It was not initially my intention to become a schema therapist.
Prior to 2011, I didn’t know this therapeutic model existed. For years my work focused on facilitating therapy for families struggling with a troubled teen. Then priorities changed, as I began to unearth why growing up in my family had left me feeling unworthy and confused.
This inquiry resulted in significant personal healing and inspired me to write Ghost Mothers: Healing From the Pain of a Mother Who Wasn’t Really There. The book attracted adults who related to this pain, and my private practice flourished. Therapy flowed well for several years; clients experienced relief in being seen and understood, healing goals were met, and important changes made.
Then difficult therapeutic moments began to emerge. Trying, without success, to create new behavior patterns and soothe the child inside. I had to admit I didn’t have a strong framework or strategies for the deep healing needed by clients struggling to resolve childhood trauma.
When I discovered Schema Therapy, a proven therapy approach for traumatized clients, I hoped this well-conceptualized, experiential model would provide ways to create the profound changes my clients deserved.
What happened when I began using Schema Therapy with clients.
My client ‘Jodi’ grew up with a narcissistic mother who was critical, controlling, and non-nurturing. Jodi wanted to understand the dynamics of her family and the impact of constantly trying to please her mother; she hoped to change patterns to include feeling over-emotional, unloved, and doing too much for others.
 Identifying ‘schemas’ is an essential part of Schema Therapy. Schemas incorporate emotion, thoughts and body sensations that come to define how we view the world, based on what was experienced growing up. Jodi’s primary schema is ‘Emotional Deprivation.’
~ You were impacted in many painful ways growing up with a mother who wasn’t taking good care of you. The little girl you once were felt deprived when she needed love, nurturing or attention. You not only didn’t get this; your mom was often angry in response.
 Dr. Young describes the power of identifying a schema, then working with it as a ‘hot cognition;’ helping clients experience all aspects of what it feels like when their schema is activated. Emotional deprivation is Jodi’s life narrative – trying so hard and getting so little.
~ I want to help you understand this schema better. Let’s use imagery to explore what happens when you feel deprived in the present, as you did so often as a child. We’ll learn together what gets triggered inside you; what this little girl needed then, and what she longs for now.
 The experience of activating a schema is powerful for client and therapist. Doing so ‘links’ current emotional reactions and patterns to unresolved pain from the past.
~ We were able to re-create the experience of being emotionally ignored. This ‘bridge’ to the past helps us understand how devastating it was when your boyfriend said he didn’t want to come over last night. You strongly felt unloved and unimportant, as you often did as a child.
Schema Therapy works and I’m passionate about using and teaching this model!
Schema Therapy creates a therapeutic flow from present to past, helps younger parts heal and provides experiential strategies to move forward. Not only understanding what’s unresolved, but safely experiencing it. Clients really like this approach; it’s empowering and provides a dynamic healing blueprint for lasting change.
Jodi put it this way:
“The little part of me needed healing, the adult part needed more self-compassion. My narcissistic mother had convinced me that I was worthless and had nothing to offer.”
Using Schema Therapy helps traumatized people make sense of their past in effective and powerful ways. For therapists and clients this is gratifying, exciting, creative therapy work.
Article published in The Clinical Update, CA Society for Clinical Social Workers, Spring 2022