Schema Therapy FAQ

What is a schema?

A schema is a network of associated memories, thoughts, beliefs, emotions and body sensations which are the foundation for how the person interprets in response to events in their world.  These networks cluster around themes related to childhood needs. 

What are some common schemas.

Research has identified 20 distinct schemas.   They have been given names such as Emotional Deprivation (where the child’s emotional needs were not met), Mistrust / Abuse, Abandonment, Social Isolation, Failure, Unrelenting Standards, Emotional Inhibition, Self-sacrifice, Entitlement, etc.

What is the difference between a Core Belief and a schema?

A schema is a broad theme, the Core Belief is the cognitive component of that theme.   For example, a child may have had several different schools, or maybe culturally or racially different from the majority group, may develop the schema of Social Isolation.  Core Beliefs associated with this schema would be I’m different, I don’t belong, I don’t fit in.

Are patterns of behaviour part of a schema?

No. ST sees behaviours as driven by the Schema, but are not part of the network of associated memories, thoughts, beliefs, emotions and body sensations.  For example, a person with a Social Isolation schema may sit on the periphery of a group, and avoid saying anything.  This is an example of Surrender Coping Behaviour.   Or they may avoid putting themselves in a group situation, to avoid the pain of having the schema triggered.  This is an example of an Avoidant Coping Behaviour.  Or they may try too hard to be part of the group, leading to rejection by the group.  This is an example of Compensatory Coping Behaviour.  

In summary, Schemas drive maladaptive coping behaviours, which in turn reinforce the underlying Core beliefs and schemas.  Thus patterns of behaviour that are schema driven, often rigid and inflexible, and persist in spite of self-defeating consequences.

Where does EMDR fit in to Schema Therapy?

Shapiro assiduously avoided the use of the concept of schema, preferring instead to use the idiosyncratic term “neuro networks”.  But the definition a neuro network is the same as schema. Schema Therapy fills many of the gaps in EMDR as developed by Shapiro. 

(1)  ST identifies a coherent developmental foundation for the development of limiting and negative Core Beliefs.  ST focus on the importance of assessing Connectedness (including Attachment, but going beyond primary carers), Worthiness, Autonomy,  Realistic expectations and Reasonable Limits in order to determine specific episodes of the clients developmental history that will be targeted later in EMDR.

(2)  ST has developed well researched assessments for Negative and Maladaptive Parenting that  assist in the identification of broad themes and corresponding Negative Beliefs, and specific memories that form part of an EMDR treatment plan.

(3)   Recently developed assessments of Positive Schema and Positive Parenting Styles helps the therapist identify client strengths, positive Beliefs and adaptive information that can be incorporated into EMDR processing.

(4)  Experiential interventions from ST such as Imagery Rescripting and chairwork can be incorporated as powerful interweaves in EMDR

(5) ST has developed a well researched ‘parts’ model, called Schema Modes to identify protective parts of personality which block processing. 

(6) ST places much emphasis on identifying and changing dysfunctional patterns of behaviour.  If a client continues to live out dysfunctional patterns of behaviour they will re-incubate their old underlying Negative Beliefs, and relapse will follow.