Schema Therapy (ST) was originally developed in response to limitations of CBT to successfully treat some psychological problems. ST is now an approach to the treatment of a wide variety of psychological problems that integrates traditional cognitive-behavioural techniques with components of other therapies.
Whilst CBT focusses on symptom reduction, ST incorporates underlying causes of symptoms and this gives a greater understanding of why psychological problems both occur in the first place, and are maintained. ST examines the origin of psychological problems, with a focus on Early Maladaptive Schemas (EMS), or schemas.
Research has found that there are 5 areas of childhood needs. When these needs are not met, schemas may develop. A schema is essentially a belief system we have about ourselves, others and the world. Schemas result from a combination of our innate temperament and unmet childhood needs.
Schemas are created in childhood and activated again and again throughout our lives; like a vicious cycle or self-fulfilling prophecy. Schemas have to be triggered by a situation. They may be thought of as a lens that distorts our view of reality in specific ways. When schemas are activated, intense states occur that take over and control our functioning, including thoughts, feelings, sensations, memories and rigid coping styles. These states are called schema modes.
ST focusses on gaining a greater understanding of schemas and modes, and moderating their negative influence on our lives. There are 18 schemas and 10 modes. More recent research, however, has found that there may be up to 19 schemas and 20 modes.
ST techniques include both cognitive techniques and experiential techniques. Cognitive techniques in ST are similar to cognitive techniques in CBT whereby the focus is to identify distorted thinking. In ST, however, we challenge the ingrained belief systems one has developed through one’s life and their effect on current cognitions. Experiential techniques in ST include imagery techniques, often with a focus on schema modes, along with what is called ‘limited reparenting’. These techniques assist individuals to reprocess maladaptive experiences from childhood.
Craig has training and experience in schema therapy and the application of schema therapy to many psychological problems.