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Schema Therapy – what to expect

Schema Therapy is an integrative psychotherapy to help people understand and address repeated life patterns. The term Schema means life pattern.


Schemas can develop because of unmet needs. Humans are born with a number of emotional and social needs that are met throughout our childhood,  for example:

  1. Security

  2. Connection

  3. Freedom to express feelings

  4. Autonomy

  5. Emotional attunement

  6. Appropriate limits

Childhood needs can’t always be met because of a variety of reasons:

  1. The loss of a parent

  2. Bullying

  3. Family illness

  4. Trauma

  5. Parenting style

Schema Therapy isn’t about blaming carers or loved ones for our difficulties – it’s about recognising that we are all born with innate emotional and social needs, and if those needs go unmet or are only partially met, the way we view ourselves and how we connect with other people can be detrimentally affected.

When you begin therapy, your therapist will initially spend time really trying to get to know what life is like for you now, and how things were for you when you were growing up. Time will be spent giving you the opportunity to connect your past experiences to your present functioning. You and your therapist will begin to develop a shared understanding into what your Schemas might be. Common Schemas include:

  1. “I’ll be abandoned” 

  2. “I’m an imposter” 

  3. “No one will ever love me if they get to know me”  

  4. “I’ve got to be perfect”  

  5. “I’ll never be accepted”

Once you have a good understanding of your Schemas, you and your therapist will work together to learn how you cope when your Schemas are triggered. It can be a painful experience when Schemas are triggered and it’s understandable to have lots of different, and sometimes seemingly conflicting, ways of coping. Typical ways of coping with Schemas are:

  1. Avoidance

  2. Over thinking

  3. Going “over the top” and behaving in an overconfident and overcompensatory manner

  4. Becoming critical or attacking towards others

  5. People pleasing

  6. Detaching from emotions

  7. Becoming hyper-controlled of yourself in the pursuit of perfection

Schema Therapy aims to deeply understand how your earlier experiences have led to your Schemas, and how these are currently impacting on your life. Using a variety of methods and techniques, Schema Therapy can help you begin to recognise, understand and meet your own emotional needs; it can help you to feel more grounded and connected to healthier parts of yourself, enabling you to move away from unhelpful Schema beliefs and patterns.

There are 4 phases to Schema Therapy.

  1. Assessment Phase – You and your therapist gain a shared understanding of your difficulties.

  2. Figuring It Out Phase – You begin to make sense of how your history and experiences have led to the development of specific Schemas and/or Schema Modes.

  3. The Change Phase – Using a variety of techniques, such as Memory work, Imagery, Chair Dialogue and Letter Writing, we begin to change how you feel about yourself and past events.

  4. Moving Forwards Phase – You begin to make meaningful changes in your own life and you are able to put your insights and learning into practice.

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