What are schemas?
Before we begin to delve into schema therapy, let’s first answer the question. What are schemas?
Schemas are deeper patterns of thoughts or behaviors within oneself and they are often developed as a result of experiences in one’s early life. They are comprised of thoughts, emotions, memories, and cognition. Normally, they help us to organize information, informs the way we view things and our perspective on the world around us. It’s like when you see a sports car, your brain automatically associates this with the attributes of “fast”, “shiny” and “expensive”.
But when schemas are developed as a result of unmet emotional needs during one’s childhood, this becomes a problem and these are the schemas that schema therapy aims to target. These schemas are often unhealthy and self-destructive, affecting one’s everyday life and relationships with others. As a result of these schemas, they can lead to unhealthy coping mechanisms such as surrender, avoidance or overcompensation.
In everyday life, these schemas unbalance one’s perspective on the world around them by magnifying things that agree with the schema and minimize those that contradict it. Here’s an example for you. A person who has a schema that informs them that they are a failure and are incompetent may constantly berate themselves over small mistakes that lead them to believe that they are stupid, inept or unable to perform as well as those around them. In an instance of a presentation, they may focus on that one line they stuttered on in comparison to another person’s ‘flawless’ presentation instead focusing on how well their own presentation went.
Now that you have a basic understanding of what schemas are, let’s get into the gist of this.
What is schema therapy and how does it work?
Schema therapy is a type of therapy that aims to allow one to identify and understand their own schemas and be able to tackle these unhealthy but pervasive life patterns. As unhealthy schemas often become a pattern that is ingrained in one’s life, these often become obstacles in reaching one’s goals or needs. Hence, through schema therapy, you will be able to break through these barriers and develop healthier alternatives to the negative behaviors, thoughts or emotions.
The ultimate goal of schema therapy is not to fully eliminate these schemas. But rather learn to break these patterns of negative thoughts and emotions and find healthier or more positive alternatives. In doing so, finding ways to ensure that one’s schemas are triggered less often and allowing one to find ways to recover at a quicker rate.
Within schema therapy, the first phase is the assessment of the client. Here, your therapist will be able to help you identify your schemas and the coping styles you often find yourself falling into. Here you are not only able to allow you, therapist, to understand your past experiences that may have led to these schemas, but also provides yourself with the opportunity to once again take a look into yourself.
With a better understanding of you, your therapist can them teach you various techniques to manage and weaken your schemas. These techniques fall into four separate categories:
- Emotive: Here, you are encouraged to be in touch with the emotional aspects of your schema and be able to express your emotions. This often helps people to distance themselves from the schema and be able to look at the bigger picture as a way to weaken the effects of the schema.
- Interpersonal: As schemas can often affect your relationships and the way you view your relationships, these interpersonal techniques allow you to become more aware of your actions or reactions within these relationships. By looking into your relationships through activities such as role-player, it helps you to find the crux of the matter and further find techniques to manage these issues.
- Cognitive: With these techniques, they help you to battle against the drapes that schemas hold over your eyes and the biased view this creates. These techniques help you to look into your everyday life for evidence against these schemas in order to be able to challenge these beliefs and find healthier alternatives.
- Behavioural: This fourth and final technique category deals with one’s behavior as a result of these schemas. As schemas can often affect our behaviors and the way we approach various aspects of our life, these techniques look to change any unhealthy long term behaviors. Such as focusing on the decisions we make or the way we communicate that are affected by these schemas.
Finally, now that we know what schema therapy is and what it entails you can now ask yourself the question:
Is schema therapy for me?
Schema therapy is often recommended for those who have trouble regulating or dealing with emotions, behaviors or pervasive thoughts.
They can also help those who suffer from:
- Chronic depression
- Borderline personality disorder
- Childhood trauma
- Personality disorders
For proper diagnosis and professional advice, please contact your local therapist and take to the first step to finding help!
Because after all, there’s always light at the end of the tunnel.