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What is Schema Assessment?

Updated: Aug 29, 2023

In psychology, schemas are the mental organisation of knowledge as stored in our memory. They act as heuristics to process and retrieve information that is personally relevant to our experiences.

A schema assessment is an empirical tool used to better understand the developmental origin of a person coping responses to stressful situations. It consists of 2-3 sub assessments that provide insights into the specific emotional needs and the various ways that the individual regulates the attainment of that needs based on their developmental history. The assessment is a core component of schema therapy which is an integrative form of therapy initially designed to treat personality disorders. However, its modern use has been successfully extended beyond personality disorders and its latest adoption is in the field of business and performance.

The main utility of the assessment is in its ability to provide in-depth awareness of behavioural motives and maladaptive emotion regulation strategies. These factors are commonly associated with rigid beliefs, defences and counter-productive behaviours. This makes it an effective tool that can be used in a variety of contexts (e.g., workplaces) associated with self-awareness and emotions. Naturally, this makes it fit for the purpose to improve mental health and wellbeing. This is particularly true for individuals with extreme scores on the assessment. Less extreme scores are more representative of the general population which may reflect the absence of any mental disorders but the presence of dysfunction in a specific area.

For example, one of the dimensions of the assessment is known as “demanding parent”. This is a tendency toward unrealistic expectations towards the self and others. Its origin usually relates to the internalization of rigid standards from influential figures in our environment at a key development phase in our life. Individuals with this mode of feeling and behaving may find it difficult to relax, may constantly feel under pressure and are afraid of making mistakes. The unaware leader or manager may create a judgemental and unsafe psychological work environment which can contribute to counterproductive work behaviours. The unaware athlete may feel inferior to his teammates for making acceptable errors during games and training which can lead to a loss of self-esteem and underperformance.

Schema assessment is for those looking to look “below the surface” of personality. While regular personality assessments describe what a person will usually do. Understanding a persons underlying schemas explains why they do what they usually do. It looks beyond the observable. Similarly, while it is related to assessments of emotional intelligence (EI) and regulation, it goes beyond. Popular tools for emotional intelligence and assessments aim to understand how a person regularly manages emotions. In addition to this, schemas provide the underlying motive behind their specific method of regulation which may not always be at the forefront of their awareness.

Considering the in-depth analysis of this assessment. It is more time consuming compared to popular forms of assessments such as personality and intelligence. Results must be delivered with a trained practitioner to improve the comprehensibility and manage any potential triggers. For this reason, its applicability should be reserved for development and performance only. Beyond its utility with the clinical population, our experience applying it to athletes has been very successful. It is also highly recommended for coaches and leadership development due to their role in shaping teams and the work environment.

Contact us to learn how we can integrate schema assessments as part of your development or performance enhancement initiatives.


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