Schema Therapy is a useful therapy to help correct long-standing unhelpful patterns in one’s life. A schema can be defined as a web of beliefs and feelings that a person carries around with them that serve as a lens through which they see the world and themselves. For example, one type of schema is “social undesirability.” If a person adopts this schema, they are likely to believe they are unattractive and undesirable to others, maybe even viewing themselves as socially incompetent and worthless to others. There are many different schemas, and in Schema Therapy a therapist will work with a patient to identify which schemas they have adopted, discuss how these schemas interfere with their life, and develop plans to create new ways of being that are not based on these schemas.
People respond to their schemas typically in one of three ways, although people may find themselves alternating between these responses in different situations. The three responses are called schema maintenance, schema avoidance, and schema compensation. Let’s think back to our example of the social undesirability schema. Someone with this schema may engage in schema maintenance by continuing to believe that they are worthless and will interpret their friend’s actions as proof that they are, in fact, undesirable. A person may engage in schema avoidance by avoiding triggers that remind them of their schema, such as avoiding social situations, distracting themselves with isolating activities, and so on. Or, a person may engage in schema compensation by overcompensating for their perceived weakness, maybe acting as a bully toward others or overly boasting about their accomplishments to hide their insecurities. Through becoming more aware of what schemas are being activated at any particular moment and how patients are responding to their schemas, they can then work toward finding more adaptive and helpful alternatives. They may come to challenge their beliefs and views based on new experiments or finding new ways to view existing relationships.
Below are few examples of common schemas:
- Social isolation/alienation
- Unrelenting/unbalanced standards
- Insufficient self-control/self-discipline