Schema therapy, developed by Jeffrey Young following Alfred Beck's "cognitive therapy for personality disorders", aims above all to alleviating chronic emotional problems and break through dysfunctional life patterns, especially with regard to personality disorders that are difficult to treat and other complex problems. It is based on various psychological and psychotherapeutic approaches and picks up where classical cognitive therapy often reaches its limits.
Schema therapy is based on the assumption that there are certain basic patterns of learning that aim to satisfy basic mental needs and to control people's behaviour for this purpose. Some negative patterns that emerged in childhood often affect a person's entire life.
This is normal until the negative feelings that arise from the schemes literally overshadow life.
Young calls these negative patterns, which run like a red leitmotif through a person's life from childhood, a "trap of life". They are shaped by experiences with parents or other children. Schemes mainly concern the area of interpersonal relationships by developing coping styles and reactions according to a schema.
Almost all schemes arise from damaging (but not necessarily traumatic) experiences that are repeated regularly during childhood and adolescence and thus lead to the development of the scheme. A distinction is made between the experience of early caregivers failing to meet essential basic needs, but also, for example, their overfulfilment by giving "too much".
The patterns are maintained by a person's quest for consistency: although it causes suffering, the pattern feels "right" because of its familiarity. In humans, for example, the pattern of their own "inadequacy" arises when they felt as children that they were not worth loving. From this, the person can developa coping reaction to be afraid of love, because they can hardly believe they are worth appreciation.
Young distinguishes between three coping styles that those affected develop early in life in order to adapt to the patterns (and the associated feelings that are difficult to bear). The form of coping style and response can manifest itself as behavior as well as thought or emotion.
Coping reactions and styles can change in different phases of life and life situations, but the basic scheme remains the same. Young distinguishes between the style of "joining oneself" (the person concerned fits into his scheme, takes on the role of the "child" and chooses, for example, partners who treat them similarly as the offending parent did), the "overcompensation" (the person concerned tries to behave as contrary as possible to the scheme (e.g. in thev'inadequacy' scheme, the attempt to achieve perfection; in the'submission' scheme, the attempt to fully submit to others) and the style of 'avoidance' (the person concerned tries to behave in such a way that his scheme is not activated (suppresses feelings, drinks alcohol, seeks the thrill of new excitement, develops a compulsion for cleanliness, avoids intimate relationships or professional challenges, etc.).
The weakening and omission of schema management as well as the appropriate satisfaction of neglected core needs are conditions of schema healing. Different approaches and therapeutic emphases have to be chosen in different phases of life.
Since dysfunctional schemes usually arise early in life, schema therapy is also well suited for the treatment of children and adolescents as well as for accompanying parental work.