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What is Schema Therapy?

Schema therapy is an evidence-based form of psychotherapy that was developed in the United States by Jeffrey Young in the 1980’s and has a strong presence there and throughout the world. Although internationally recognized, it is still relatively new to Canada. Schema Therapy is recognized as a highly researched form of therapy, which has clinically demonstrated its effectiveness in research studies. In fact, Schema therapy has been shown to be a very effective form of treatment for both “mainstream” problems, as well as more complex personality related issues. With strong research support for this approach in individual, group, and couple’s therapy, it is a flexible and powerful treatment modality,leading to dramatic change. As an integrative therapy that blends cognitive-behavioral therapy, insight oriented therapies, Gestalt, experiential, attachment and emotive therapies, therapists are able to draw upon a rich conceptual base to help their clients meet their goals for change.

So how does it work? Through a lens of empathic attunement, Schema Therapy works to change dysfunctional life patterns that result from unmet normal childhood needs. These unmet needs interfere with relationships, coping and behavior in adult life. By learning to recognize and modify the beliefs, emotions and behaviours associated with one’s early life experiences, clients are freed up to change self-defeating patterns. Schema Therapists do this by helping clients recognize their underlying early maladaptive schemas (rigidly embedded social-emotional beliefs related to unmet core emotional needs in childhood and adolescence), and the accompanying maladaptive coping modes, and to modify how these are activated in adult life.

Generally, this involves understanding how the client’s childhood attachments, experiences, and traumas impact their sense of self in the adult world, and directly intervening with biased emotional experiences to create adaptive meaning and meet early unmet needs. Clients learn to understand how the past has influenced and interfered with healthy and adaptive choices and responses, and the impact on their current life and relationships. Clients develop tools to actively break negative patterns and learn more adaptive and satisfying ways of being in their relationships and their lives. Schema Therapy is a powerful and active approach to change—addressing depression, anxiety, characterological challenges, couple’s issues, parenting, childhood trauma, neglect and relationship issues in general.

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