“It's not ideas, nor vision, nor tools that truly matter in therapy. If you debrief patients at the end of therapy about the process, what do they remember? Never the ideas—it's always the relationship.”

― Irvin D. Yalom (pictured right), The Schopenhauer Cure

Psychotherapy is a field with many different approaches, each providing unique insights into human behavior and the mind. A few models stand out as particularly influential, including Internal Family Systems (IFS), Schema Therapy, the Existential Approach of Irvin D. Yalom, and Arthur Schopenhauer's philosophical insights. Despite their different origins, these approaches share common therapeutic techniques, which can help therapists better understand their clients. This article explores the core techniques of these four models, with a focus on how they use visualization to promote healing and self-awareness.

IFS, developed by Richard C. Schwartz in the 1980s, is based on the idea that people have many different internal parts, each with its own beliefs, emotions, and memories. The goal of IFS is to help individuals integrate these parts into a cohesive whole, guided by a compassionate leader known as the true Self.

Schema Therapy, developed by Jeffrey Young in the 1980s, focuses on deeply ingrained emotional patterns or "schemas" that develop early in life. These schemas can influence how people view themselves and others, and can lead to emotional difficulties. Schema Therapy integrates elements of cognitive, behavioral, and psychodynamic therapies to help clients overcome these patterns.

Irvin D. Yalom, a leading existential psychotherapist, explores the meaning and purpose of human existence. His approach emphasizes the present experience, freedom, and responsibility and encourages clients to confront existential anxieties like death, meaninglessness, and isolation. Arthur Schopenhauer was an existential philosopher that Yalom discusses in his novel on group therapy, The Schopenhauer Cure. Schopenhauer's 19th-century philosophy centers around the concept of "Will" as an irrational force that drives human desires and actions. Though Schopenhauer was a pessimist, he would be a proponent of art therapy and music therapy.

Core Philosophy
  • IFS: Internal Family Systems therapy views the mind as composed of multiple subpersonalities or parts, each with its own feelings, beliefs, and motivations. The goal is to help individuals develop a harmonious relationship with their internal parts and access their true Self—the compassionate, confident, and wise core within.

  • Schema Therapy: Schema Therapy is based on the idea of maladaptive schemas—deep-seated emotional and cognitive patterns developed in childhood. The therapy aims to identify and change these schemas to promote emotional healing and healthier coping mechanisms.

  • Existential Therapy: Existential Therapy is rooted in philosophical concepts about the human condition, emphasizing the exploration of individuals' meaning, purpose, freedom, and responsibility. It focuses on the clients' unique experiences, choices, and values, helping them confront existential challenges and embrace their potential for self-awareness and personal growth.
Emphasis on Emotions
  • IFS: Emotions play a central role in IFS therapy, as it focuses on understanding and working with the emotional states of different internal parts. Clients are encouraged to fully experience and express their emotions to promote healing and integration.

  • Schema Therapy: Emotions are significant in Schema Therapy as well, but the focus is on identifying and addressing maladaptive emotional schemas that underlie dysfunctional beliefs and behaviors.

  • Existential Therapy: Emotions are explored in the context of the clients' existential concerns and experiences. The therapy emphasizes understanding and accepting emotions as a natural part of human existence.

View of Change
  • IFS: Change in IFS therapy comes from fostering an internal system that operates in harmony, with the Self guiding the different parts. The focus is on facilitating internal cooperation and self-compassion.

  • Schema Therapy: Change in Schema Therapy occurs through modifying maladaptive schemas and developing healthier coping strategies. The therapy aims to address the root causes of emotional distress.

  • Existential Therapy: Change in Existential Therapy stems from gaining insight into existential concerns and finding meaning in life's challenges. The therapy encourages clients to make authentic choices aligned with their values.
Therapeutic Techniques
  • IFS: Therapists use techniques like "parts work" to facilitate internal dialogues between different parts and the Self. These dialogues promote understanding, healing, and integration of conflicting emotions.

  • Schema Therapy: Therapeutic techniques in Schema Therapy include cognitive restructuring, imagery rescripting, and chair work. These techniques aim to identify and modify maladaptive schemas and foster emotional healing.

  • Existential Therapy: Existential Therapy employs a variety of techniques, such as reflective questioning, exploration of personal values, and the use of philosophical concepts to help clients confront existential dilemmas and find meaning

Common Therapeutic Techniques

Internal Dialogue and Exploration

Internal dialogue is a crucial technique used in IFS, Schema Therapy, and Yalom's approach. Therapists facilitate conversations between different parts of the self, promoting understanding and harmony. This technique can help clients gain new insights into their own emotional patterns and behaviors.

Experiential Techniques and Emotion-Focused Interventions

Experiential techniques are also integral to IFS, Schema Therapy, and Yalom's approach. These techniques aim to help clients gain insights into their emotional experiences, leading to greater self-awareness and healing. Emotion-focused interventions allow clients to fully experience and express their emotions, promoting catharsis and self-compassion.

Visualization Techniques

Various therapeutic models utilize visualization techniques for different purposes. Within Internal Family Systems (IFS), visualization techniques are used to create mental images of internal parts, fostering empathy and cooperation between them. In Schemaization techniques are utilized to help clients revisit past negative experiences and imagine alternative, positive outcomes. Yalom's approach employs visualization techniques to explore existential anxieties.

The visual arts also provide visualizations to help facilitate healing, as recommended by Schopenhauer. In Schopenhauer's philosophy, pursuing art and aesthetics is considered one of the noblest endeavors, as it elevates individuals beyond the realm of mundane desires and suffering. Similarly, art therapy can offer clients a sense of purpose and meaning as they creatively explore their emotions and experiences, gaining insights into their inner world and finding ways to navigate their challenges.


By recognizing the shared therapeutic techniques of these four models, therapists can adopt a more holistic approach to addressing their clients' emotional needs and existential concerns. Visualization, internal dialogue, and experiential techniques can help clients gain new insights into their emotional patterns and promote healing and integration.


Arntz, A., & Jacob, G. (2012). Schema Therapy in Practice: An Introductory Guide to the Schema Mode Approach. Wiley-Blackwell.

Baptista, T. (2016). Psychotherapists: should we meet Arthur Schopenhauer?. Investigación Clínica, 57(4), 409-426.

Lobbestael, J., van Vreeswijk, M. F., Spinhoven, P., Schouten, E., & Arntz, A. (2010). Reliability and Validity of the Short Schema Mode Inventory (SMI). Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapy, 38(4), 437-458.

Schwartz, R. C. (1995). Internal Family Systems Therapy. Guilford Press.

Wasserman, Steve. Internal Family Systems & Schema Therapy.

Yalom, I. D. (1980). Existential Psychotherapy. Basic Books.

Young, J. E., Klosko, J. S., & Weishaar, M. E. (2003). Schema Therapy: A Practitioner's Guide. Guilford Press.