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In this lesson, we will learn about Schema Therapy and the psychologist who developed it, Jeffrey Young.

We will examine what Schema Therapy is and how it is used.

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Psychologist Jeffrey Young

Jeffrey Young is a faculty member in the department of Psychiatry at Columbia University. He is a published author of books on Schema Therapy and various self-help topics. He has been lecturing and teaching for more than 25 years and is the director of both the Schema Therapy Institute and the Cognitive Therapy Center.

Mr. Young also participates in research projects and is on the board of various research journals.

What is a Schema?

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, a schema is defined as ‘the organization of experience in the mind or brain that includes a particular organized way of perceiving cognitively and responding to a complex situation or set of stimuli.’ In other words, a schema helps us to organize information coming into our brains and then form a particular response to that information. Schemas help us to quickly process the vast amounts of information that we encounter on a daily basis.Let’s look at an example.

When we are young we develop schemas for different objects. When we encounter a desk chair at school, we see that it has a back, a seat, and four legs. If we then encounter a different type of chair, we need to modify our existing schema of ‘chair’ to include the new type. Maybe the new type is a reclining chair or a chair that rolls.

We adapt our schemas in order to incorporate new information. With the chair example, the next time we encounter these types of chairs, we will quickly be able to know this without thinking about it.Coping skills work in a similar fashion.

When we encounter a difficult situation, our mind may have a schema that it has used in the past to deal with something similar. When someone makes us angry, we yell. Or, when we encounter a sad situation, we may cry. Unless we learn to adapt and modify our schemas, we will use them over and over again.

Schema Therapy

Schema Therapy was developed as an alternative treatment for those diagnosed with personality disorders and those for whom traditional cognitive behavioral therapy was not effective. It also focuses on childhood origin of issues, as well as relationship and self-identity problems. A main focus of Schema Therapy holds that persons diagnosed with personality disorders have unmet needs from their childhood.

In addition, patients with these diagnoses develop coping strategies in their childhood which are not effective, and those patterns continue on into adulthood. When we are children, we learn coping skills and ways of responding to stimuli. If no one teaches us any differently, those schemas of coping skills will continue. This is particularly difficult for people diagnosed with mental illness.

This is where Schema Therapy comes into play.In this type of therapy, patients start out using visualization techniques. One technique (known as ‘chairwork’) has the patient sit in one chair, facing another chair which represents someone from their life. They will either talk to the empty chair, or sit in the empty chair and act as that person. As therapy progresses, more cognitive and behavioral strategies are utilized.The goal of Schema Therapy is to confront existing schemas, with the therapist helping the patient to learn new ways of coping.

The therapist also will assist in providing what the patient needed but did not receive in their childhood. Even though the patient is working through current issues, the general focus of Schema Therapy is identifying and resolving childhood issues. This type of therapy can take as long as 2-3 years, depending on individual need. There is no set time frame or specific structure to the therapy.

Lesson Summary

In this lesson, we learned that psychologist Jeffrey Young developed a technique known as Schema Therapy. It is used widely for individuals with personality disorders and those with weak or ineffective coping skills, or schemas. Schemas are a mental construct by which our brains process and understand information.

They are developed from a young age; thus, the focus of therapy is aimed at addressing the unmet needs of childhood. Schema Therapy usually lasts anywhere from 2-3 years in duration and does not have a specific structure.

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