Schema Coaching

Variations: Schema Coaching

I am deeply convinced of the impact and great value of solution focused thinking.

Dagmar Weiner

And yet I have also met clients who found it difficult to think in terms of solutions, who felt at a loss or who reported not being able to implement their solution in their everyday lives. We strive for the best (for ourselves and for others), and yet do exactly the opposite. Our self-efficacy does not work the way we want.

Looking for the appropriate coaching approach, I came across schema therapy as the theory foundation for schema coaching. The therapy model itself (Jeffrey E. Young, 1990) itself is an integrative approach of cognitive behavior therapy and is suited for a broad spectrum of mental disorders. Its main focus is on central emotional needs.

Schema therapy is effective both in the reduction of specific symptoms and the improvement of general quality of life. Its application, however, is limited to a psychotherapeutic context and thus only reserved to licensed psychological or medical psychotherapists, and rightly so.

However, emotionally charged life issues or schemata can also be found in difficulties that are not related to disorders. Schema Coaching allows us to look at them and decide what we want instead.

The following basic principles of schema therapy are particularly interesting for coaching:

  1. There are five core needs in childhood and adolescence, which need to be met by close persons (parents and others):
    • safety/predictability/love/stable base/protection
    • autonomy/acceptance and praise
    • freedom to express one’s own feelings and get them validated
    • play and spontaneity
    • guidance and the experience of realistic limits
  1. Early unhealthy schemas develop when healthy, normal development needs of a child are not met adequately over a long period of time, e.g. distrust, defectiveness, unrelenting standards, emotional deprivation, dependence or insufficient self-control.
  1. The ways in which a vulnerable child adapts to a distressing childhood environment are similar to what we know from animals, when being attacked: freeze (schema surrender by compliance, isolation, etc.), flight (schema avoidance by protective distance, substance misuse, expression of anger, etc.), fight (schema overcompensation by aggression, recognition-seeking, dominance, etc.).

These coping strategies may have been helpful as a child, yet to an independent, self-contained adult they can prove harmful both in professional and private life. For coaching, it is perfectly sufficient to only have a brief look at the reasons behind and at the triggers of entrenched behavior patterns. When we understand where emotionally charged life issues come from, we find it easier to imagine and develop a more beneficial self-validation and to decide ourselves how we would like to shape our preferred solution (rather than always automatically react to a trigger in the same pattern). The kindness and clear structure of the model fit perfectly into a coaching conversation and, in my experience, has turned out to be extremely useful. In order to stay within the boundaries of coaching, I take regular supervision by experienced schema therapists.