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Schema Therapy for Personality Disorders

Is schema therapy the right approach for you? Read on to learn more about different schemas, maladaptive coping skills, and more.

What is Schema Therapy?

Schema therapy combines several types of therapy—including cognitive behavioral therapy, attachment theory, psychoanalysis, and emotion-focused therapy—into one integrative approach.1


Schema psychology is used to treat personality disorders and other mental health conditions. The schema model of therapy works by helping individuals uncover negative patterns in their life that may have developed in childhood because of not getting their needs met. These patterns are called schemas or early maladaptive schemas. 

What Are the Goals of Schema-Focused Therapy?

If you’re interested in schema therapy, you may wonder how the process works. Each therapist will have a slightly different approach, but most schema focused therapy will include the following schema therapy interventions: 

  • Identify schema development and begin to heal emotional schemas.
  • Identify and address coping mechanisms that prevent emotional needs from being met.
  • Change negative thinking patterns and behaviors that result from emotional or cognitive schemas.
  • Learn how to get your emotional needs met in healthy ways.
  • Learn how to cope in a healthy way when needs are not met.

What Are the Different Schemas?

Schemas theory suggests that people develop different types of schemas based on situations they experienced as children. Even once a person becomes an adult, they may find that their relationships or experiences in life mirror negative events from childhood, which can indicate a maladaptive schema playing out in an individual’s life. Some examples of different types of schemas will be detailed below.

Disconnection and Rejection

Someone who experienced feelings of isolation and rejection from caregivers in childhood may develop a schema that makes it difficult for them to develop healthy relationships with other people.2

Impaired Autonomy and Performance

This schema development occurs when someone who had overbearing parents or overly strict parents struggles with finding their sense of self and being independent as an adult.

Impaired Limits

Someone with this schema may have grown up with caregivers who did not create or respect boundaries, leading the individual to struggle with boundaries and self-control.

Other-Directedness

Someone with this schema struggles to prioritize their needs, instead focusing on the needs of the people around them. This can stem from not getting needs met in childhood.

Over Vigilance and Inhibition

People who grew up with domineering or demanding parents may have this type of schema. As adults, they may be perfectionistic and hypervigilant, avoiding failure at all costs. 

Maladaptive Coping Skills in Schema Therapy

As a result of the schemas that form in childhood, maladaptive coping skills develop in adulthood. People tend to respond to events in life that correlate with their schemas in a few ways. There are three main coping styles, each loosely coordinating with the “flight, fight, freeze” response.3

Overcompensation

Someone who overcompensates acts in opposition to their schema. This may appear to be a positive approach, but it doesn’t solve the deep-rooted issues that caused the pattern to take form.

Avoidance

This is when someone tries to avoid situations that may cause them to feel vulnerable or afraid. For example, someone who fears failure may avoid trying new things because they may not be good at them.

Surrender

When someone surrenders in the context of a schema, it causes them to engage in actions or behaviors that reinforce their beliefs about themselves or the world. For example, someone with a pattern of believing themselves to be unlovable will close themselves off from dating and love.

What are Schema Modes?

A schema therapist would likely explain schema modes as mindsets that go along with an individual’s schema. It encompasses a person’s present emotional state and how the individual is trying to cope with those emotions. Schemas and modes are separated into four categories:

  • Child Modes: In this mode, an individual experiences childlike feelings and behaviors.
  • Dysfunctional Coping Modes: This describes a scenario in which a person attempts to prevent the negative emotions that come up with their schema but, in doing so, only reinforces the schema.
  • Dysfunctional Parent Modes: People in this mode experience an internal “parent” who is harsh and critical. 
  • Healthy Adult Mode: This represents a functioning, healthy adult who positively processes emotions. 

Issues Treated with Schema Therapy

Schema therapists can help people facing many mental health issues, from anxiety to depression. Schema-focused therapy has shown promise for people with borderline personality disorder (BPD). A recent study using schema therapy for people with BPD demonstrated that nearly half of study participants showed so few BPD symptoms that they were considered recovered after three years of treatment.

Additionally, a year after schema therapy ended, 70% of schema therapy patients had symptom reduction, improvements in attending school, thinking less frequently about suicide, and were more adept at regulating emotions.4

Additional Conditions Schema-Focused Therapy Can Help

Borderline personality disorder schema therapy is proven effective, but that’s not the only condition it can treat. Schema-focused therapy can be used to treat several other issues and mental health concerns, including:

Is Schema Therapy Effective?

Schema Therapy

Now that you know what schema therapy is and what it can help, you may wonder if it is effective. Research shows that it is significantly more effective than other therapeutic approaches when treating personality disorders.


Schema therapy tends to result in higher rates of recovery, less depression, increased social functioning, and a lower drop-out rate than other types of therapy. Research also suggests schema therapy is more cost-effective.5

Conditions and Situations

If you’re interested in trying schema therapy, finding a schema therapist near you is worth it. Understanding your schemas and modes can help you learn to better handle the ups and downs in life. There is schema-focused psychotherapy for all sorts of conditions and situations, including:

  • Schema therapy for couples
  • Schema therapy for eating disorders
  • Schema therapy for anxiety
  • Borderline personality disorder schema therapy

Once you connect with a therapist, the therapist may administer a maladaptive schema test or schema therapy assessment to understand which psychological schema you are dealing with. From there, you can begin schematic processing, addressing, and healing the negative patterns in your life.

Find Out More About Schema-Focused Psychotherapy At Boardwalk Recovery

If you’re going through a hard time in life, you may find solutions to your problems at Boardwalk Recovery Center. At Boardwalk Recovery, you can expect to address mental health concerns, be uplifted by compassionate staff and effective treatment, including schema therapy interventions. To learn more, reach out to Boardwalk Recovery Center today.

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