Introduction To Schema Therapy

It was 2013. I was struggling very much with my mental health issues and it felt like I wasn’t making much progress. I was a quick thinker and was doing quite well with the CBT techniques  I was learning about. My main problem was that I didn’t have the logic to back up the information I was telling my brain during CBT. I can be quite argumentative, even within my own brain, and I was getting exhausted fighting the anxious part of my brain.

My psychologist introduced me to the idea of schema therapy and I filled out some questionnaires. I read the basic material he gave me. I was so intrigued by the theory that I bought a couple of books, including one targeted at psychologists. It was eye opening for me. It completely reframed how I perceived my mental illness, considerably moreso then the knowledge I was figted.

The theory can be a bit complex and difficult to wrap your head around at times. I found it easier to forget about the therapeutic aspect and just learn about the model. I did the tests and learned about my own schemes and coping modes. I agreed with what I was reading.

So, What Is Schema Therapy?

I quite like this summary from The British Psychological Society:

Schema Therapy places a greater emphasis on the childhood origins of psychological problems. It is an integrative therapy, combining aspects of cognitive, behavioural, psychodynamic, attachment and Gestalt models. It sees the cognitive and behavioural aspects as vital to treatment, as in standard CBT, but gives equal weight to emotional change, experiential techniques and the therapeutic relationship. Like CBT, it is structured, systematic and specific. It follows a sequence of assessment and treatment procedures. The model outlines specific schemas, coping styles and modes.

I’ve always seen CBT as flawed. You learn how to deal with the negative thought patterns. Schema therapy allowed me to go one step back – to look at the motivations for certain behaviour, especially behaviour that triggered me.

To get a basic overview, I’ve quoted a large block from the Schema Therapy Institute

The four main concepts in the Schema Therapy model are: Early Maladaptive Schemas, Core Emotional Needs, Schema Mode, and Maladaptive Coping Styles.

The 18 Early Maladaptive Schemas are self-defeating, core themes or patterns that we keep repeating throughout our lives.

Early Schemas relate to the basic emotional needs of a child. When these needs are not met in childhood, schemas develop that lead to unhealthy life patterns. Each of the 18 schemas represent specific emotional needs that were not adequately met in childhood or adolescence.

Maladaptive Coping Styles are the ways the child adapts to schemas and to damaging childhood experiences. For example, some children surrender to their schemas; some find ways to block out or avoid pain; while other children fight back or overcompensate.

Schema Modes are the moment-to-moment emotional states and coping responses that we all experience. Often our schema modes are triggered by life situations that we are oversensitive to (our “emotional buttons”). Many schema modes lead us to overreact to situations, or to act in ways that end up hurting us.

I’ll cover these details later. I provided that information now so that you understood that everything here is part of a larger framework.

I did the tests and learned that I had two primary schemas:

  • Unrelenting Standards
  • Dependence, incompetence

It was an ‘aha!’ moment, especially with unrelenting standards. I’ll provide some context of the illness first.

Patients with this particular schema “present as perfectionistic and driven. They believe that they must continually strive to meet extremely high standards.” (Schema Therapy: A Practitioner’s Guide
). The authors went on to say “the most typical emotion experienced by patients with the Unrelenting Standards schema is pressure. This pressure is relentless.”

Huh. Additionally, those with the schema experience a lot of exhaustion and irritability as a result of both working so hard to reach their goals AND not being able to always do so.

This was mind blowing for me. I could use this. Very quickly, I was able to tell whether a specific action was triggered by a schema. I could use what information I’d read to help me figure out what was triggering me and how I could fight it. However, knowing my schemas was only the first step in the process. The next steps was figuring out how I coped when the schemas are triggered.

When I was originally learning about schema therapy, there were three main ways of coping with specific schemas. Schema Therapy London provided one of the simplest overviews:

It is through these three styles that schemas exert their influence on our behaviour and work to insure their own survival.

  • Schema surrender refers to ways in which we sometimes passively give in to our schema. We accept the schema as truth and then act in ways that confirm the schema.

  • Schema avoidance refers to the ways in which we do anything we can to avoid activating schemas. As mentioned earlier, when schemas are activated, this causes extreme negative emotion. So we might find ways to avoid triggering schemas in order not to feel this pain. There are three types of schema avoidance: cognitive, emotional and behavioral.

  • The third schema process is Schema overcompensation. The individual behaves in a manner which appears to be the opposite of what the schema suggests in order to avoid triggering the schema. On the surface, it may appear that the overcompensators are behaving in a healthy manner, by standing up for themselves. But when they overshoot the mark they cause more problem patterns, which then perpetuate the schema.

Damn! I was able to apply these coping styles to specific schemas. It appeared that a lot of the time I overcompensated with unrelenting standards by just letting all my standards go. In addition, there are schema modes. It is probably too difficult to go into that within the context of what is meant to be an introductory article.


I’ve suffered from severe anxiety for my whole adult life. It is debilitating, exhausting and has impacted on my life. Learning about this technique helped me change a lot of my behaviour and reduced the physical stress on my body. It allowed me to adjust my actions in my relationship with Glenn. Our relationship improved significantly after that.

I’m writing about it because I think it is worth exploring within the framework of giftedness, and because I think it should be something everyone looks into. It is definitely something I’ll be exploring later.