Abnormal Psychology: Mental Health and Mental Illness

Disorders of Personality

What is the schema approach?

The schema approach is used here to refer to any theory that sees personality as derived from a set of expectations of self and others that guides cognitive, emotional, and behavioral responses in relevant situations. Depending on the theoretical orientation, such expectations might be termed schemas, representations, or internal working models. Schemas grow out of early childhood experiences and, by adulthood, they are difficult, but not impossible, to change. For example, if a child’s mother is loving, empathic, and emotionally stable, the child will learn that the world is safe, understandable, and benevolent. The child will learn to approach the people he or she encounters in an open and friendly way, which will in turn elicit similarly positive responses. Likewise, if the child is raised in a rejecting, hurtful, and neglectful environment, this will teach the child a suspicious and pessimistic view of the world. Such a negative outlook will guide the child’s behavior, thus eliciting negative and rejecting responses from others, further confirming the child’s pessimistic schemas.

This general model of personality pathology has received empirical support from a huge range of research and has been integral to the development of many types of psychotherapy. However, it does not lend itself well to diagnosis and so has had little impact so far on diagnostic schemes. Moreover, it only accounts for the learned aspects of personality, and not the inborn or biological aspects.


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