Schema therapy is an integrative therapy, combining theory and techniques from previously existing therapies, including CBT, psychoanalytic object relations theory, attachment theory, and gestalt therapy into one systematic approach to treatment. It is suitable for individuals who have more complex and persistent problems resulting from lifelong, self-defeating patterns that are normally (but not always) developed during childhood (referred to as ‘early maladaptive schemas’).
Maladaptive schemas are thought to be extremely stable and enduring patterns, comprising bodily sensations and cognitions which generate intense emotions and distress when activated. For example, an individual may have a schema of ‘personal incompetence’, from which his or her actions are consistently interpreted as not being “good enough” or they may have a schema of ‘mistrust’, from which all interpersonal actions by others are seen as suspicious. Even when presented with evidence that disproves the schema, individuals may distort their interpretations of the evidence to maintain the schema’s validity. Maladaptive schemas are also thought to make individuals more vulnerable to emotional disorders and interpersonal conflict.
In comparison with standard cognitive therapy, schema therapy probes more deeply into early life experiences. It utilises experimental, cognitive, behavioural and interpersonal techniques and involves imagery and elaborate discussion of early life experiences. This allows individuals to understand where the dysfunctional schema originated from and how it is being maintained in their life.
The main goals of schema-focused cognitive therapy include: (i) identifying early maladaptive schemas which are maintaining the presenting problem and understanding how they are played out in everyday situations; (ii) changing dysfunctional beliefs about themselves, their life, and the world, and building alternative, more helpful, beliefs, which can be used to fight existing schemas; (iii) breaking down maladaptive life patterns into manageable steps and changing the coping styles which maintain existing schemas; (iv) the provision of skills and experiences that create adaptive thinking and healthy emotions; and (v) empowerment and validation of the emotional needs of the individual.
If you would like more information about our treatments, or to book an appointment with one of our clinical psychologists, please email or call the clinic on 0405 430 530.