Do You Have Life-Traps?

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Schema focused cognitive therapy (schema therapy) is a relatively new form of therapy. It was developed by Dr. Jeff Young in the mid-1980s while he worked alongside Dr. Aaron Beck in the Center for Cognitive Therapy at the University of Pennsylvania. Dr. Beck is well known for the creation of cognitive behavioral therapy, and Dr. Young’s psychoanalytic style has many similarities.

Schema focused cognitive therapy actually combines many different styles of psychoanalysis. Dr. Young describes it as an “extension of cognitive therapy” with elements of psychodynamic and gestalt therapy concepts as well. In this sense, it is one of the most successful attempts to bridge the gap between behavioral and psychodynamic theories in the history of psychotherapy.

This form of therapy aims at isolating and modifying self-defeating life patterns, also known as “schemas” or “life-traps.” Dr. Young found that many of these “schemas” originate from events in our childhood. He, then, found that the combination of behavioral and gestalt therapy was very effective in breaking these negative patterns.

This style differs greatly than an eclectic psychoanalytic practice in that Dr. Young has formed a model for therapists to follow. Eclectic therapists experiment with different forms of psychoanalysis to see which one works best with each patient. Schema therapy, on the other hand, is based on an efficient model which combines elements of behavioral and psychodynamic theories to pin-point and mend psychological problems.

An essential part of this model are the 18 Early Maladaptive Schemas. Dr. Young narrowed down many of the psychological problems of his patients into these eighteen categories:

  1. Abandonment/instability

  2. Mistrust/abuse

  3. Emotional deprivation

  4. Defectiveness/shame

  5. Social isolation/alienation

  6. Dependence/incompetence

  7. Vulnerability to harm or illness

  8. Enmeshment/undeveloped self

  9. Failure

  10. Entitlement/Grandiosity

  11. Insufficient self-control/self-discipline

  12. Subjugation

  13. Self-sacrifice

  14. Approval-seeking/recognition-seeking

  15. Negativity/pessimism

  16. Emotional inhibition

  17. Unrelenting standards/hyper-criticalness

  18. Punitiveness

These “schemas” are most often caused by events which occur early in life. In an interview with Mental Health.net, Dr. Young used the example of abandonment issues stemming parents leaving a baby, alone in it’s crib for long periods at a time; ignoring it’s cries for attention. This baby could grow up with extra sensitivity to people abandoning him/her. Schema therapy isolates this “life-trap,” pin-points the origin of the pattern, and works to reform how the patient thinks of his/her abandonment.

Elements from psychodynamic and behavioral psychology can clearly be seen in this example. Searching one’s childhood to learn the origin of their psychological problem is very much in line with Freudian psychodynamic thought. While reforming how the patient currently thinks about their problem is similar to cognitive behavioral therapy.

Although the practice of schema therapy is relatively new, there have been very promising studies done which show the effectiveness of the technique. In recent years, as a matter of fact, the utilization of schema focused therapy has grown widely all over the globe. Training sessions are to be held in both the United States and Europe, including in England, Sweden, and Germany.

Dr. Allison Conner, a Clinical Director of Cognitive Therapy Associates in New York City, studied under Dr. Young. She encourages her therapists to use the best elements of schema therapy along with the foundations of traditional cognitive behavioral therapy

In the U.S., the practice of schema therapy has grown as well. In New York City, Dr. Young’s Cognitive Therapy Center of New York and the Schema Therapy Institute are joined by practices like Cognitive Therapy Associates. These institutions work to promote the use of schema focused cognitive therapy and use it to help those with psychological issues.

If you would like to find out more about schema therapy, contact Dr. Allison Connor at (212) 258-2577 or see her website http://www.cognitive-therapy-associates.com.

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