The art of Schema therapy


Schema Therapy is a therapeutic approach developed by Dr. Jeffrey E. Young in the 1980s, initially as an expansion of traditional cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). It is designed to help individuals address long-standing, pervasive patterns of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors known as "schemas." Schemas are deeply ingrained beliefs and emotional patterns developed during childhood that shape how individuals perceive themselves, others, and the world around them. The basic schemas revolve around feeling of guilt I'll do it 'cause of guilt, shame /l/am-i-bad-and-defected/, fear /l/ill-do-it-cause-i-fear/, inadequacy /l/i-dont-have-what-it-takes/, being a failure and fundamentally different to others. By targeting deeply ingrained schemas or core beliefs developed in childhood, schema therapy aims to create lasting change and promote emotional well-being.

Schema therapy is justified and highly beneficial due to its holistic approach, integration of cognitive, behavioral, and experiential techniques, focus on early maladaptive schemas, emphasis on emotion-focused interventions, potential for long-term change, empirical support, and flexibility in application. As a comprehensive and evidence-based treatment approach, schema therapy offers hope and healing to individuals struggling with a wide range of psychological difficulties.

Schema Therapy integrates elements from cognitive-behavioral, psychodynamic, and experiential therapies to provide a comprehensive treatment approach. It emphasizes the importance of early life experiences, particularly within the context of relationships with caregivers, in shaping an individual's core beliefs and coping strategies. We can name schema therapy a need-therapy, as it goes down to what need / needs were not adequately met. Schema consists of cognition, emotion and memories, therefore we work with all the relevant components. However, it is important to say that this approach is not meant to blame the parents and make them look like the enemies (although it some cases some parents might have been very problematic, if not mentally ill). The majority of clients have experienced unmet needs for secure attachment Secure attachment - what ?! (let me refer to my beloved colleague, who has done research in this topic ), emotional attunement, nurture, empathy, love and loving discipline and guidance. /l/loving-discipline-and-guidance/. Unlike short-term interventions, schema therapy is designed to produce long-term, sustainable change by addressing the root causes of psychological distress. By challenging maladaptive schemas and replacing them with healthier alternatives, schema therapy equips individuals with the tools they need to navigate life's challenges more effectively.

In a certain way, we can see Schema therapy as Therapy of needs. With needs come emotions. Schema therapy incorporates emotion-focused techniques such as imagery, chair work, and experiential exercises to access and process deeply held emotions. By providing a safe and supportive environment for emotional exploration and expression, schema therapy helps individuals develop greater emotional awareness and regulation skills. Because early maladaptive schemas develop when specific, core childhood needs are not met. Important to remember is that there are 3 important factors present, such as innate emotional temperament, negative childhood and adolescent experience and cultural influences (social economics...). 

As mentioned earlier, schemas are compromised of memories, emotions (&bodily sensations) and cognitions and we could say that it is the "theme" for the person - it is his "filter / lense" on perceiving himself and the world. Schema therapy can be adapted to suit the needs of diverse populations and presenting issues, making it a versatile and flexible treatment approach. Therapists can tailor interventions to the unique characteristics and preferences of each client, ensuring that treatment is both personalized and effective. 

Here is why I fell in love with Schema therapy approach. It puts a huge emphasis on the therapeutic relationship as the healing relationship, where limited reparenting happens. I, as the therapist, put myself into the parent-like role, where I provide genuine nurture, care and secure attachment. Secondly guidance and direct. Thirdly empathic confrontation. As last limits and boundaries. The crucial aspect is being genuine and human, helping to meet the client's needs and literally be there along his journey of "growing up" and learning ways of the healthy mode for him.

 I consider Schema Therapy to be beneficial: 

Comprehensive Approach: Schema Therapy offers a comprehensive approach to addressing long-standing, deeply ingrained patterns or schemas. It integrates elements of cognitive-behavioral, experiential, psychodynamic, and interpersonal therapies to provide a holistic treatment approach.

Focused on Core Emotional Needs: Schema Therapy focuses on identifying and addressing unmet core emotional needs developed in childhood. By exploring and validating these needs, individuals can develop healthier coping strategies and change maladaptive patterns of behavior.

Rooted in Attachment Theory:

Schema Therapy is rooted in attachment theory, which emphasizes the importance of early relationships and experiences in shaping personality and emotional development. By addressing attachment wounds, individuals can develop more secure and fulfilling relationships.

Emotion-Focused Techniques:

Schema Therapy incorporates emotion-focused techniques such as imagery, chair work, and experiential exercises to help clients access and process deep-seated emotions. This can lead to profound insights and emotional healing.

Long-Term Change:

Unlike short-term therapy approaches, Schema Therapy is designed to produce lasting change by targeting underlying schemas and core beliefs. By addressing the root causes of emotional distress, individuals can experience sustained improvement in their mental health and well-being.

Tailored Treatment Plans:

Schema Therapy emphasizes the importance of individualized treatment plans tailored to each client's specific needs and goals. Therapists collaborate with clients to identify their unique schemas and develop targeted interventions to address them effectively.

Integration of Techniques:

Schema Therapy integrates a variety of therapeutic techniques and strategies to address a wide range of psychological issues, including cognitive restructuring, behavioral interventions, mindfulness practices, and relational techniques.

Evidence-Based Practice:

Schema Therapy has a growing body of research supporting its effectiveness in treating a range of mental health conditions, including personality disorders, chronic depression, anxiety disorders, and complex trauma.

Therapeutic Relationship:

Schema Therapy places a strong emphasis on the therapeutic relationship between the therapist and client. A warm, empathic, and collaborative relationship is considered essential for facilitating change and promoting emotional healing.

Focus on Relational Patterns:

Schema Therapy explores how early relational patterns and experiences continue to influence individuals' current relationships and interactions. By addressing dysfunctional relational patterns, individuals can improve their communication skills, resolve conflicts, and cultivate healthier relationships.

The core change

The core change in Schema Therapy revolves around identifying and modifying deeply ingrained patterns of thinking, feeling, and behaving known as "schemas." These schemas are developed during childhood in response to unmet emotional needs and are maintained into adulthood, influencing how individuals perceive themselves, others, and the world around them. The primary goal of Schema Therapy is to help individuals recognize and challenge these maladaptive schemas, fostering emotional healing and promoting healthier coping strategies and interpersonal relationships.

Here are some key aspects of the core change in Schema Therapy in general:

Schema Awareness:

The first step in Schema Therapy is developing awareness of one's core schemas. This involves identifying recurring patterns of thoughts, emotions, and behaviors that contribute to distress and dysfunction in various areas of life.

Emotional Exploration:

Clients learn to explore and understand the underlying emotions associated with their schemas. This often involves accessing and expressing deeply buried emotions related to past experiences, particularly those involving unmet childhood needs and relational trauma.

Cognitive Restructuring:

Once schemas and associated emotions are identified, clients work on challenging and reframing their maladaptive beliefs and cognitive distortions. This process, known as cognitive restructuring, helps clients develop more balanced and adaptive ways of thinking about themselves, others, and the world.

Experiential Techniques:

Schema Therapy incorporates experiential techniques to facilitate emotional processing and healing. These techniques may include imagery exercises, chair work (role-playing different parts of oneself), and guided visualization to access and rework emotional memories associated with core schemas.

Limited Reparenting:

The therapist provides a corrective emotional experience through a process known as "limited reparenting." This involves nurturing, validating, and empathizing with the client's unmet emotional needs, helping to heal relational wounds and build a secure attachment with the therapist.

Behavioral Change:

Clients work on developing healthier coping strategies and interpersonal skills to replace maladaptive patterns of behavior associated with their schemas. This may involve practicing new behaviors in real-life situations, setting boundaries, and improving communication skills.

Relational Focus:

The therapeutic relationship between the therapist and client is considered central to the change process in Schema Therapy. A warm, empathic, and collaborative relationship provides a secure base for exploring and challenging core schemas, promoting emotional healing, and fostering positive change.

Overall, the core change in Schema Therapy involves challenging maladaptive schemas and fostering emotional healing within the context of a supportive therapeutic relationship, so that individuals can experience profound and lasting transformation in their lives.

My work within limited reparenting 

As a dedicated mental health professional and a parent, I value my clients and I am wholeheartedly committed to the well-being and their true happiness. Basically, as a dedicated parent (because for some time I get the privilege to become a parent). Each person who walks through my door or reaches out for support holds a special place in my heart, and I am profoundly grateful for the privilege of being entrusted with their well-being.

Every individual who seeks guidance, solace, or healing is not just a client to me, but a unique and precious soul (and a child) deserving of compassion, understanding, and unwavering support. Their stories, struggles, and triumphs resonate deeply within me, igniting a sense of purpose and calling that drives me to serve them with the utmost care and dedication.  I am filled with an overwhelming sense of love, responsibility, and devotion that drives me to be the best parent-like figure within limited re-parenting I can be. 

I cherish the moments of connection and vulnerability shared in the therapeutic space, where walls come down, and hearts open up to the possibility of healing and transformation. Each session is a sacred unique journey of exploration and discovery, guided by empathy, acceptance, and unconditional positive regard. Within limited reparenting I am dedicated to creating a warm, loving, and supportive environment where my clients feel safe to express themselves, explore their interests, and pursue their dreams. I strive to be a source of strength and stability for them, offering guidance, encouragement, and unconditional love as they navigate the ups and downs of life. And that includes the theme pf boundaries and limits too. 

My clients are not merely recipients of my expertise or guidance; they are partners in their own healing journey, and I am humbled by the courage and resilience they demonstrate each day. I am inspired by their strength, their willingness to confront challenges head-on, and their unwavering commitment to personal growth and self-discovery.

To my clients, past, present, and future, I want to express my deepest gratitude for allowing me into your lives and trusting me with your innermost thoughts and feelings. You are not alone on this journey, and I am here to support you every step of the way, with empathy, compassion, and unwavering dedication.

Basic schemas (EMS) and modes

In schema therapy, there are 18 early maladaptive schemas (EMS) that represent deeply ingrained patterns of beliefs and emotions developed in childhood. These schemas are organized into five broad categories: Disconnection and Rejection, Impaired Autonomy and Performance, Other-Directedness, Overvigilance and Inhibition, and Impaired Limits. Here are the 18 early maladaptive schemas:

  1. Abandonment/Instability: Fear of being abandoned or left alone, accompanied by feelings of insecurity, instability, and fear of loss.

  2. Mistrust/Abuse: Expectation that others will hurt, betray, or exploit you, often based on past experiences of abuse, neglect, or betrayal.

  3. Emotional Deprivation: Belief that your emotional needs will never be met by others, leading to feelings of emptiness, loneliness, and longing.

  4. Defectiveness/Shame: Feeling fundamentally flawed, inadequate, or inferior, often due to criticism, rejection, or neglect in childhood.

  5. Social Isolation/Alienation: Feeling disconnected or different from others, leading to a sense of isolation, loneliness, and difficulty forming close relationships.

  6. Dependence/Incompetence: Belief that you are incapable of functioning independently or successfully, leading to feelings of helplessness, incompetence, and reliance on others.

  7. Vulnerability to Harm or Illness: Excessive fear of physical or emotional harm, accompanied by hypervigilance, anxiety, and avoidance of potential dangers.

  8. Enmeshment/Undeveloped Self: Lack of clear boundaries and differentiation from others, leading to a loss of identity, autonomy, and difficulty asserting personal needs and desires.

  9. Failure to Achieve: Belief that you will never be able to achieve your goals or fulfill your potential, leading to feelings of inadequacy, disappointment, and fear of failure.

  10. Entitlement/Grandiosity: Exaggerated sense of superiority, entitlement, or specialness, often accompanied by a disregard for the needs and feelings of others.

  11. Insufficient Self-Control/Self-Discipline: Difficulty controlling impulses, emotions, or behaviors, leading to problems with self-regulation, addiction, or impulsivity.

  12. Subjugation: Excessive submission to others' needs and desires at the expense of your own, leading to feelings of resentment, powerlessness, and suppression of personal needs.

  13. Self-Sacrifice: Excessive focus on meeting the needs of others while neglecting your own, leading to feelings of martyrdom, resentment, and depletion.

  14. Approval-Seeking/Recognition-Seeking: Excessive need for approval, validation, or recognition from others, leading to people-pleasing behaviors and difficulty asserting boundaries.

  15. Negativity/Pessimism: Persistent focus on the negative aspects of life, oneself, and the future, leading to feelings of hopelessness, cynicism, and despair.

  16. Emotional Inhibition: Suppression or avoidance of emotions, leading to emotional detachment, numbness, and difficulty expressing or experiencing feelings.

  17. Unrelenting Standards/Hypercriticalness: Setting excessively high standards for oneself or others, leading to perfectionism, self-criticism, and chronic dissatisfaction.

  18. Punitiveness: Harsh self-criticism, self-punishment, or punishment of others for perceived failures or mistakes, leading to feelings of guilt, shame, and unworthiness.

These early maladaptive schemas represent core beliefs and emotional patterns that influence how individuals perceive themselves, others, and the world around them. Schema therapy aims to identify and challenge these maladaptive schemas, helping individuals develop healthier ways of thinking, feeling, and behaving. I talk more about these schemas on my blog, if you want to read more. 

In schema therapy, modes represent distinct emotional states and coping strategies that individuals experience in response to different situations or triggers. These modes arise from underlying early maladaptive schemas and play a central role in shaping thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Here are the main schema modes:

1. Child Modes:

Vulnerable Child:

This mode involves feelings of vulnerability, fear, and helplessness, often stemming from experiences of neglect, abandonment, or trauma in childhood.

Angry Child:

The angry child mode involves feelings of frustration, anger, and defiance, often arising from perceived injustices, violations of boundaries, or unmet needs.

Happy Child:

This mode represents a state of joy, spontaneity, and playfulness, reflecting positive childhood experiences and a sense of emotional well-being.

2. Dysfunctional Parent Modes:

Punitive Parent:

The punitive parent mode involves harsh self-criticism, self-punishment, or harsh judgment of others, often stemming from internalized criticism or neglect in childhood.

Demanding Parent:

This mode represents an internalized voice that sets high standards, imposes rigid rules, and demands perfection, leading to feelings of pressure, guilt, and inadequacy.

3. Healthy Adult Mode:

The healthy adult mode represents a state of balance, rationality, and self-care. In this mode, individuals are able to respond to situations with clarity, assertiveness, and compassion, free from the influence of early maladaptive schemas and coping modes.

4. Coping Modes:

Detached Protector:

This coping mode involves emotional detachment, numbness, or dissociation as a means of self-protection from overwhelming emotions or traumatic experiences.


The overcompensator mode involves excessive striving for success, approval, or validation as a way to counteract feelings of inadequacy, insecurity, or worthlessness.


This coping mode involves passive acceptance, resignation, or submission in response to perceived threats or challenges, often stemming from learned helplessness or defeatism.

Avoidant Protector:

The avoidant protector mode involves avoidance, withdrawal, or escape from situations or emotions perceived as threatening, leading to social isolation, procrastination, or substance use as coping mechanisms.

Understanding and working with these schema modes is essential in schema therapy, as they provide insight into how individuals respond to different triggers and challenges. By identifying and addressing maladaptive modes, individuals can develop healthier coping strategies, build resilience, and cultivate a more balanced sense of self.

Healthy Adult Mode

The healthy adult mode represents a state of balance, rationality, and self-care. In this mode, individuals are able to respond to situations with clarity, assertiveness, and compassion, free from the influence of early maladaptive schemas and coping modes. It represents a state of psychological maturity, resilience, and self-actualization. It is characterized by self-awareness, emotional regulation, assertiveness, empathy, adaptability, and self-care. Through schema therapy, individuals work to strengthen their Healthy Adult mode, enabling them to live more fulfilling, authentic, and meaningful lives.

This is why I have decided to bring awareness about this mode and help all my clients strengthen it, taking step by step on thje way to internal balance and tranquility.  

Read more: Healthy adult mode