Contributing to the Accessibility of Schema Therapy

October 7, 2018

Over the past few months a member of our team, Sally Skewes, has been writing answers to questions about schema therapy on Quora. Quora is an online platform to ask questions and receive answers from contributors who typically have expertise or experiences with the subject matter. Some of the questions around schema therapy had not been answered, despite being on the platform for some time.

Below are several of the questions and answers provided by Sally on the Quora platform.

What is schema therapy?

Schema therapy combines ideas from various therapy approaches including:

Cognitive behavioural therapy: Focusing on changes in thoughts and behaviours in concrete, current life problems.

Depth psychology: Understanding the origin of current difficulties in the context of experiences in childhood and adolescence.

Psychodrama and Gestalt therapy: Techniques to change problematic emotions.

Client-centred therapy / humanistic therapy: Focusing on human needs and on their importance for mental health.

Schema therapy is an approach that empowers people to change negative life patterns or themes in thinking, and the related emotions and behaviours. In schema therapy clients work together with their therapist to address and modify these deeper patterns or themes, also known as “schemas”.

The schemas that are targeted in therapy are enduring and self-defeating patterns that typically begin early in life (during childhood and adolescence).

Imagine that you have been humiliated as a child because your clothes were different to the other children. If you often felt rejected and humiliated as a child, it’s very likely that you will feel rejected and or humiliated as an adult, too – even if nobody means to make you suffer this way. Such feelings typically lead to many problems throughout life. For example, not making contact with others easily and thus not being able to establish healthy and close relationships; or reacting with anger to prevent further humiliation, even if your action is not appropriate to the situation.

In schema therapy clients work together with their therapist to identify and explore the origins of their schemas. After understanding why their schemas have developed, the emphasis is on working towards healing the schemas. The aim of schema therapy is to truly shift the way a person feels about themselves and others, not just to change the way that they think.

What is the difference between Schema therapy and CBT?

Cognitive behavioural therapy focuses on changes in thoughts and behaviour in concrete, current life problems. Schema therapy combines ideas from various psychotherapeutic approaches such as cognitive behavioural therapy, depth psychology, psychodrama, and gestalt therapy and humanistic therapy/ client-centred therapy.

Emotions play the most important role in schema therapy (e.g., through imagery, role-playing). Both positive and negative childhood experiences form our adult emotional reactions. Schema therapy places increased stress on understanding the client’s early history and life patterns and increased emphasis on the therapeutic relationship. Schema therapy is being shown to be useful in treating longstanding emotional difficulties.

In this post on Secure Nest, I wrote about the ways in which our childhood experiences shape our lives in the present day. You may find it useful in understanding how schema therapy differs from cognitive behavioural therapy: Understand Life Patterns Through a Schema Therapy Lens

How might someone behave when in the “detached protector mode” in a schema therapy session?

The way in which the Detached Protector is displayed may differ from person to person. The Detached Protector Mode is a coping style or a psychological survival strategy to deal with threatening emotions and experiences. Coping styles are often influenced by childhood experiences. In the Detached Protector Mode you may avoid emotions and problems so you don’t have to be confronted with them. You may feel disconnected from your own feelings and from other people. In a schema therapy session if you are in a Detached Protector Mode you may act to put distance between yourself and a difficult emotional experience. You may present in a detached, emotionally distant, flat or robotic manner. Feelings of connection to your therapist may be blocked and you may avoid getting close to him or her.

We hope you found these answers interesting to read.

It is important that individuals searching for answers around schema therapy are met with helpful information as it will increase the accessibility of schema therapy (part of our mission here at Secure Nest). On that note if you see someone asking about schema therapy (online or in real life), we would encourage you to help provide answers. If you have found schema therapy to be beneficial (as a therapist or client), we would encourage you to share your experiences with others (including on social media or other online mediums such as in articles or blog posts). One great example of this which we wrote about previously was the illustrations shared by Kathryn of myillustratedmind (see our article, Sharing Schema Therapy Experiences).

The Secure Nest Team