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The Most Challenging Schema to Work With




One question I get a lot of the time from supervisees is “What is the toughest schema mode to work with?”. There isn’t just one answer to that question, of course, although certain issues, like avoidance, tend to push most therapist’s buttons at some point! I think the real answer to what makes some schemas tougher than others is personal—what’s getting triggered in you? Therapists are human and have their own schemas and challenges in life and, as we’ve all experienced, these can be activated as we work with clients on their goals. The bigger question might be: Why am I so bored, irritated, indifferent, unusually warm, or avoiding empathic confrontation etc? Your personal reaction to a client is your best clue as to what their need is. Why am I being so nurturing with this client and not with the one who came in just before? There could be many answers for this: is the client dependent and childlike—or maybe this is a situation in which increased warmth and nurturance are called for? Being aware of why you are responding the way you do is critical to understanding individual clients, and also with recognizing patterns in yourself, such as “I tend to acquiesce to dominant clients” or “I get bored with emotionally closed off clients”. If you can notice patterns in the way that you respond to different personality types, you will be able to identify what schemas and modes are being activated in you, and deal with them more effectively in the therapy. The good news is that as you catch and manage your own triggers with clients, it tends to generalize to your personal life, helping you in your relationships, as well!


After over 30 years of practicing, I would say that there will always be scenarios that are

‘tougher’ for you than someone else—that’s what makes us individuals. Self-knowledge,

however, is what makes us our best selves as therapists.

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