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Schema Therapy: A very brief introduction to the model

One of the defining features of schema therapy is the focus on emotional needs and their interplay with a client's goals for therapy. Schema therapy aims to support clients to find adaptive ways to get their emotional needs met in life.

These emotional needs can be broadly defined as:

• A secure attachment to others

• Freedom to express valid needs and feelings

• Autonomy, competence and a sense of identity

• Spontaneity and play

• Realistic limits and self-control

The premise of schema therapy is that when these emotional needs go unmet in childhood that we, as children, make meaning around this discomfort - leading to schema formation.

"Early Maladaptive Schemas are self-defeating emotional and cognitive patterns that begin early in our development and repeat throughout life" (Young et al., 2003).

As children we develop coping modes; to manage either the discomfort of these emotional needs going unmet, or to try to get our emotional needs met. For example, consider a child appeasing (coping style) an unpredictable parent (adverse childhood event) to maintain emotional safety (emotional need) or self-

aggrandising (coping style) to connect with peers (emotional need) on starting mid-year at a new school (adverse childhood event). While these coping modes may be functional in childhood, they can become self-fulfilling life-traps in the new environments of our adulthood. To return to our earlier examples: the appeasing adult becomes a doormat that others take advantage of - getting in the way of emotional safety, or the self-aggrandising adult struggles to maintain longer term relationships meaning their emotional need for real connection goes unmet.

Schema therapy works to break these patterns that keep us stuck using experiential strategies, limited reparenting, cognitive strategies and behavioural pattern breaking. It works to break the survival patterns of our childhood to help us thrive in our new adult environments.

Although originally designed to treat Borderline Personality Disorder, research suggests Schema Therapy can also be therapeutic for anxiety and depressive disorders, eating disorders and complex trauma.

If you have a client who has not responded to shorter term therapies, who wants to develop a deeper insight into their maladaptive patterns in life or has given feedback that they want a therapy that works on the "felt sense" over more cerebral cognitive therapies, schema therapy may be right for them.


Chantler, .L and Simpson, S. (2018) Evidence base for schema therapy, Scotland. Available at: (Accessed: 20 May 2024).

Young, J.E., Klosko, J.S. and Weishaar, M.E. (2003) Schema therapy: A practitioner's guide. New York: The Guilford Press.

Authored by Jenna Campbell, Clinical Psychologist, Currently accepting new clients


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