What Is Schema Therapy & How Does It Work?

What Is Schema Therapy & How Does It Work?

What Is Schema Therapy

Schema therapy is a psychotherapy that combines elements from cognitive behavioural therapy, psychoanalysis, EFT, and many more.  

The therapy focuses on schemas, which is a clinical term used to describe unhealthy thought patterns that could influence someone to engage in maladaptive behaviour. These schemas could potentially affect relationships.  

Schemas usually develop during childhood. Children whose needs were unmet or who may not have received unconditional love from their parents are more likely to develop schemas.  

In adults, the schemas may lead to avoidance, overcompensation, or undervaluing one’s needs.  

Schema counsellors in Singapore focus on identifying and modifying negative schemas.  

Through scientific schema techniques, you may learn how to break negative thought patterns and develop healthy coping tools.  

You may work with your counsellor to: 

  • Explore past experiences 
  • Understand how your schemas influence your current behaviours and relationships 
  • Meet your emotional needs (eg autonomy) without hurting yourself 

What Are the Different Schemas?

Schema therapy addresses the different types of schemas and explores how they affect: 

  • Our lives 
  • Relationships 
  • Self-image 
  • Performance 
  • Mental wellness 

Once you develop schemas, it can unconsciously influence your thoughts, patterns and beliefs.  

Over time, your Singapore counsellor may help you identify your schemas, understand your reaction to them (also known as ‘coping styles’), and learn what you can do differently to meet your needs without falling into the trap of negative thinking.  

There are many different types of schemas. However, researchers have stated that most of them fall into five broad categories. These are: 

Disconnection and rejection: Includes schemas about feeling unloved or left out. If you have these schemas, you may find it hard to maintain or improve relationships. 

Impaired autonomy and performance: Includes schemas about not feeling confident or independent. You might doubt your ability to do things alone or feel stuck.  

Impaired limits: Includes schemas that affect self-control. If you have this schema, you may be more impulsive and struggle to set or keep healthy boundaries.  

Other-directedness: Includes schemas about ignoring or avoiding your needs and wants.  

Over vigilance and inhibition: Includes schemas about perfectionism. You may be too hard on yourself and follow rigid and unrealistic ‘rules’ to avoid mistakes. 

Coping Skills in Schema Therapy

If your coping style helps you at the expense of hurting yourself in the short or long term, you may need to rethink them. 

Coping styles can be helpful in childhood, but they may reinforce schemas in adulthood. 

For example, if a child dissociates (ie disconnects from reality in some way), it may serve as a means of survival. 

However, if an adult dissociates, the coping style may affect their work performance, relationships, and concentration.  

Coping styles are different for everyone. You may have developed a style based on your temperament, environment or upbringing.  

Moreover, your style may change throughout the years or stay the same even if you are struggling with a different schema.  

The three main coping styles are explored in the below section.  

1. Overcompensation

In overcompensation, the person may act the opposite of their schema to fight against it.  

Externally, they may appear confident and capable of coping with life problems. However, they may struggle to feel good about themselves and often blame themselves for having the schema.  

Face with a happy mask in front to indicate compensation in schema therapy.

2. Avoidance

Avoidance is when people avoid situations or events that make it hard for them to face their thoughts and feelings.  

For example, if a person has social anxiety and believes that they are incapable of making friends, they may even avoid their current relationships, which are going well. 

Avoidant people may consume drinks, overeat, or work too much as a means of coping. 

3. Surrender

Surrender is when a person gives in to their negative beliefs and lets them shape their life.  

They might be in bad situations that make their negative beliefs seem true. 

The cycle reinforces their schema, and they may be stuck in a negative pattern of thoughts and behaviours.  

Schema Therapy Techniques

Schema counsellors may use several tools during therapy. What works for one person may not work for someone else.  

This is because although people may have the same schemas, their coping styles may differ completely. 

Talk with your therapist and let them know if something is not working right for you.  

Below are four categories your counsellor may focus on during schema therapy.  

1. Emotive 

Emotive tools in schema therapy may help you truly understand the feelings related to your schemas.  

For example, chair work is a type of tool that involves re-enacting scenes from your past, present, and future to find your inner voice (ie what you truly hope for). 

2. Interpersonal 

Interpersonal exercises focus on how schemas affect your relationships.  

Your counsellor may use techniques such as role-playing to help you identify and fix unhealthy interactions. 

3. Cognitive  

Cognitive methods involve questioning and changing negative beliefs caused by schemas. 

For example, your therapist may use Socratic questioning to help you change your beliefs.  

Socratic questioning explores complex ideas and concepts through questions that may challenge your assumptions and values.  

4. Behavioural 

Behavioural tools can help change maladaptive behaviours into healthy and productive ones.  

Skills training is an approach your counsellor may take to help you learn new and healthy behaviours.  

What Can Schema Therapy Help With?

Schema therapy can help you with problems such as: 

  • Low self-esteem 
  • Lack of communication skills 
  • Negative beliefs about the world and yourself 
  • Issues with controlling anger 
  • Being too emotional 
  • Engaging in self-harming behaviours 

Similarly, schema therapy can also help you cope with disorders such as: 

If you or someone you know is struggling with the issues above, TYHO online counsellors can help you.  

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