As well as identifying schemas, the therapy also looks at operational ‘personas’ or parts of the self. These parts of self are called ‘modes’. People can ‘flip’ in and out of these modes or may be in a default mode for most of the time.
There are core ‘child’ modes; learned ‘parent’ modes; and various non-helpful ‘coping’ modes which can also be grouped into three types:
(1) avoidant or protecting modes,
(2) over-compensatory modes and
(3) a general surrendering mode, called the ‘compliant surrenderer’.
There is also the ‘healthy adult’ mode – which therapy aims to strengthen and promote. Modes are considered to be moment-to-moment cognitive-emotional states (or personas) which a person can ‘live in’ and ‘operate from’.
Each mode may have a specific behavioural response or set of responses when triggered and each mode will have a particular function or purpose. As observers, we experience people as being in a mode or having a dominate mode. Having an appreciation for modes, is a useful way to understand how and why a person might be behaving and to understand your own behaviours. Your therapist can give you a list of modes and may ask you to complete a questionnaire which measures your modes (the schema mode inventory or SMI). When you complete any schema questionnaire, for best results, it is always important to complete it from an emotional place. Don’t try to intellectualise the questions – just give your ‘gut’ responses. This way, the results may actually be useful and you and your therapist will have a fairly reliable chart summary to discuss. Questionnaires are only one aspect of the therapy. They are never used to understand all of you, only to measure certain aspects of you. You should always tell your therapist if you think the results don’t make sense, so you can work it out together.
We all have modes or ‘parts of self’. The overall aim of schema therapy is to strengthen the healthy adult mode; nurture and heal the wounded or vulnerable child modes; eliminate or weaken the dysfunctional parent modes (like the inner critic) and modify or let go of unhealthy coping modes which get in the way of treatment success and healing.