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Schema in older adults: does the schema mode model apply?

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  31 October 2019

Katelyn Phillips
Discipline of Clinical Psychology, Graduate School of Health, University of Technology Sydney, Ultimo, NSW, Australia and Centre for Developmental Psychiatry and Psychology, Department of Psychiatry, School of Clinical Sciences at Monash Health, Monash University, Clayton, Victoria, Australia
Robert Brockman
Institute for Positive Psychology and Education, Australian Catholic University, Strathfield, NSW, Australia
Phoebe E. Bailey
School of Social Sciences and Psychology, Western Sydney University, Penrith, NSW, Australia
Ian I. Kneebone*
Discipline of Clinical Psychology, Graduate School of Health, University of Technology Sydney, Ultimo, NSW, Australia
*Corresponding author. Email:



The relevance of schema theory to psychopathology, in particular personality disorder, in younger adults is established. Investigations into the relevance of schema theory to older adults, however, is highly limited.


To consider the relationship of schema modes to psychopathology in older adults and establish whether maladaptive schema modes are associated with unmet needs and that this relationship is mediated by the healthy adult mode of responding in this population.


One hundred and four older adults were recruited from an established database. Participants completed questionnaires assessing psychopathology, schema modes (YAMI: Young-Atkinson Mode Inventory) and basic psychological needs (BPNS: Basic Psychological Needs Scale – autonomy, competence and relatedness). Ninety-four responses were included after applying exclusion criteria.


The healthy adult schema mode was found to be associated with reduced psychopathology, and maladaptive child modes (angry and vulnerable child) to increased psychopathology. The healthy adult schema mode mediated the relationship between maladaptive child modes and needs satisfaction.


As predicted by schema theory, the presence of one of the maladaptive child modes makes it difficult for an older individual to have their needs met, but the presence of healthy adult mode works to support this process.

© British Association for Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapies 2019

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