Schema Therapy – The Basics

by Steve Wasserman·


The most basic concept in Schema Therapy is that of Early Maladaptive Schemas.

We define schemas as: “broad, pervasive themes regarding oneself and one’s relationship with others, developed during childhood and elaborated throughout one’s lifetime, and dysfunctional to a significant degree.”

Healthy schemas develop when the basic needs of a child are met. This enables children to develop positive images about other individuals, themselves and the world as a whole.

The basic needs of the child include:

Safety – Children need to be able to depend on a reliable adult for care and a safe place to live, develop and grow.

Belonging – Children need to feel that they are connected to others and are able to share their experiences, thoughts and feelings with others.

Autonomy – Children need to have a safe and secure environment from where they can explore and learn about the world. The ultimate goal of matur*ing to adulthood is to eventually be able to learn to stand more solidly on their own two feet. Caregivers need to slowly but surely allow children to separate from them in order to grow into autonomous adults.

Self-appreciation – Children need an adequate sense of appreciation. In order to develop a strong sense of self-esteem, they need to be appreci*ated for who they are as people and what they are capable of doing.

Self-expression – The expression of opinions and feelings needs be learnt and stimulated without being held back by strict or oppressive rules.

Realistic limits – In order to live in a society with others, it is helpful for children to learn certain rules. They need to understand when, at times, to subdue their autonomy or self-expression when dealing with others and be capable of doing so. Children need to learn healthy ways to tolerate and deal with their frustrations

Schemas develop in childhood from an interplay between the child’s innate temperament, and the child’s ongoing experiences with parents, siblings, or peers.

Because they begin early in life, schemas become familiar and thus comfortable. We distort our view of the events in our lives in order to maintain the validity of our schemas. Schemas may remain dormant until they are activated by situations relevant to that particular schema.

SO WHAT HAPPENS IF OUR (CHILDHOOD) NEEDS ARE NOT MET?

Continue reading