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Schema Therapy

Schema Therapy is a from of psychotherapy that bridges some of the gaps between Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Psychodynamic Psychotherapy. Like CBT, it views mental health symptoms as stemming from certain problematic or maladaptive thoughts and attitudes (ie. cognitions). Yet like Psychodynamic Psychotherapy, it tries to identify the most fundamental level of these cognitions, going back to early childhood experiences that could have set the stage for pervasive and unhealthy ways of viewing oneself and others.

Schemas, according to the theory, are core themes or patterns of thinking, feeling, behaving and of regarding oneself and one's relationships with others, that are entrenched in one's personality and repeat throughout one's life. These schemas develop in childhood based on a combination of the child's innate temperament and ongoing experiences with parents and other figures of influence. People who grow up with particular temperaments and/or difficult family environments are prone to develop maladaptive schemas, which then lead to problems in a whole range of interpersonal areas later in life.

Schema Therapy defines 18 kinds of maladaptive schemas. Some of these include "mistrust," "shame," "dependence," or "emotional inhibition;" see here for a complete list of these schemas. Each of these schemas are thought to lead to particular ways of behaving, called "coping styles," which reflect the child's way of adapting to traumatic or damaging experiences, but which in turn lead to ongoing problems in how they relate to themselves and others.

The goal of Schema Therapy is to help patients to stop using these maladaptive coping styles by identifying and trying to heal their maladaptive schemas. This method has been shown to be an effective treatment for Borderline Personality Disorder [ref], and may be helpful for other kinds of Personality Disorders as well.