Skip to main content

Schema Maintenance

Young, Klosko, and Weishaar (2003) offer a number of descriptions of schemas:
  • “A schema is an abstract representation of the distinctive characteristics of an event, a kind of blueprint of its most salient elements.”
  • “[A schema is] an abstract cognitive plan that serves as guide for interpreting information and solving problems.”
  • “[A schema is] any broad organizing principle for making sense of one’s life experience.”
Schemas can be thought of as cognitive structures that help us to make sense of the world around us. They help us to filter the information we get from our environment in order to make sense of it: “a schema is a structure for screening, coding, and evaluating the stimuli that impinge on an organism” (Beck, 1967). Read more
languages 67 languages



Resource type


Therapy tool

Behavioral Experiment (Portrait Format)

Behavioral experiments allow individuals to test the validity of their beliefs and assumptions. They are a core experiential technique for therapeutic ...


Belief Driven Formulation

Cognitive behavioral theory proposes that our thoughts, feelings, and behavior in the here-and-now are influenced by our schemas / core beliefs / assu ...


CBT Appraisal Model

The CBT Appraisal Model worksheet is a transdiagnostic formulation tool. The centrality of appraisals underpins all of the disorder-specific cognitive ...


Challenging Your Negative Thinking

A cornerstone of cognitive behavioral therapy is that an individual’s interpretation of an event determines how they feel and behave. We all experie ...


Cognitive Behavioral Model Of Low Self-Esteem (Fennell, 1997)

Low self-esteem is characterized as a negative sense of the self and co-occurs with many other mental health problems. Although not formally represent ...

Information Handout

Cognitive Behavioral Model Of Social Phobia (Clark, Wells, 1995)

People suffering from social anxiety disorder (previously known as social phobia) experience persistent fear or anxiety concerning social or performan ...

Information Handout

Core Belief Magnet Metaphor

Core beliefs (schemas) are self-sustaining. They act to ‘attract’ confirmatory evidence and ‘repel’ (or distort) disconfirmato ...

Information Handout

Embracing Uncertainty

Intolerance of uncertainty (IU) was first described in individuals suffering from Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD). Many behaviors associated with G ...


Interpersonal Beliefs And Styles

Interpersonal issues and relationship problems form an important part of what clients bring to therapy: they might present as clients’ current conce ...


Intolerance Of Uncertainty

Uncertainty is a normal part of life – we can never be 100% sure about what will happen next. Many people feel good about uncertainty and live lives ...

Information Handout

Positive Belief Record

Some cognitive change can happen quickly – for example challenging negative automatic thoughts. Other cognitive structures such as schemas are m ...


Process Focused Case Formulation

The Process-Focused Case Formulation encourages clinicians to make hypotheses regarding mechanisms or processes which they believe may be maintainin ...


Reciprocal CBT Formulation

CBT therapists often describe finding it difficult to apply CBT skills when clients bring relational problems to therapy. Familiar methods of visua ...


Schema Bias

Core beliefs (schemas) are self-sustaining. They act to ‘attract’ confirmatory evidence and ‘repel’ or ‘distort’ d ...

Information Handout

Schema Formulation

Beck’s cognitive model proposes that cognition and perception in the here-and-now is influenced by our ‘schemas’ which shape our per ...


Schema Metaphors

Core beliefs (schemas) are self-sustaining. They act to ‘attract’ confirmatory evidence and ‘repel’ or ‘distort’ d ...

Information Handout

Social Anxiety Formulation

People suffering from social anxiety disorder (previously known as social phobia) experience persistent fear or anxiety concerning social or performan ...


Recommended Reading

  • Beck, A.T. (1967). Depression: Causes and treatment. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press).
  • James, I. A., & Barton, S. (2004). Changing core beliefs with the continuum technique. Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapy, 32(04), 431-442  download
  • Kovacs, M., & Beck, A. T. (1978). Maladaptive cognitive structures in depression. American Journal of psychiatry, 135(5), 525-533   download
  • Padesky, C. (1991). Schema as self-prejudice. International Cognitive Therapy Newsletter, 6, 6-7  download
  • Wenzel, A. (2012). Modification of core beliefs in cognitive therapy. Standard and innovative strategies in Cognitive Behavior Therapy, 17-34   download

What Is Schema Maintenance?

Young, Klosko, and Weishaar (2003) describe how “schemas begin in early childhood or adolescence as reality-based representations of the child’s environment.” Schemas continue to be elaborated upon throughout the course of our life, and then superimposed on later life experiences even when they are no longer applicable. For example, if a child formed an accurate schema during childhood that “other people are scary and unpredictable” then they may live with the emotional and behavioral consequences of this schema even if they live in a substantially different context as an adult.

An important property of schemas is that they strive for ‘cognitive consistency’—that we prefer to maintain a stable view of ourselves and the world, even if this schema is inaccurate.

“Early maladaptive schemas fight for survival … although it causes suffering, it is comfortable and familiar, it feels right” (Young, Klosko, & Weishaar, 2003).

Schemas are a key maintenance factor in cognitive therapy because they determine “what we notice, attend to, and remember of our experiences” (Padesky, 1994). A schema of ‘I’m bad’ may make it hard for an individual to notice when they do something good, leading to the maintenance of the unhelpful way of thinking and being. Mechanisms by which schemas are maintained include:

Treatment Approaches That Target Schema Maintenance / Schema Change

Padesky (1994) describes a number of techniques within CBT which may be used to change schemas including:


  • Padesky, C. A. (1994). Schema change processes in cognitive therapy. Clinical Psychology & Psychotherapy, 1(5), 267–278.
  • Young, J. E., Klosko, J. S., & Weishaar, M. E. (2003). Schema therapy: A practitioner’s guide. New York: Guilford Press.