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What is Schema Therapy? A Complete Guide for Women Seeking Healthy Relationships

Updated: Jan 14

Understanding Schema Therapy: What Are Schemas and How Do They Impact Our Lives?


A woman in therapy
Woman in Schema Therapy

I’m often pleasantly surprised by how many of my clients come to me with some knowledge of Schema Therapy. And if you don’t know about Schema Therapy at all, don’t worry! I’m here to take you through it. Perhaps by the end of this article, you will feel as strongly as I do about Schema Therapy and it’s healing potential.


I’ve been practicing as a Clinical Psychologist for over twelve years now, and I have seen the most magic and transformation happen for my clients when I’ve used Schema Therapy. I began studying Schema Therapy more intensely a few years ago now, and in 2023 completed a six month training program under the exceptional wisdom of accredited Schema Therapist and Clinical Psychologist Dr Tracey Hunter, who has developed intensive training in Schema Coaching.


I also have engaged in my own Schema Therapy and Coaching and have benefitted enormously from this. I credit Schema Therapy with healing me, helping me overcome my fear of abandonment and anxious attachment, and generally be more accepting of my emotions and vulnerability. Schema Therapy allowed me to be my more authentic self. Schema Therapy also provided me with a guide for the partners I was drawn to, the feelings these relationships brought out in me (huge anxiety and insecurity!), and some wisdom to date and choose a partner differently. Most of all, Schema Therapy helped me stand on my own two feet: to self-soothe and regulate my emotions when dating and in the early stages of a new relationship. I am thankful that Schema Therapy allowed me to develop a healthier relationship with myself, and my Inner Child, and also to find a healthy, happy, loving relationship with my partner. (You can learn more about the healing powers of Inner Child work here:


So, What is Schema Therapy?


Schema Therapy is a model of psychological therapy that focuses on the relationship patterns and learnings we inherit from childhood experiences and trauma. Due to early life events in childhood and the influences of parenting, we inherit ways of seeing the world. These ways in which we see the world are called schemas. Schemas are comprised of cognitions, emotions, bodily sensations, and patterns of behaviour. More broadly, schemas are pervasive belief systems and patterns that show up in our lives repetitively and (secretly) drive our behaviour. It is true that our foundational years in life imprint upon us and can guide behaviour for the rest of our lives. For example, if your parents separated, or one parent was emotionally unavailable, you may experience a Fear of Abandonment Schema. These early life experiences may have caused you anxiety about the reliability and presence of others, and so as a coping mechanism you may have become hypervigilant to signs of emotional disconnection. Unfortunately, this anxiety or hypervigilance may overwhelm others, resulting in actual abandonment.


Another example may be you grew up with a parent who worried a lot about the state of the world and life events, and you developed your own worry too, feeling as if something bad was going to happen at any time. We call this state of worry and sense of unsafety Vulnerability To Harm Schema. If this schema drives a lot of your decisions, you may avoid certain parts of life such as travel and take extra safety precautions. Unfortunately, this schema can rob you of the experience of joy and trusting your ability to manage the balance of taking risks and using your inner wisdom around safety.


You can begin to see how schemas play out in our lives, drive our emotions and influence our behaviour. It is incredibly important to develop awareness of the schemas that rule our lives and relationships. The good news is, all of this can be healed!


Key Principles of Schema Therapy


Schema Therapy works on shifting the burden of schemas in your life by bringing more conscious awareness to them. Schema Therapy can be more intensive and in depth than other forms of therapy, however, I love that it can be adapted into a more direct coaching model well as well. Schema Therapy unpacks the influences of your childhood, identifies any trauma you may have experienced, and helps you understand the narrative that has developed that influences your view of the world and relationships.


In Schema Therapy, we know and understand that there are important developmental milestones for children and core needs that should be met by a caregiver or parent. When there is an absence of these needs being met, traumatic experiences and events occur. The core needs of childhood are:

· Empathy, nurturance and emotional validation: emotional attunement and care

· Safety and security: having a sense of safety at home and in the world, one that is free from danger and conflict.

· Boundaries and limits: having rules to follow that allow for self-care, care of others, emotion regulation and the development of self-motivation and discipline.

· A sense of autonomy and competence: an inherent sense of your value and worth that comes from your parents initially.

· Play and spontaneity: a sense of creativity, adventure, fun, freedom and play, that supports your happiness and sense of wonderment.


Often my clients begin to realise that some these core needs were missing from their own childhood, and so they need to be restored into their current adult life in order for healing to occur. Schema Therapy has a significant component of re-parenting, often first from the therapist, and then from you. This means getting in touch with or cultivating your own internal parent that soothes, comforts, nurtures, validates, encourages, praises and connects to the vulnerable part of you (which we call your Vulnerable Child or Inner Child).



Schema Therapy: Woman Connecting With Her Inner Child
Schema Therapy: Woman Connecting With Her Inner Child


How Schema Therapy can help women have healthy relationships


Hopefully now you can see how Schema Therapy helps heal wounds. Firstly, we would identify any schemas or patterns that block you giving or receiving love. Such schemas may include shame, failure, self-sacrifice and approval-seeking. You then clarify the behaviours that maintain these schemas in your life, as well as the feelings that arise when schemas are triggered. Your Schema Therapy may involve some imagery work to help you soothe your feelings when triggered, or developing a dialogue to your Inner Child. You work on engaging in different behaviours, ones that stop you self-sabotaging and prioritise you being authentic and real. Schema Therapy involves shifting old narratives and beliefs systems around your value, worth, and emotional expression.


As these patterns start to shift and more happy emotions arise, relationship choices and actions also shift. Once a light has been shined on your schemas, you can begin to see a way forward.



The Core Components of Schema Therapy That Help Women In Their Relationships


There are so many important skills and in Schema Therapy, however, these are the ones that I really love and have resonated for many of my female clients:


Schema Assessment: Once you know what your schemas are (the Young Schema Questionnaire- Revised can be found here: https://www.anima.com.au/schema ), there is often a huge sense of validation and acceptance. Understanding is such an important part of healing.


Understanding core needs: Knowing the five core needs of childhood was so powerful for me. I then had a framework for what I needed to give myself more of: validation, empathy, play, nurturance, a sense of worth, praise, and healthy boundaries.


Understanding my inner child: Identifying my inner child has been so powerful. It is little Phoebe (rather than adult me) that comes alive when I am triggered. If my partner pulls away, or I worry I’ve upset him, my inner child is scared. It is my job to soothe and take care of my inner child. Adult Phoebe knows it’s all going to be ok in the end, whatever life throws at me.


Self-responsibility: Schema Therapy has empowered me to stand on my own two feet; I am no longer a child who will get the soothing I need from others (parents or partner). However, that’s ok, as I can develop all the tools I need to soothe myself, and that is empowering. It’s a lot more dependable than relying on others for soothing.


Emotions are wisdom: Schema Therapy has really helped me tune inwards, into the wisdom in my body, and the emotions that arise. A lot of us are taught to turn away from our emotions, or avoid them as they are painful. However, emotions are messengers about what needs to shift. I’ve learnt to trust them. Schema Therapy has given me a road map for what emotions are over-reactive (inner child is triggered, but I’m ok in the present) and what emotions should be taken seriously (inner child is triggered because the present is not safe).



Couple in Love: Schema Therapy Heals
Couple in Love

Schema Therapy heals


Hopefully the healing power and potential of Schema Therapy is super clear. If women can use the skills above that are core parts of Schema Therapy, I believe they will find themselves in happier, healthier, more intimate and loving relationships because their relationship to self and their inner child will be stronger. When we have a better connection to self, we speak our voices with more clarity and ease, we trust in and depend on ourselves, and we choose relationships that have greater resonance for us. When we are grounded, calm and empowered, our relationships thrive because we know how love feels from within and that reflects externally too.


Are you curious to learn more about how Schema Therapy can help you cultivate healthy relationships?


If you’re ready to explore how my online women’s group, The Complete Toolkit For Dating and Maintaining Love can transform your love life, dating and relationships, reach out as soon as possible. The next group launches 20th February 2024 and is filling up.


Sign up for the women's group right here: https://www.therelationshipspace.com.au/womens-group



With love from Phoebe at The Relationship Space
With love

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