to work in becoming aware of your negative life patterns or themes. In our work together, we look at these life patterns that are enduring and continue to repeat themselves in your life.  You will know these are recurrent life patterns because you feel that the same themes keep on happening  in your life, “I am always abandoned by those I love” or “Men can’t be trusted” or  “women will always betray me” or “I cannot ever get along with a boss or with my coworkers”  and “I must do everything perfectly” or “I can say or do what I need to do because that’s who I am, even if it hurts you.” The theme is enduring, it is also self-defeating and usually began during childhood or adolescence.



How do I recognize a Schema or Life pattern?

1. Life patterns are lifelong themes that have been going on for some time. The same issues repeating again and again.

2. Life patterns are self-destructive. Somehow or another you find yourself in the same situation that triggers the life pattern. Once in this life pattern, it tends to damage your sense of self, your health, your relationship with others, including your work, your joy, your mood. It touches every aspect of your life. You may feel like what's the point or you may want to isolate yourself from others. 

3. Life patterns struggle for survival: It is human nature that we like consistency. We will stay in what is familiar and comfortable. The same goes for life patterns, they are what you know. The life pattern will struggle to remain in your life. Although it is painful, it is also comfortable and familiar.   You may decide to keep your life pattern and blame others for how you feel, that is why it is crucial to be willing to begin the process of observing, giving yourself the chance to learn what these patterns are, how they began, how to understand them and how to heal them.


Young, Jeffrey E.; Klosko, Janet S. Reinventing Your Life (p. 26). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition. 

 
Woman on Window Sill

DEVELOPMENT OF SCHEMAS

What contributes to this development?

How did Schemas or Life Patterns develop?

There are four types of negative experiences that contribute to the development of schemas, and these include:

  1. Unmet Needs Schemas developed because the needs of your childhood were not met. What are needs?


  • 1. Basic Safety

  • 2. Connection to Others

  • 3. Autonomy

  • 4. Self-Esteem

  • 5. Self-Expression

  • 6. Realistic Limits


When these needs are not meet, they are usually repeated throughout our lives in our relationships. Schemas often interfere with our ability to form connections or feeling satisfied with life. 


  1. Traumatic events/Abuse - Other contributors are traumatization in childhood, such as abuse, trauma, or distressing events, and adverse childhood experiences. I will add in this category, bullying, and racial trauma reactions to experiences of racism, including violence or humiliation. 

  2. Overindulgence/Lack of Limit settings – Your parents were overinvolved or overprotective, and/or there were no boundaries set. You could do whatever you wanted.

  3. Internalization – Taking in your parents’ attitude and behaviors. You identify with your parents and internalize their attitude, and these develop into schemas while others develop into coping styles called “modes”. I will add in this category internalized racism.  The Society of Clinical Psychology states, "It is important to also realize that racism can be internalized (e.g., believing one is less qualified or deserving based on his/her race). This internalized racism is sometimes ignored as a potential problem or is simply not realized. This is because systemic racism is pervasive in one’s daily life and normalized by the environment so that one can develop racist views of themselves that continue to degrade one’s humanity."

 
Gay Couple with their Daughter
 

WHAT ARE THE CORE NEEDS OF A CHILD?

Children have certain core needs: for safety and security, for connection to others, autonomy, self-esteem, self-expression, and realistic limits.


Mother and a Child

SAFETY AND SECURITY

a sense of safety and being securely attached to others

IDENTITY AND AUTONOMY

a sense of self-identity and autonomy

FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION

the freedom to express how you feel and ask for what you need from others

PLAY AND SPONTANEITY

the ability to play and be spontaneous

BOUNDARIES

safe, age-appropriate limits and boundaries

Image by Nik Shuliahin
 

WHAT ARE THE DIFFERENT SCHEMAS?

Schemas or life patterns start in childhood or adolescence and repeat throughout life. They are resistant to change, but if not managed they are negative patterns that will be reinforced by continually repeating the same interactions over and over again ad begin to create negative core beliefs such as:  

  • I’m unlovable

  • No one cares

  • I am a failure

  • No one cares

  • I am alone

  • My needs are never met etc.


Often these beliefs lead to self-defeating patterns and self-sabotage, procrastination, low self-esteem, depression, and anxiety, as well as other psychological and physical illnesses.


All of these beliefs stem from maladaptive schemas that were developed in childhood or adolescence and repeat in the present moment. Once a schema is developed, the way you see the world, or the theme of your life, can unconsciously influence your thoughts and behaviors in an effort to protect you from emotional distress.


Although it seems like this is useful, this coping method creates unhealthy and harmful patterns in your life. Most people tend to develop more than one schema. There are  18 distinct schemas that have origins in childhood and cause psychological distress manifested in the ways you think, feel, and behave.  There are 18 early maladaptive schemas

To learn about what schemas are most prominent in your life I offer short-term and longer-term Schema Therapy. Short-term therapy range from 5-10 sessions and focus on creating awareness, developing compassion, and strengthening our connection to our Healthy Adult and the Happy Child within.


I also provide an 8 session protocol on Mindfulness and Schema Therapy.  Workshops are provided on Schema Therapy and relationship issues using the book Love me Don't Leave Me, Breaking Negative Relationship  Patterns. 

 
Stressed Woman
 

WHAT KIND OF COPING STYLES DO SCHEMAS CREATE?


In schema therapy, your reactions to schemas are known as coping styles. These can involve thoughts, feelings, or behaviors. They develop as a way of avoiding the painful and overwhelming emotions experienced as a result of a certain schema.

How you react to your Schema is know as “coping styles”. Coping styles are developed to avoid painful and overwhelming emotions triggered by certain schemas. In childhood, these coping styles are very helpful, and they have helped you survive, but as an adult, they reinforce the schema. You will actually believe that “you are not lovable” or “that everyone will abandon you”      

Coping styles are not developed for certain schemas. Your coping style depends on your temperament and your upbringing, and they are often learned from your parents. Everyone has a different coping style, and two people with the same life pattern may have different ways of coping or they may respond the same way. ​Your coping style will also change throughout your life even if you are dealing with the same schema. ​

The three main coping styles loosely correlate with the fight-or-flight or freeze response:

  1. Surrender – you give in to the schema. You believe what the schema says about you, “I am not lovable” and it results in you behaving in a way that continues to reinforce the same schema pattern. For example, if you surrender to a schema that formed a result of abandonment, you may later find yourself in intense relationships with an emotionally distant or unavailable partner where you consistently afraid of being abandoned.

  2. Avoidance – you try to avoid any trigger of the schema. You don’t go out, you isolate and you avoid people and situations that will trigger you and make you feel vulnerable. This is risky because avoiding a schema often makes you more prone to substance abuse, compulsive behaviors, or distracting behaviors that keep you from being triggered.

  3. Overcompensation – You attempt to fight the schema by acting completely the opposite. It may seem a health response to a schema, overcompensating because generally, it goes too far. Often, you may seem demanding, insensitive, aggressive, and excessive in some way. This will take a toll on those around you and your relationships will be affected.

 
Mother with her Child

WHAT ARE SCHEMA MODES?

The Healthy Adult 

In schema therapy, a mode is a temporary way of thinking, and being is a part of you that when overwhelmed behaves in a way that does not get your needs met.


It relates to your emotional state at a given time and how you are dealing with it. It is a combination of your schema and your coping style.


Modes can be helpful when they are adaptive and unhelpful when they are overwhelming and maladaptive. 

Schema modes are divided into four categories:

  • Child modes – are inner child parts that have childlike feelings and behaviors. 

  • Dysfunctional coping modes – prevents you from feeling emotional distress and end up reinforcing the schema

  • Dysfunctional parent modes – these are internalized critical voices, demanding and harsh parental voices.

  • Healthy adult mode – This is your functional self, the "Wise"  part of you that helps you manage the modes and regulate them by setting limits on them and getting to know them so that they don’t overwhelm you.  

  • Happy Child Mode - is often curious, creative, happy, and spontaneous.

 
Love
 

WHAT ARE THE GOALS OF SCHEMA THERAPY?

In schema therapy, you will work with your therapist to:

  • Identify the schemas, reduce their intensity, and heal the schemas

  • Identify and address the coping styles that get in the way of meeting your emotional needs

  • Mode awareness by helping you identifying thoughts, feelings, physical sensations, and memories, and connecting the current situation to childhood memories.

  • Become aware of your habitual dysfunctional patterns and create a better relationship with yourself and with others.

  • Learn to cope with frustrations of life and the distress that is created when certain needs are needs are not met

  • Develop your compassionate healthy adult so you can be better able to manage your modes when you are triggered by life events.

  • Learn to care for yourself and effectively meet your emotional needs.


All of this helps you develop an open heart, strong, healthy adult "wise" Self that can regulate and heal the parts (modes)when they are triggered and overwhelmed.

The goals are accomplished through a variety of cognitive, experiential, and behavioral techniques. As a schema therapist, I  show empathy, I am present, personal, and transparent. I will not have a distant role as a therapist but maintain and compassionate caring relationship with you.


I will be empathic to you and the "schemas and modes".  I will help you make connections with the childhood experiences that contributed to their development while encouraging you to develop healthier ways to relate to yourself and others. 

 

WHAT TECHNIQUES ARE USED?

As a schema therapist, I will use several techniques over the course of therapy. I will always check with you to make sure that these techniques are working for you. First, I obtain a life history. I will give you a questionnaire to complete. These can be found in my private portal for registered clients.

Emotive techniques involve the use of emotions to counter schemas. It is important to fully experience and express your emotions. Common techniques are guided imagery and role-playing. Interpersonal techniques help you become aware of how your schemas affect your interpersonal relationships. From time to time, I will use the Change Triangle to help you become more in touch with your emotions.

Cognitive techniques may involve identifying and challenging harmful thought patterns that result from the schemas. We use flashcards that will be developed for challenging situations you encounter. This is internalized and strengthens the Healthy Adult Mode. We will also use a Mode Diary which strengthens the Healthy Adult by making links between the present reactions and past experiences. 


Behavioral techniques will assist you in making more positive choices and change life patterns that are a result of your coping style. We might work on role plays or talk through a problem or situation or give you some exercise to do between sessions.   


Experiential techniques include visual imagery, imagery re-scripting, mode dialogues,  mode role plays, corrective emotional experiences in the therapy relationship, and creative work to internalize positive experiences.

 

"When our needs (such as love, attention and autonomy) are not met as children, we develop long-standing negative life patterns which keep us from reaching our goals. Let us help you break free from these patterns and take back your life."

 

SECURE NEST

For Schema Therapy I use the psychoeducational platform Secure Nest. It is psychoeducation and structured, and helps me our therapeutic goals. "Secure Nest delivers a range of tools and resources to help you understand yourself through the lens of schema therapy and provides an ongoing dialogue, tools, and coaching resources to support your journey of change.” Once you begin Schema Therapy with me, I will provide you with the login information to begin to use this platform.