Schema Therapy Sydney
Do you feel like history keeps repeating itself? Perhaps your views, reinforced by memories, towards self are quite negative? From past experiences, have you integrated them into developing negative beliefs about self?
How can it help?
Schema Therapy is a type of therapy that targets our internal 'schemas'. Schemas are a way we can describe our maladaptive or unhealthy patterns of thinking that could result in unhealthy behaviours that could fracture self and disrupt our relationships and life outcomes.
Schemas are thought to develop during childhood, especially in children whose emotional and physical needs weren't met; they may also develop in children who were overindulged or whose parents did not maintain proper or healthy boundaries.
In adulthood, these schemas are thought to influence our thoughts and actions negatively, leading to behaviours such as avoidance, overcompensation, or excessive self-sacrifice. These behaviours, in turn, can negatively affect relationships and our emotional well-being.
Schema Therapy aims to help you recognise your past maladaptive or unhealthy behaviours, understand the underlying cause/s, and change your thoughts and behaviours to help you better cope with relationships and your emotions in a healthier, more productive way.
Schema Therapy combines elements of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, Psychoanalysis, and Gestalt therapy.
What to expect?
Schema Therapy is typically a longer-term form of therapy. Over time the therapist aims to help you identify your early unhealthy schemas, recognise how they react to them, reactions known as 'coping styles', and learn what they can do differently to get your needs met in healthy ways.
Early Maladaptive Schemas
There are 20 Early Maladaptive Schemas, which can fall into one of five categories:
Disconnection and Rejection: Believing that others cannot be relied on for emotional support, for example, or believing that one is isolated from other people in society.
Impaired Autonomy and Performance: Believing that one is doomed to failure, for instance, or believing that one cannot handle the responsibilities of daily life alone.
Impaired Limits: Believing that one is superior and entitled to special treatment.
Other-Directedness: Believing that the needs of others should always take precedence over one’s own needs or that one should always surrender control to others in most or all situations.
Over Vigilance and Inhibition: Believing that expressing emotions will lead to negative consequences, for example, or believing that the negative aspects of life always trump the positive aspects.
Unhealthy Coping Styles
Through Schema Therapy, we all develop unhealthy coping styles while developing. These coping styles could be like a quick fix, instant gratification, or a way to release the pressure, but they don't change the long-term outcome.
The three Unhealthy Coping Styles are:
Surrender: A person with this coping style will give into the schema or accept it as fact and may behave in self-destructive ways. Someone with a schema telling them they deserve to be mistreated.
Avoidance: Someone with this coping style goes to great lengths to avoid triggering the schema. To do this, they may engage in distracting behaviours such as substance use or avoid entering relationships or situations that could set off a schema. As a result, they may struggle to get close to others or experience personal growth.
Overcompensation: A person with this coping style will try to 'fight' the schema by deliberately behaving in ways that are counter to it. While deliberately questioning a schema can be healthy or even a part of the therapeutic process, the coping style of overcompensation often leads to negative outcomes. For example, a person trying to overcompensate for a schema that tells them they're worthless may try to be ultra-successful instead, which can lead to burnout, dissatisfaction, or strained relationships.
Coping styles may change over time, even as the underlying schema remains the same. It's also possible for someone to display more than one coping style in response to the same schema.
Once schemas and coping styles have been identified, the therapist will likely use various techniques to change the schemas themselves and or replace unhealthy coping styles with adaptive behaviours. This is done through a range of cognitive, emotional, and behavioural techniques. Cognitive approaches, for example, may ask the client to look for evidence for and against the schema and directly challenge its veracity. Behavioural techniques might include role-playing common situations that trigger the schema, acting out an adaptive response instead of resorting to the maladaptive coping style.
Schema Therapy relies on a strong therapeutic relationship in which you feel comfortable and emotionally safe. Schema Therapy focuses on empathic confrontation, in which the therapist responds to your schemas and behaviours, with empathy and understanding while encouraging you to see the need for change and offering support.
A powerful Schema Therapy technique is Image Rescripting, where the therapist supports you in recreating an experience that may have resulted in developing part of your unhealthy schemas. Image Rescripting allows your adult or current self and the therapist to go into the experience and speak with your younger self and others in that specific experience. This provides the opportunity to comfort or nurture self and challenge the other/s negative behaviours or comments that were directed toward your younger self.