This video was recently shared through the International Society of Schema Therapy (ISST) mailing list and we thought it may be of interest to readers.
We have transcribed key parts of the message from Jeffrey Young below the video.
On life patterns (schemas)
These are disorders of people, sometimes they are called personality disorders, these are problems that people have that have been since very early in their life and they are like life patterns and that are very self-destructive. For example, someone who was abused by their father may develop a mistrust schema and then all through their life they feel that they can’t trust people because they think they’re going to hurt the same way that their father hurt them. The pattern repeats, they always thinks someone is planning things against them or is going to do something to hurt them and then it’s a self-destructive pattern.
It’s not just a thinking pattern, it’s also a behaviour pattern. It’s how the person relates to other people in their life. Partly it’s a way of thinking, but also a way of feeling and also a way of acting.
When a schema becomes destructive
We have 18 of these patterns (schemas). In a way most of us has 1 or 2 or 3 of these patterns, but we don’t call it a destructive pattern until it starts hurting the person’s life. It becomes a major schema when the person can’t function normally, so they can’t work or they can’t have close relationships or they treat people very badly (and go to prisons) or they become very depressed, that is when the pattern becomes destructive.
Therapy process to change schemas
First I try to explain to the patient that it’s normal, everyone has schemas. So they shouldn’t feel that they are very strange because they have a schema. Then I will try to explain the name of the schema, I say “You have a life pattern we call abandonment”, so we label it for them.
We try to help the person understand why they have it. So we would go back and talk about their childhood. Maybe we have even them do imagery exercises with their eyes closed to picture themselves as a child. Maybe they would come up with an image when their mother died when they were very young. We’d say this is very often the origin of abandonment is having a parent who abandoned you by dying very early and then that becomes a pattern in your life to think that everyone is going to leave you.
Now it’s a big difference already, because now the patient when they start to feel frightened they say “oh this is my abandonment schema”, they understand why they are so upset. They actually get somewhat better just knowing what it is that they’re feeling and why they’re so upset. So it’s not a small step, it’s a big step to recognise what’s happening and why it’s happening.
Then we will try and get the patient to look at all of the different ways in which the schema affects their life. For example, with a husband who is off at work, travelling, the patient might call every hour and it’s very upsetting to the husband because he’s trying to work and if the husband says I’m working “I need you, I need you, I need you”. So then the husband gets upset and angry with her because she needs so much help. So she drives her husband away by calling him so much of the time, so we try to point out behaviours like this that she does, that are hurting her and hurting her life, because of the schema.
Then we’ll try to teach her a different way to react in the situation instead of calling him, like what else could you do besides calling your husband every hour when you start to feel the abandonment.
So we start to teach her different things she can do instead of calling him all the time. Maybe we’d ask her to call a friend, we could teach her to develop a hobby that she could do when she’s alone so she’s not so frightened, she might get a pet so she’s not so afraid and we can tell her to remind herself that he’s not really gone forever, he’s only gone for a day or two and he will come back. So there are many things we can help the patient, but they need to use it right when they’re in the situation, right when the schema has been triggered. We are teaching them normal things that other people do. It’s really just teaching someone behaviours or skills that other people have, but they don’t have. It’s re-educating them in how to deal with being alone.
The Secure Nest Team