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  • Writer's pictureTena Davies, Clinical Psychologist, Certified Schema Therapist

Managing the impulsive child mode

The impulsive child mode


The impulsive child mode is a common client mode but it’s not always easy to recognise or tease it apart from other modes. It can also be unclear how to treat it. Below are some ideas to help recognise and treat the impulsive child mode.


The impulsive child

· Acts impulsively to fulfil short-term, hedonistic aims and desires to the detriment of the client’s medium and long term goals as well as their health and wellbeing

· Can be out of control, reckless and rebellious

· Does not have regard for long-term repercussions

· Has difficulty accepting and tolerating limits

The impulsive child mode differs from the detached self-soother mode in that it has a lot of energy behind it and can present as emotional and uninhibited. Whereas the detached self-soother mode has a more numb, vacant and detached/flat flavour to it.

In terms of treating impulsive child mode

· Identify & treat the underlying schemas that fuel and perpetuate the mode (e.g., entitlement and insufficient self-control schemas)

· Balance validating with setting limits on impulsivity and using empathic confrontation

· Attune to and validate the core needs the impulsive child mode may be attempting to meet such as autonomy or enjoyment

· Explore ways to pause and reflect in day-to-day life as an antidote to impulsive behaviour

· Explore the consequences of impulsive behaviour (e.g. the impulsive child may drink excessively but it’s the vulnerable child who picks up the pieces)

· Create flashcards to support the client to manage impulses with reparenting messages (e.g., slow down, what need is under this impulse?)

· Where appropriate it may be worth exploring diagnoses such as ADHD

· As with all mode work helping the client build the healthy adult mode will better enable them to meet the needs of the vulnerable child and make them less likely to flip into dysfunctional coping modes for relief.


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Experiential work can be a powerful way to work with this mode:

· Invite the impulsive child mode (IC) (chair 1) to describe a time when they were activated (i.e., illicit drug use), next ask the vulnerable child (VC) (chair 2) to describe the impact on them (fear, worry, shame etc.). The therapist, then the client’s healthy adult (HA) (chair 3), to identify core needs for both the IC and VC, soothe the VC and propose a plan with healthy alternatives (to meet needs for both modes).

· Ask the client to sit in a chair (chair 1) and speak from the impulsive child mode describing how they act and what their intention is (shop recklessly in order to feel better). Then invite the client to sit behind the impulsive child chair (chair 2) and speak from their vulnerable child exploring the impact the impulsive child’s behaviour has on them. Then invite the healthy adult mode (chair 3) to workshop ideas on how to identify and meet the underlying needs of this mode

· Explore the client’s mode cycles. For example, it is common that a client will have a strong demanding critic mode (you must do more), which mobilises their overcontroller to go into overdrive. The impulsive child often “corrects” for the joylessness of overworking and doing through impulsive hedonism. Therefore, exploring ways to break the mode cycle before the impulsive child mode is activated can be helpful.


Tena Davies is a Clinical Psychologist and Advanced Certified Schema Therapist/Supervisor in Melbourne, Australia. She works with adults in private practice and enjoys supervising other schema therapists. www.tenadavies.com/supervision



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