FOCUS ON MEETING
CORE NEEDS, RATHER THAN ONLY
HOW CAN SCHEMA THERAPY HELP MY CLIENTS?
Schemas are core beliefs developed as a result of negative developmental experiences. They have an effect 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 impact us to our core because they activate painful feelings, negative body sensations and distressing memories.
To cope with these painful feelings, many engage in dysfunctional coping modes such as overcompensation, avoidance and surrender. This usually makes things worse in the long run because they 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. This is achieved through the healing nature of the therapeutic relationship and through schema change strategies such as chairwork and imagery rescripting. This in turn leads to improved wellbeing and symptom reduction over time.
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 either watches Netflix (detached self-soother mode) and or ruminates about it (over-analyser mode). His dysfunctional coping perpetuates his defectiveness and shame schema and his anxiety worsens as a function of avoidance.
Billy and I work collaboratively to lessen schema activation. We start by understanding how his schemas originated, and map his dysfunctional coping modes to make sense into his difficulties. This insight is used as catalyst for schema change strategies including cognitive work and experiential techniques to promote schema healing.
We further develop his healthy adult side (the part of him that functions the best) to help regulate the less functional parts of him and soothe his vulnerable child mode.
Over time, he is able to break these dysfunctional patterns. He finds himself avoiding things sometimes but when he does, he has the tools to get back on track. This ultimately improves his symptoms and leads to a more fulfilling life.
Susie prides herself on being nice and always puts other people first (self-sacrifice schema). While that feels “right” in the short term, she eventually feels burnt out and resentful.
Her self-sacrifice schema emerged in childhood and developed from supressing her needs in order to keep her dad from abandoning her.
We start by linking her current problems with her developmental experiences and foster mode awareness. We use experiential techniques to address developmental trauma and heal schemas. This begins the process of healing the pain underneath her dysfunctional coping.
Over time, through strengthening her healthy adult mode, she better learns to catch her compliant surrenderer mode. She set limits and experiences her needs as equal to others. While she is still giving in a way that is consonant with her values it is more balanced, her symptoms of burnout abate and her relationships improve.