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Positive Schemas or EASs: Its Identification and Use in Clinical Settings

by David Bernstein & John Louis

Presentation 1: A New, Integrative Model of the Healthy Adult: Theoretical and Empirical Background and New Strengths-Based Tools by David Bernstein


Recently, Bo Bach and I (Bach & Bernstein, 2019) described areas of congruency between Schema Therapy’s model of the Healthy Adult and the DSM-V’s alternative model of personality disorders, which emphasizes a continuum between healthy and unhealthy personality functioning. Building on that work, I recently introduced a new model of the Healthy Adult, which encompasses 16 positive qualities grouped into four broad factors: Self-directedness, Self-regulation, Connectedness, and Transcendence (Bernstein, 2019). For example, the Self-directness factor is the ability to set and pursue one’s own life course. It includes the specific qualities of Identity, Self-reflection, Self-assertion, Self-confidence, and Imagination. The model of the Healthy Adult is based on the idea that the personality is a dynamic, adaptive system that functions to regulate internal states involving affects and impulses (self-regulation or homeostasis) and also maintains equilibrium with the external environment (Block, 2002). The specific qualities (i.e., strengths) that form the four factors were chosen from a review of empirical research on personal strengths and psychological well-being, including the well-known Values in Action Classification of Strengths (Peterson & Seligman, 2004), and various literature reviews and meta-analyses (e.g., Steel, Schmidt, & Shultz, 2008; Strickhouser, Zell, & Krizan, 2017). I have also developed tools that map onto the four-factor model for assessment and treatment purposes: an adjective checklist (BL48), a self-report questionnaire (BIQ), and a set of cards with cartoon-like images of the 16 specific qualities of the Healthy Adult, similar to the widely used Bernstein iModes. I have integrated these strength-based tools into a new system for working with schema modes and strengths, which uses the visual metaphor of a sailboat to depict a person’s life journey (Alberts, 2018). I hope that this presentation will stimulate collaborative research on this new model and integration of Positive Psychology and Schema Therapy.

Presentation 2: Positive Schemas of Early Adaptive Schemas: Identification & Use in Clinical Settings by John Louis


The positive counterpart of Early Maladaptive Schemas (negative schemas) is termed Early Adaptive Schemas (positive schemas), developed during childhood and adolescence when one’s core emotional needs are adequately met by primary caregivers. Since schemas are defined by distinct themes, it is reasonable to assume that positive and negative schemas are separate constructs and that people can hold multiple contradictory beliefs about themselves and the world. Strengthening positive constructs has been shown to be as successful at reducing psychopathology as weakening negatives. This is In line with one of the goals of schema therapy which is to not just reduce the strength of negative schemas, but to also increase the healthy adult mode that is believed to be driven by positive schemas. With the identification of the 14 positive schemas, therapists will be better equipped to understand how best to leverage strengths in a patient working on a particular problem. The understanding of positive schemas’ influence in adaptive functioning will further provide therapists a more holistic overview of a patient. A more balanced focus on both positive and negative schemas will also provide a more affirming tone to a patient which can potentially improve the therapeutic alliance through the process of limited reparenting and lead to better outcomes.

About the Presenters:

David Bernstein

Dr. David Bernstein is a Clinical Psychologist (PhD, New York University, 1990) and Associate Professor of Psychology at Maastricht University in the Netherlands, where he has served as Professor of Forensic Psychotherapy (endowed chair, 2010-2018), and Chair of the Section on Forensic Psychology(2010-2015). He is a former President of the Association for Research on Personality Disorders (2001-2005) and Vice-President of the International Society for the Study of Personality Disorders (2003-2007). He was also Vice-President of the International Society of Schema Therapy(2010-2012) and is an Advanced Level Schema Therapist and Schema Therapy Supervisor. He is the author or coauthor of more than 120publications on psychotherapy, personality disorders, forensic psychology, childhood trauma, and addictions. He is the coauthor of Schema Therapy: Distinctive Features with Eshkol Rafaeli and Jeffrey Young and the DVD series, Schema Therapy: Working with Modes, with Remco van der Wijngaart. He is also the author of the Childhood Trauma Questionnaire, a reliable and valid self-report questionnaire for child abuse and neglect, used worldwide. He is the creator of the iModes, a cartoon-based system for working with schema modes (www.i-Modes.com), and the founder of Safe Path Solutions, a team-based program for adults and youth with personality disorders, aggression, and addiction (www.SafePath-Solutions.com). He was the Principal Investigator on a recently completed randomized clinical trial of Schema Therapy for forensic patients with personality disorders in the Netherlands.

John Louis

Dr. John Louis earned his PhD from the UK in Clinical Psychology where he conducted empirical research on schemas and parenting scales. These findings provided empirical findings for their “Good Enough Parenting” model. He is a registered counsellor and supervisor with the Singapore Association for Counselling (SAC) as well as an Advanced Certified Schema Therapist, Supervisor/ Trainer with the International Society of Schema Therapy (ISST). Schema Therapy links unmet core emotional needs in childhood with relationship problems in adulthood.

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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