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What is Schema Therapy?

Schema therapy is a longer-term treatment developed by Jeffrey E. Young and aims to treat personality disorders and other mental health concerns that don’t always respond to other treatment options.

It is an innovative and integrative approach that incorporates elements of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), psychoanalysis, attachment theory, and emotion-focused therapy, among others.

Schema therapy has been extensively researched to effectively treat a wide variety of typically treatment resistant conditions such as Borderline Personality Disorder and chronic, entrenched psychological disorders.

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What are Schemas?

Schemas are self-defeating core themes or patterns that we keep repeating throughout our lives. Because schemas begin early in life (childhood or adolescence) they become familiar and thus comfortable. We distort our view of the events in our lives in order to maintain the validity of our schemas. Sometimes schemas are also known as “lifetraps.”


Schemas develop when one or more of our core emotional childhood needs are not met or violated over time. These include safety and nurturance; autonomy, competence and a sense of identity; freedom to express needs, emotions and opinions; spontaneity and play; as well as realistic limits and control.

Schemas can affect you throughout life and contribute to problematic coping methods and behaviours if they aren’t addressed.


Our schemas do not usually go away without therapy as they are resistant to change. They are also not always in our awareness and can operate in subtle ways. However, when a schema is activated by situations relevant to that particular schema, our thoughts and feelings are dominated by these schemas.

Experts have identified 20 distinct schemas (officially referred to as Early Maladaptive Schemas). More information about these schemas and schema therapy can be found here.

“Anything that is "wrong" with you began as a survival mechanism in childhood.”


How does Schema Therapy work?

Schema therapy starts with assessing and understanding your schemas and their childhood or adolescent origins. This may include completing questionnaires and reading information or books suggested by your therapist.

To begin changing your schemas, your therapist uses different techniques including:

  • Cognitive interventions - identifying and changing unhelpful thinking

  • Behavioural pattern breaking - learning to respond in healthier ways

  • Experiential interventions (such as imagery rescripting and chairwork) to provide emotion-focused, healing experiences

  • Using the therapeutic relationship to foster positive change

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How is Schema Therapy different?

Some of the distinguishing features of Schema Therapy are:

  • It places more importance on the development of current symptoms

  • It emphasizes the therapist–patient relationship and its potential for corrective influence

  • It aims to help patients understand their core emotional needs and to learn ways of meeting those needs adaptively

  • It focuses on the use of experiential strategies (e.g., chairwork and imagery rescripting) as well as cognitive, interpersonal and behavioural pattern breaking interventions

Start understanding your Schemas with Schema Therapy Wollongong

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