Model of Psychological Needs

According to Schema Therapy psychopathological symptoms can be best understood by frustrated psychological needs that are depicted below:

(based on Loose, Graaf, & Zarbock, 2013, modified from Grawe, 2017)

Early Maladaptive Schemas (EMS)

The most influential concept in Schema Therapy deals with the concept of Early Maladaptive Schemas. According to the definition of Young et al. (2006) schemas are “broad, pervasive themes regarding oneself and one’s relationship with others, developed during childhood and elaborated throughout one’s lifetime, and dysfunctional to a significant degree.“
Four types of early life experiences can be differentiated that can lead to the development of a schema:
  1. Continuing/ toxic frustration of emotional needs (too little of a good thing)
  2. Traumatization or victimization (the child is harmed or victimized)
  3. Overprotection (too much of a good thing)
  4. ”Overload“ of adult themes (e.g. parentification after divorce)

Young, J.E., Klosko, J. S., Weishaar, M. E. (2006). „Schema Therapy: A Practitioner’s Guide.  New York/London: Guilford Press

Coping Styles

How a given schema manifests itself, basically depends on the coping style of a person.

Avoidance: finding ways to escape or block out schemas as a protection. Children using this strategy appear distant, it is hard to get a feeling for them, and they appear as if they were sitting behind a glass wall.
Surrender: giving in to schemas and repeating them over and over. Your perception of the world can be biased by your negative expectations. This strategy leads to a reduction of inner tension based on the notion: „that‘s me“ (ego-syntonic). Nevertheless, the degree of internal suffering usually remains high.
Overcompensation: doing the opposite of what the schemas make you feel. Again, the perception is often biased to enhance one’s self-esteem (self-serving bias; („I knew it before“). Children may appear self-confident and autonomous, while being fragile and easily confused. Usually, the caregivers indicate a higher degree of suffering than the children.

The dominant coping style of children depends on their temper, learning experience and significant role models (e.g. father, mother, sibling, peers, etc.).

Rafaeli E., Bernstein, D.P. , Young, J.E. (2011). Schema Therapy. The CBT Distinctive Features  Series. New York: Routledge.

Modes & Mode Work


Schema modes are emotional states at a given point of time, triggered by life situations the person is oversensitive to („emotional buttons“). While these states are each associated with a schema, it is not possible to allocate them 1-to-1. A schemarepresents a trait, and a mode is comparable with a state.

There are 4 main types of modes I-II-III-IV (including subgroups A,B,C …):
I. Child modes: „The little …[name of the child]“           
II. Demanding and punishing modes: „The critical … [name of the child]“
III. Immature coping modes: „Emergency-… [name of the child] “
IV. Clever-mode: „The clever …[name of the child] “
In therapy with adults this mode is called the healthy adult mode. Of course, a child is not an adult, therefore we renamed this healthy mode “the clever ..“ (name of the child).
Important: It is recommended to avoid talking of „parent modes“, because a conflict of loyalty could occur hindering the child from building up a trusting relationship to the therapist.