Schema therapy is an integrative psychotherapy combining theory and techniques from previously existing therapies shown to be effective, including cognitive behavioural therapy, psychoanalytic object relations theory, attachment theory, and Gestalt therapy.
The therapy focuses on the idea that as young children we develop early maladaptive schemas which are self-defeating emotional and cognitive patterns established from childhood and repeated throughout life. The therapy believes that these early patterns form a blueprint that influences our later patterns of adult behaviour. Our schemas may be made up of emotional memories of past hurt, tragedy, fear, abuse, neglect, unmet safety needs, abandonment, or a general lack of normal human affection. Early maladaptive schemas can also include bodily sensations associated with these emotional memories. Early maladaptive schemas can have different levels of severity but the core concept is that the more severe the schema, the more intense the negative emotion the individual experiences.
Treatment plans in schema therapy generally encompass three basic classes of techniques: cognitive, experiential, and behavioral (in addition to the basic healing components of the therapeutic relationship). Cognitive strategies expand on standard cognitive behavioral therapy techniques such as listing pros and cons of a schema, testing the validity of a schema, or conducting a dialogue between the “schema side” and the “healthy side”. Experiential and emotion focused strategies expand on standard Gestalt therapy psychodrama and imagery techniques.Behavioral pattern-breaking strategies expand on standard behavior therapy techniques, such as role playing an interaction and then assigning the interaction as homework. One of the most central techniques in schema therapy is the use of the therapeutic relationship, specifically through a process called limited reparenting.