Frequently Asked Questions About Schema Therapy

Running a business, especially a startup, can be overwhelming. Considering the limited resources, the founder would need to act on different roles at the same time. The amount of work and the responsibilities can end being messy. The inability to manage it well can eventually lead to major problems. At times, it can even end up affecting mental health.

If you find yourself in such a place, you might be interested in getting to know more about schema therapy and how it can help you.

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Schemas primarily function to make sense out of often overwhelming sets of information. It is a tedious task to interpret the vast amount of information in our surroundings. Schemas are useful because they help us take in information and make it more digestible. Schemas pertain to patterns of thought or behavior that categorize information and the relationships between them. Most schemas are formed in early childhood.

Psychologists like Jean Piaget and Frederic Bartlett popularized the use of schemas. Bartlett theorized that people understand the world through a network of abstract mental frameworks. Jean Piaget, however, more formally introduced the term schema. Included as one of the key concepts in his theory on cognitive development, he suggested that children go through intellectual growth stages.

Much of this growth is attributed to the increasing complexity of schemas formed by children. In Piaget’s use of the term such that there is duality. Schema is used as a term for both a category of knowledge and knowledge acquisition through forming mental frameworks.

Schema formation is an adaptive behavior. With new experiences and the presentation of new information comes new schemas and replacing old schemas. Sometimes schemas can work to our advantage, and sometimes they can exacerbate existing misconceptions and notions about the world.

Stereotypes are a form of maladaptive schemas. Schemas can sometimes add to stereotypical thinking. Deeply established mental frameworks within individuals may pose difficulty in retaining new information and unlearning unhealthy thoughts and behaviors.

Schema-focused therapy is a type of psychotherapy that can counter the formation of unhealthy ways of thinking. It can provide patients with guidance when creating new schemas or untangling harmful schemas from traumatic experiences.

What is schema therapy used for?
Schema therapy is most commonly used to help people with borderline personality disorder, narcissistic personality disorder, and paranoid personality disorder. This evidence-based psychotherapy helps individuals become more aware of their unmet emotional needs to help deal with their mental health problems. This technique is also useful for people with anxiety, chronic depression, and substance abuse issues.

What are the 18 schemas?
Jeffrey Young, a psychologist and leading researcher on the study of schemas, defined eighteen common negative schemas that individuals may develop in their early life or childhood. These schemas are as follows:

  1. Mistrust
  2. Abandonment
  3. Emotional deprivation
  4. Shame
  5. Dependence
  6. Social isolation
  7. Undeveloped self
  8. Vulnerability to harm
  9. Entitlement
  10. Failure
  11. Lack of self-control
  12. Self-sacrifice
  13. Subjugation
  14. Pessimism
  15. Approval-seeking/recognition-seeking
  16. Punitive
  17. Emotional inhibition
  18. Hypercritical

These schemas are beliefs that may affect how a person feels or sees themselves.

What is the schema mode?
Schema mode combines your active schemas and coping styles, which may either be helpful or unhelpful to you. These modes are useful in grouping your schemas into a single state of mind instead of individual traits. They are divided into four categories, namely:

  • Child modes – childlike feelings and behaviors
  • Dysfunctional coping modes – used to help with emotional distress that ends up reinforcing the schema.
  • Dysfunctional parent modes – made up of critical and harsh parental voices
  • Healthy adult modes – the healthy, functional self that helps deal with the effects of other modes and setting limits

What are schemas in CBT?
Schemas are maladaptive patterns that you may develop when your childhood needs are unmet. Cognitive therapists believe that these core beliefs are central to the maintenance and reinforcement of long-term psychiatric problems. Therapists work with their clients to weaken these schemas and develop more helpful and new schemas.

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Does schema therapy change schemas and symptoms?
There is some evidence showing that schema therapy helps improve symptoms of borderline personality disorder. But more research and work are needed to support use for other mental health disorders. Patient preference and clinical expertise also affect when to use this technique.

What are the four types of schema?
Schemas are continuously developed and formed as we age, and the four types of schemas that people may have include:

  1. Person schema – focuses on information about specific individuals.
  2. Social schema – focuses on general information about how individuals should behave in specific social situations.
  3. Self-schema – focuses on oneself, which includes the idea about your current self and your idealized or future self.
  4. Event schema – focuses on how you should behave in certain events, including how to act, what to do, and what to say.

What is Schema Therapy for Borderline Personality?
Schema therapy for borderline personality aims to reorganize the inner structure – cognitive-behavioral, attachment, psychodynamic, and emotions – of people with this personality disorder. During the therapy sessions, the clinical expert and patient will work using the four core mechanisms, which are the following:

  1. Limited parenting
  2. Experiential imagery and dialogue work
  3. Cognitive reconstruction and education
  4. Behavioral pattern-breaking

These mechanisms will be used as the patient and clinical expert passes through three phases of treatment: bonding and regulating emotions, changing schema mode, and developing autonomy.

Is schema therapy evidence-based?
Yes. The schema therapy, developed by Jeffrey Young in 1994, is an evidence-based psychotherapy that incorporates a variety of aspects from other treatments like behavioral, cognitive, and psychodynamic therapies. This technique has also been useful as a treatment for borderline personality disorder when used in randomized controlled trials.

What are schema and examples?
Schema is a mental structure that helps an individual organize and interpret the vast amount of information we encounter from our environment and everyday lives. It can either be helpful or unhelpful in learning new things as individuals focus on their pre-existing schemas.

An example is our schema of a dog, which is an animal with fur and four legs. So, for a kid with that mental structure, animals with these characteristics are dogs, unless they learn the new names and eventually build up a new schema for each new animal.

What is a schema in Piaget’s theory?
In Piaget’s theory, a schema is both the knowledge acquired and the process of getting that new information. People are continually learning and taking in new things from their environment, so new schemas are formed continuously, and old schemas are modified or changed.

Can schemas change?
Yes. Schemas can change by undergoing accommodation and assimilation. Assimilation happens by adding new information to an old schema. On the other hand, accommodation occurs by changing pre-existing schemas or forming a new schema when you experience or learn new things.

Although schemas can change, it can become challenging to do so as you grow older, even if you are presented with pieces of evidence that contradict your old schema.

What are relationship schemas?
Relationship schemas are mental structures that we often start to form as we grow up. These are based on the relationships of people around us, like how our parents interact. Each defines whether we avoid relationships for fear of their dangers or continuously repeat bad relationship decisions like abusive relationships and marriages.

More than beliefs and ideas, schemas are pervasive patterns of thinking and behavior. It is essential to create healthy schemas because they are deeply ingrained thoughts related to our sense of self and worldview. When people’s emotional needs are unmet in childhood, maladaptive schemas form. These harmful schemas can affect a person throughout their life. These can also be a factor in problematic coping strategies and behaviors if left unchecked.

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When stressful events in the present mimic traumatic events from the past, it may result in harmful coping mechanisms in response to present stressors. People with borderline personality disorder often have symptoms caused by painful childhood experiences. The formation of maladaptive schemas from early childhood may contribute to the development of the disorder. It can also affect the severity of how symptoms manifest.

Schema-focused therapy can provide an avenue for those with a borderline personality disorder. It allows them to control their symptoms as negative schemas trigger most of them in the first place. Schema-focused therapy is a way to guide people to break free from harmful patterns of thinking. SFT helps to untangle these complex mental structures that bring about negative misconceptions of the self or others.

This therapy type is an integrative type of treatment that draws elements from cognitive behavioral therapy, attachment theory, etc. Going to therapy may be difficult for people who live in places where lockdown is strict or when you live with immunocompromised people.

Luckily, there are startups dedicated to mental health which can guide you in your mental health journey. It is possible to untangle complicated misconceptions and thoughts to improve your quality of life through therapy ultimately.