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Schema Therapy

Schema Therapy was developed by Jeffrey Young, to treat individuals with Borderline Personality Disorder, but can also be used with other presentations caused by difficult childhood experiences. Schemas can be described as our belief systems or 'lifetraps'. The theory on which Schema Therapy is based has four main concepts:

  • Early Maladaptive Schemas
  • Schema Domains
  • Coping Styles
  • Schema Modes

Early Maladaptive Schemas are our core patterns or behaviours that we tend to repeatedly use throughout our lives.

Schema Domains relate to the emotional needs of a child. If these needs were not met during our childhoods, unhealthy schemas develop, which then result in unhealthy patterns of behaviour.

Coping Styles are the way we adapt to schemas and early life experiences. These are often unhealthy and tend to maintain or worsen the problems.

Modes are emotional states that we all use from time to time. They can sometimes lie dormant for a long time, being activated by certain triggers. Whilst we can be in a dominant state or mode for some time, we can flip over into other modes. The different modes are listed below.

Schema Therapy is based upon CBT, but it is focused much more on early childhood experiences which have caused lifelong difficulties. Assessment includes the use of questionnaires to identify the individual's schemas, coping styles and preferred modes, enabling the client to understand and develop an abilty to change their unhelpful thinking styles and patterns of behaviour.

Schema Modes


1.  Vulnerable Child:  feels lonely, isolated, sad, misunderstood, unsupported, defective, deprived, overwhelmed, incompetent, doubts self, needy, helpless, hopeless, frightened, anxious, worried, victimized, worthless, unloved, unlovable, lost, directionless, fragile, weak, defeated, oppressed, powerless, left out, excluded, pessimistic.

2.  Angry Child: feels intensely angry, enraged, infuriated, frustrated, impatient because the core emotional (or physical) needs of the vulnerable child are not being met.

3.  Impulsive/Undisciplined Child : acts on non-core desires or impulses in a selfish or uncontrolled manner to get his or her own way and often has difficulty delaying short-term gratification; often feels intensely angry, enraged, infuriated, frustrated, impatient when these non-core desires or impulses cannot be met.; may appear "spoiled".

4. Happy Child: feels loved, contented, connected, satisfied, fulfilled, protected, accepted, praised, worthwhile, nurtured, guided, understood, validated, self-confident, competent, appropriately autonomous or self-reliant, safe, resilient, strong, in control, adaptable, included, optimistic, spontaneous.


5.  Compliant Surrenderer: acts in a passive, subservient, submissive, approval-seeking, or self-deprecating way around others out of fear of conflict or rejection; tolerates abuse and/or bad treatment; does not express healthy needs or desires to others; selects people or engages in other behaviour that directly maintains the self-defeating schema-driven pattern.

6.  Detached Protector: cuts off needs and feelings; detaches emotionally from people and rejects their help; feels withdrawn, spacey, distracted, disconnected, depersonalized, empty or bored; pursues distracting,  self-soothing,  or self-stimulating activities in a compulsive way or to excess; may adopt a cynical, aloof  or pessimistic stance to avoid investing in people or activities.

7.  Over-compensator: feels and behaves in an inordinately grandiose, aggressive, dominant, competitive, arrogant, haughty, condescending, devaluing, over-controlled, controlling, rebellious, manipulative, exploitative, attention-seeking, or status-seeking way.  These feelings or behaviours must originally have developed to compensate for or gratify unmet core needs.


8.  Punitive Parent: feels that oneself or others deserves punishment or blame and often acts on these feelings by being blaming, punishing, or abusive towards self (e.g., self-mutilation) or others.  This mode refers to the style with which rules are enforced rather than the nature of the rules.

9. Demanding Parent:  feels that the "right" way to be is to be perfect or achieve at a very high level, to keep everything in order, to strive for high status, to be humble, to puts others needs before one's own or to be efficient or avoid wasting time; or the person feels that it is wrong to express feelings or to act spontaneously.  This mode refer to the nature of the internalized  high standards and strict rules, rather than the style with which these rules are enforced; these rules are not compensatory in their function.


10.  Healthy Adult: nurtures, validates and affirms the vulnerable child mode; sets limits for the angry and impulsive child modes; promotes and supports the healthy child mode; combats and eventually replaces the maladaptive coping modes; neutralises or moderates the maladaptive parent modes.  

This mode also performs appropriate adult functions such as working, parenting, taking responsibility, and committing; pursues pleasurable adult activities such as sex; intellectual, aesthetic, and cultural  interests; health maintenance; and athletic activities.

Adapted from

Self Help Books


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