Schemas can be thought of as cognitive structures which 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). Schemas are developed in response to life events and are critically shaped during childhood. In CBT we often talk about ‘self-schemas’, ‘other-schemas’, and ‘world-schemas’ – these structures help an individual to make sense of themselves and the world around them.
Schemas are a key maintenance factor in cognitive therapy because they determine “what we notice, attend to, and remember of our experiences” (Padesky, 1991). 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.
- 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 archive.org
- Kovacs, M., & Beck, A. T. (1978). Maladaptive cognitive structures in depression. American Journal of psychiatry, 135(5), 525-533 download archive.org
- Padesky, C. (1991). Schema as self-prejudice. International Cognitive Therapy Newsletter, 6, 6-7 download archive.org
- Wenzel, A. (2012). Modification of core beliefs in cognitive therapy. Standard and innovative strategies in Cognitive Behavior Therapy, 17-34 download