Learning Schema Therapy Takes Courage
True story, in the early days of my schema therapy journey, I sat in my supervisor’s waiting room and thought, “She’s going to I think I’m stupid. How can I still be struggling with experiential techniques?” I remember the pain and frankly the shame of not knowing what to do. I was trying so hard but being even harder on myself.
Thanks to my learnings from the school of hard knocks, I can tell you that today that I love experiential techniques and they very rarely bomb. When I hit trouble, I can roll with the punches much better than I did before. Sometimes I turn imagery into a chair-work exercise, or simply reflect on what happened with the client. Either way it genuinely feels like a learning not a failing.
One of the things I notice when speaking to other therapists learning schema therapy is how anxiety provoking and stressful learning schema therapy can be. How painful it can feel when you put your heart and soul into something and it doesn't seem to "work." How much guilt and responsibility there is when an experiential technique like imagery or chairwork doesn't go according to plan.
Here are a few things that helped me to gain confidence with experiential techniques on my schema journey:
1. No judgement-The client does NOT have a schema therapy text book. They can’t evaluate you because they don’t know how it’s “suppose” to go. So don’t be so hard on yourself. Remember that the difference between a master and novice is that a master has failed more times.
2. Know your stuff-Schema techniques aren’t just intuitive, you have to know your stuff to get them to work-I'd like to tell you to just "be organic" and it will be fine. The reality is that if you don’t know the dance steps (i.e. what questions to ask in imagery) it’s gonna be pretty hard to trust your gut and be present in the moment because you'll be too anxious. I found reading schema books and watching training videos really helpful to learn experiential techniques.
3. Use a cheat sheet in the short term-I found it helpful to write out the general prompts/steps for experiential techniques like imagery. It was a temporary safety blanket but knowing I could glance at it in session if needed gave me the courage to try schema techniques and the safety to stay present. I rarely used this safety blanket but it was nice to know it was there initially.
Courage little one, Rome wasn’t built in a day.
Tena Davies is a Clinical Psychologist and advanced certified schema therapist in Melbourne, Australia.
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