Schema Therapy: what are the core needs?

the family
The Family – Gustav Klimt

Schema therapy is an integrative psychotherapy combining the vision and techniques from other therapies, like cognitive behavioral therapy, psychodynamic theory, attachment theory and Gestalt therapy, creating a unique model to address longstanding, hard to treat patterns of thinking and acting.

It is based on the idea that humans have universal needs in childhood and when these are not sufficiently met, we can develop certain views of the world that can lead to maladaptive patterns and self defeating themes that repeat throughout adulthood.

Imagine your parents had difficulties listening to you when you were angry or even punish you when this happenned, or simply never seemed interested in your emotional situation. You might learn to supress your emotions and not communicate your needs. Using the metaphor of a pair of glasses, you grow up with the view «I better not express my anger otherwise I’ll get punished». This glasses, this view of reality was adaptive when you were a child, but can be problematic later on. «Freedom to express needs & emotions» was clearly not a possibility at that time.

Imagine you grew up in an abusive family, where you were confronted with disrespect and verbal threatening on a daily basis. Sometimes you were treated in a very positive way, and other times you were shouted at and left alone at home. You felt unsafe in your own home so you developed the view «The world is unsafe and everybody can leave me at any moment.» The basic need of stability and «secure attachment» was poorly met.

Imagine you were born in a very strict family, with high standards, very sucessful parents and all the attention was drawn on how well you performed. There was no much time for hobbies or friends. You grew up with the core belief that «I cannot lose any moment, play and relax is useless.» This was necessary in childhood to be able to be accepted by your caregives, however it can bring difficulties or lead to burn out for example in later years. The time for «spontaneity and play» was unexistent in this family.

Schema Therapy - schema creation 0

In therapy we try to create awareness of the emotional needs that were not fully met in the early years and the maladaptive schemas associated with them.

For example in dance movement therapy we can work on spontaneity and play in a very direct way, with improvisation, games and music for example. Learning to enjoy and allowing ourselves to enjoy, to have pleasure.

With several body and movement interventions one can learn to express emotions, get in contact with anger or sadness in a safe way, developing therefore a wider range of emotional responses and learning to identify and communicate them to significant others in a more effective way.

In the session, I give a lot of importance to autonomy, very often asking the client what she/he wants to focus on, letting them find their own way to warm up or to move, letting them lead me during mirroring exercises…


We believe that these needs are universal. Everyone has them, although some individuals have stronger needs than others. A psychologically healthy individual is one who can adaptively meet these core emotional needs.
J.E Young