ALL HUMAN ACTIONS
ARE AN ATTEMPT TO MEET NEEDS
– MARSHALL ROSENBERG
WHAT IS A SCHEMA AND HOW CAN SCHEMA THERAPY HELP?
Schemas are core beliefs that develop as a result of our early experiences. They have a long standing impact on how we see others, ourselves, and the world. Schemas activate in times of stress and while false, feel true. A person may feel they will always be abandoned, are defective, or will face inevitable catastrophe, even if they know logically this is false. These beliefs feel core to us because they activate painful feelings, negative body sensations and unpleasant memories.
To cope with these unpleasant states, many engage in survival coping mechanisms such as avoidance, overthinking or people pleasing. This usually makes things worse in the long run because survival mechanisms do not satiate our core psychological need to feel connected, competent, or emotionally safe.
The aim of Schema Therapy is to constructively satiate psychological needs, break self-defeating patterns and better manage painful feelings, not merely change thinking.
Ultimately, I want my clients to feel better about who they are and to lead richer more meaningful lives.
HYPOTHETICAL CASE STUDIES
Billy wants to apply for a promotion but the thought triggers his Defectiveness and Shame schema.
Though normally a confident person, he fears he is too flawed and privately worries he's “not good enough” for the job. To cope with these painful feelings, he watches Netflix and tells himself he can't be bothered applying for the job (avoidance). In the long term, his actions perpetuate the sense that he’s not good enough and increases his anxiety.
Billy and I work as a team to lessen the intensity of his defectiveness and shame schema. We start by understanding how this schema originated, what triggers it, and the dysfunctional coping that ensues. This insight is used as catalyst for change.
We bolster his healthy adult side (the part of him that functions the best) to help regulate the less functional parts of him (i.e. the avoidant part).
Eventually, he is able to break these dysfunctional patterns and over time stops them when they begin. From time to time, he finds himself avoiding things but when he does, he has the tools to get back on track. This ultimately improves his mood and leads to a more fulfilling life.
Susie prides herself on being a nice person to everyone. She always puts other people first (self-sacrifice schema), a habit she learnt from her mum. While that feels “right” in the short term, Susie feels burnt out and exhausted. She is ashamed to admit that she sometimes resents the very people for whom she self-sacrifices.
Susie works with me to recognise these patterns and works hard to set limits so she can continue to be helpful to other people in a sustainable way. As with Billy, we start with schema and dysfunctional coping mode awareness.
We work together to tolerate unhelpful guilt, balancing her needs with those of others. She sets healthy limits, so she has something left to give both to others and to herself.
We discover that the driver for her self-sacrifice schema is the fear of being abandoned by others. This links to childhood trauma where she was repeatedly “dumped” by her friends.
This new awareness starts the process of healing the pain underneath her dysfunctional coping. Over time, through developing her healthy adult side, she better learns to catch her dysfunctional coping and manages the sides of her personality that cause her distress.
Over time, she feels less drained and burnt out because she is balancing her needs along with those of others. She no longer gives without measure just to keep people from leaving her. She still enjoys giving but now it feels like a choice.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
How long is a course of Schema Therapy and can I receive a Medicare rebate?
Schema therapy is a medium to long term therapy of about 20+ sessions. Medicare card holders are entitled to 10 subsidised Clinical Psychology sessions per calendar year. Please see pricing for more information.
I see you're an Advanced Certified Schema Therapist, why does this matter?
I am a Clinical Psychologist and one of few certified at this level in Australia with the International Society of Schema Therapy (ISST). Certification matters because it ensures a high level of competence both clinically and in Schema Therapy.
Certification requires undertaking hundreds of hours of Schema Therapy, direct observation of therapy skills by independent raters and proving treatment competence.
While this does not guarantee an outcome, the skills I have gained helps me to deliver high quality schema therapy for my clients.
Will Schema Therapy suit my issues?
Schema therapy is trans-diagnostic meaning it is effective across a broad range of issues such as chronic depression, anxiety etc. Many clients who seek Schema Therapy have tried other therapies (i.e. CBT). They seek to move beyond managing symptoms and learn better ways of breaking dysfunctional patterns and meeting their emotional needs (e.g. the need for safety, connection, and having a sense of worth).