Psychology and Psychotherapy: Theory, Research and Practice

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Volume 90 Issue 3 (September 2017), Pages 245-509

Does schema therapy change schemas and symptoms? A systematic review across mental health disorders (pages 456-479)


Schema therapy was first applied to individuals with borderline personality disorder (BPD) over 20 years ago, and more recent work has suggested efficacy across a range of disorders. The present review aimed to systematically synthesize evidence for the efficacy and effectiveness of schema therapy in reducing early maladaptive schema (EMS) and improving symptoms as applied to a range of mental health disorders in adults including BPD, other personality disorders, eating disorders, anxiety disorders, and post‐traumatic stress disorder.


Studies were identified through electronic searches (EMBASE, PsycINFO, MEDLINE from 1990 to January 2016).


The search produced 835 titles, of which 12 studies were found to meet inclusion criteria. A significant number of studies of schema therapy treatment were excluded as they failed to include a measure of schema change. The Clinical Trial Assessment Measure was used to rate the methodological quality of studies. Schema change and disorder‐specific symptom change was found in 11 of the 12 studies.


Schema therapy has demonstrated initial significant results in terms of reducing EMS and improving symptoms for personality disorders, but formal mediation analytical studies are lacking and rigorous evidence for other mental health disorders is currently sparse.

Practitioner points

  • First review to investigate whether schema therapy leads to reduced maladaptive schemas and symptoms across mental health disorders.
  • Limited evidence for schema change with schema therapy in borderline personality disorder (BPD), with only three studies conducting correlational analyses.
  • Evidence for schema and symptom change in other mental health disorders is sparse, and so use of schema therapy for disorders other than BPD should be based on service user/patient preference and clinical expertise and/or that the theoretical underpinnings of schema therapy justify the use of it therapeutically.
  • Further work is needed to develop the evidence base for schema therapy for other disorders.

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