What is schema therapy?

Schema therapy (ST) is an integrative and innovative form of therapy, that combines cognitive behavioural therapy, psychoanalysis, attachment theory and others.

Schemas (or early maladaptive schemas) are unhelpful patterns that develop in humans, especially if their emotional needs aren’t fulfilled as a child. Some of the ‘core needs’ of a child can include feeling a sense of safety and attachment to others, a sense of self-identity, freedom of self-expression, being able to play and be spontaneous, and the enforcement of age-appropriate limits and boundaries.

When these needs aren’t met, or a child experiences trauma, it can lead to long-lasting problems such as relationship and interpersonal issues, chronic depression, anxiety and personality issues. 

Individuals likely develop reactions to their schemes, known as coping styles, as a means of avoiding painful or unpleasant memories or emotions. Coping styles can be helpful in childhood, as they provide a means of survival. But in adulthood, they can reinforce schemas. Typical coping styles might include ‘surrendering’ to the schema, avoidance or overcompensating. 

In schema therapy, the patient will work with a therapist to uncover and understand their schemas; as well as offer positive solutions for coping.

How does schema therapy work?

Schema therapy focuses on the identification and treatment of schemas, seen as the root cause of psychological and emotional problems. The schemas targeted are long-lasting and self-defeating patterns that typically develop when a person’s core emotional needs are not met in childhood or adolescence.

By focusing on these unhelpful schemas, schema therapy offers a way of helping individuals restructure thinking related to their struggles. The treatment focuses on helping to break negative patterns of thinking, feeling and behaving whilst developing healthier alternatives to replace them with.

Schema therapy consists of education and understanding to increase awareness, along with rehearsing behavioural changes which break disruptive patterns of behaviour. It provides the tools for individuals to solve problems on their own, giving them a sense of autonomy over their well-being.

In comparison to more traditional CBT techniques, schema therapy has a stronger focus on the emotions of the patient and unmet needs and places higher importance on the relationship between therapist and patient.

Benefits of schema therapy can include:

  • Being able to identify and heal schemas, despite how long-standing they may be 
  • Learning how to get core needs to be met in a healthy and positive way
  • Learn how to cope and function as an adult
  • Understanding childhood problems, and the pattern of coping
  • Can be adjusted to treat a variety of psychological problems

Schema therapy at Nightingale Hospital London

At Nightingale Hospital, schema therapy can be accessed in an individual or group setting as part of an outpatient, day patient or inpatient programme.

We have experts with a specialism in schema therapy, with a breadth of experience in all mental health conditions to match your individual situation. We establish successful patient/therapist partnerships and achieve the most effective therapeutic relationship due to this extensive expertise. 

Interested in working at Nightingale Hospital?

Are you an accredited therapist with a background in schema therapy and interested in working at Nightingale Hospital?

Visit our careers page to see if we have any vacancies, or get in touch with our HR team to submit an expression of interest.  


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