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Have you had a tough childhood, have relationship problems and difficulties such as depression? Then schema therapy can help. Here we explain what it is and how it can help you feel better.

What is schema therapy?

Schema therapy is an evidence-based therapy developed to treat people with long-term patterns of problematic behavior, particularly those associated with various personality disorders. The therapy is influenced by cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) but also integrates elements from attachment theory, gestalt therapy and dynamic therapy, among others. Unlike traditional CBT, schema therapy has a greater focus on childhood experiences and the relationship between the therapist and the client.

The method was developed by psychologist Jeffrey Young, and is a further development of CBT adapted for the treatment of more prolonged and complex problems where traditional CBT has not proved effective.

What set our therapist apart was her genuine empathy and personal insight. Not only did she possess a deep understanding of neurodiversity, but she also shared personal experiences that resonated with us, creating an instant connection and fostering a sense of trust!

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Who can benefit from schema therapy?

Schema therapy can be helpful for different problem areas. Do you tend to get stuck in destructive relationships, are jealous, constantly fearful of rejection and abandonment by friends and partners? Do you find it difficult to break patterns, control emotions and impulses or feel empty and indifferent? If you have high demands on yourself, an insatiable need for affirmation, are plagued by recurrent shame and guilt and feel like a bad person?

If so, schema therapy may be for you. Schema therapy is used to treat people with complex psychological problems, such as personality disorders, relationship problems, chronic depression and anxiety.

What is a schema?

Schema is a concept in cognitive psychology that describes different patterns or beliefs you create through your experiences. They are a bit like internal maps. These beliefs about ourselves and the world around us are then the basis for how we act. If you don’t get your basic emotional needs met as a child, you can react with stress in different ways and you can develop patterns and behaviors that don’t always match how situations look when you get older. This can lead to problems in relationships and the development of mental health problems.

During treatment, people explore and understand their schemas, and develop strategies to challenge and change them. They have identified 18 different schemas that are common and can cause problems. There is also a term in schema therapy called ‘mode’, which is a more situational form of schema. For example, in a particular situation you might act a bit like a child, a demanding or critical parent, or a healthier adult. The treatment helps to change patterns that do not make you feel good.

The basics of schema therapy are:

  1. Schemes: Schemes are deeply rooted and stable patterns of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that develop during childhood and shape how an individual interprets and responds to the world. These schemas can be adaptive or maladaptive.
  2. Basic emotional needs: Schema therapy identifies basic emotional needs, called core needs, that each individual has. Examples of such needs include participation, autonomy and competence.
  3. Self: The therapy explores how a person’s self-image has been affected by early experiences and how this can lead to negative self-schemes and emotions.
  4. Parental Mode: Therapy includes the concept of “Parental Mode,” which describes inner voices and attitudes that a person internalizes from their parents and other authority figures.
  5. Changing schemas: The goal of schema therapy is to identify and change maladaptive schemas and promote the development of more adaptive ways of thinking, feeling, and acting.

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Treatment with schema therapy

An important part of schema therapy is that the client learns to identify and manage their own emotional needs and to develop better ways to meet their needs. It is a comprehensive treatment that focuses on changing the personality and the basic thought patterns inherited from childhood.

Schema therapy includes three treatment phases and is based on emotion-focused techniques, cognitive techniques and strategies to break behavioral patterns. It also includes relaxation training, emotion management and exposure. The therapist treats the individual with empathy, support, safety and warmth. Schema therapy can be conducted in individual therapy or in a group format. The length of treatment depends on the severity of the client’s problems and individual needs.


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12 common questions and answers about schema therapy

What is schema therapy?

Schema therapy is an evidence-based therapy developed to treat people with long-term patterns of problematic behavior.

What is a schema?

Schema is a concept in cognitive psychology that describes different patterns or beliefs you create through your experiences. They are a bit like internal maps.

How does a treatment with schema therapy work?

Schema therapy includes three treatment phases and is based on emotion-focused techniques, cognitive techniques and strategies to break behavioral patterns.

How long is a treatment with schema therapy?

The length of treatment depends on the severity of the client’s problems and individual needs. It is difficult to say exactly how long the treatment will be.

What tools and techniques are used in schema therapy?

The treatment uses cognitive techniques such as restructuring but also psychoeducation, relaxation training, emotion management and exposure. The therapist’s relationship with the client is also important with empathy, support, safety and warmth.

Who can be helped by schema therapy?

Schema therapy is used to treat people with complex psychological problems, such as personality disorders, relationship problems, chronic depression and anxiety.

What is the basis of schema therapy?

The therapy is influenced by cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) but also integrates ideas from attachment theory, gestalt therapy and dynamic therapy, among others.

Can I process my childhood with schema therapy?

Schema therapy is designed to treat difficult childhood experiences, so it is a form of therapy that works well for that.

Can I get schema therapy through Lavendla?

We have licensed psychologists and therapists available online. You are welcome to book on our website.

What is a schema therapist?

A licensed psychologist or psychotherapist who has further training in schema therapy and is qualified to provide the treatment.

Where can I turn if I need help?

At Lavendla, we have experienced psychologists and therapists working with schema therapy who can help you feel better. If you have thoughts of self-harm or suicidal thoughts, call the emergency line or the nearest emergency room.

How does schema therapy work?

Here is a general overview of how schema therapy might work:

  1. Assessment visit: The therapist begins treatment with a thorough assessment to understand the client’s background, past experiences and current problems.
  2. Psychoeducation: The therapist introduces the client to basic schema therapy concepts and provides insight into how early experiences may have shaped maladaptive schemas.
  3. Schema identification: Together with the client, the therapist identifies maladaptive schemas and their impact on the client’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.
  4. Exploring origins: The therapist helps the client explore and understand the origins of the problems, often by examining early childhood experiences and relationships.
  5. Change work: The therapist and client work together to challenge and change maladaptive schemas through cognitive and behavioral strategies. This may include challenging negative self-schemes and building more positive and adaptive ways of thinking about oneself and others.
  6. Using the “parent mode”: The therapist helps the client become aware of and change the inner voices and attitudes that come from the inner “parent mode,” which can be negative and self-critical.
  7. Strengthening adaptive schemas: The therapist supports the client in identifying and strengthening adaptive schemas and positive self-schemas.
  8. Implementation in reality: The client practices and implements the new insights and behavioral patterns in their daily life.
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Written by Ellen Lindgren

Licensed psychologist

Ellen is a licensed psychologist and has experience mainly in clinical psychology where she has worked with various conditions such as stress, anxiety, depression, insomnia, crises and trauma in primary care and psychiatry. She has also worked with research while studying in the US and with affective disorders and insomnia at Karolinska Institutet, Sweden.