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Bridging Existential Pain with Love in Schema Therapy:Expanding Young's Original Model with Existential Concepts

by Poul Perris


“Everybody wants development – nobody wants to change”, is a quote by the Danish philosopher and father of religious existentialism S. Kierkegaard, (d. 1855). It captures the experience that many schema therapists have when treating clients with emotional problems. They seek our help, desperately wanting to feel well, yet reluctant to give up their dysfunctional coping strategies. Why is that? It’s a question with many answers. The process of deep change involves a transition from something familiar into the unknown. It’s existential and frightening, yet there is no escape. The transition has to be made. Love can be the confounded bridge breaking the fall. The German-Jewish philosopher Martin Buber said: “The human soul is always searching for a place, and that place is called belonging”. Schema therapists can offer that place. In my clinical work I’ve learned that integrating existential aspects into the schema therapy facilitates change, when implemented with the genuine love of a true reparenting relationship.

The American Psychiatry Professor Irvin Yalom wrote his seminal book on Existential Psychotherapy in 1980. His concept of existential isolation is still highly relevant and has a lot to offer existentially interested schema therapists. Vital parts can be adapted and integrated into Schema Therapy in order to deepen and expand Young’s original model.

Target Audience: 

Therapists treating long-standing emotional problems

Learning Objectives:

This skills class has a three folded aim: (1) Introducing Yaloms concept of existential isolation; (2) Illustrate how Yaloms concept interface with the Schema Therapy model; (3) Outline an adapted and integrated model that can serve as a practical guide for how to deal with the existential implications involved in schema-mode and life area change.

Level of Experience Required:

Intermediate (Participants have had basic ST training)

About the Presenter
Poul Perris: 

Poul Perris, MD, is the Director of the Swedish Institute for Cognitive Behavior Therapy and Schema Therapy. He is trained in both individual and couples therapy. Poul is a certified in both Individual and Couples Therapy as a Schema Therapist, Supervisor, and Trainer. He has served on the Schema Couples Therapy Committee since 2014.

​Poul is the Founding President of the International Society of Schema Therapy (ISST), and served on the ISST Executive Board from 2008 to 2010. He also served as President of the Swedish Association for Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (SACBT), from 2010 to 2016. Poul has trained therapists nationally and internationally for over 10 years, and is the co-author of "Schematerapi en clinkers handbook & terapiberattelse," currently available in Swedish. 

    Why Schema Therapy?

    Schema therapy has been extensively researched to effectively treat a wide variety of typically treatment resistant conditions, including Borderline Personality Disorder and Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Read our summary of the latest research comparing the dramatic results of schema therapy compared to other standard models of psychotherapy.

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