Tag Archives: schema

Introducing the cognitive model

Excuse the voice – I had a headcold when I made this. Hopefully it’s still clear enough.

This video outlines the basic idea behind the cognitive model and why, far from being beyond our control, human emotions, behaviours, situations and thoughts are entirely ours to manage and to master.

Beginning with the basic quadrangle of thoughts, feelings, physiology and behaviour we use different examples of situations that people find themselves in to demonstrate how making a change in any one of these four areas of experience can affect all the rest. Then we look at the role of core beliefs, conditional assumptions and the activating events for emotional and cognitive crises that don’t always make a great deal of sense either to us or to those around us.

By following the structure laid out in the cognitive model (the basis of CBT) we can understand precisely how people come to have the negative thoughts they have, what beliefs underpin their emotional distress and begin to see (often with surprising ease) just what to do about it.

That has to be worth 15 minutes of your time!

If you’d like to arrange training for your staff please fill in the form here…

Course design 11: Planning

So far we’ve considered a few of the elements that need to be considered when putting together a training course. But that’s all we’ve done.

It’s one thing to understand that we need to identify the ‘jigsaw pieces’ and the themes that will bind them together but it’s another thing to know how best to do it.

It’s one thing to know that we need to incorporate a range of exercises, case studies and anecdotes alongside ‘information giving’ but it’s another to know how best to do it.

It’s one thing to know that people have different ‘modalities’ to take into account but it’s another to know how best to do it.

There are many ways to plan a course and every trainer is different so if you have your own system that works for you then please continue to use it. The system I’m about to outline is the one that works for me but realistically, so long as you have a method that works for you it doesn’t really matter what system you use. But this is how I do it.

First I do a little research to update myself. My field is so fast moving that even subjects that I was absolutely up to date with 6 months ago may well need updating today. So I check for recent developments that I might need to incorporate.

This can be anything from recent research to new theories – even political debates around service provision may need to be included (depending upon the client and the trainees).

Then I define the points that I need to make. I do this in one of two ways:

  1. Mind map the whole topic;
  2. Write everything that may be necessary to include on a separate index card with references as necessary.

Then I arrange that information into a logical sequence (this is the beauty of index cards – they’re easy to shuffle around.

Once I’ve done that I check my original notes to ensure that I’m still on track with the client’s requirements.

Is this still the content they were looking for?

Is it at the right level of complexity?

Is everything relevant?

Once I’m satisfied that I’ve got the right content in the right order I make a quick note of the order in which to present the information logically.

Finally I rearrange the index cards into themes which can be used to give the course structure and consistency. Don’t underestimate the importance of this stage. These themes are vital to the success of the training that you will deliver.

In the end I will have a list of subtopics (and handouts) in the order that I intend to present them and a note alongside each that serves to remind me of the themes that each relates to. This is exactly the sort of list we identified in part 8 when we discussed training on deliberate self-harm:

“The themes I’d use for this particular jigsaw are….

  1. Deliberate self harm is a coping strategy.
  2. We’re all the same.
  3. Care workers are not the focus of people’s problems – it’s not about us.

The ‘jigsaw pieces’ most commonly included in a one day self harm awareness day are:

  • Self harm is not about us (theme 3);
  • Self harm isn’t suicide – but people who harm themselves are at higher risk of suicide (theme 3);
  • Self harm is about coping (theme 1);
  • Most self harm is done in private and kept secret (theme 3);
  • When coping fails people behave in more and more extreme ways (theme 2);
  • We all use particular coping strategies to feel better when distressed (theme 2);
  • The most effective coping strategies change brain/body chemistry (endorphins) (themes 1, 2 & 3);
  • Deliberate self harm stimulates endorphins (themes 1 & 3);
  • People generally use the best coping strategies they know (theme 2);
  • Our job is to enhance coping strategies – not to remove the only effective coping strategy a person has. (themes 1 & 3);
  • Developing alternative coping strategies (themes 1,2 and 3);
  • Looking after ourselves (theme 2).

The jigsaw pieces follow a logical pattern and the use of themes allows participants to see how it all hang together. This is important if the participants are to create a ‘schema’ which will be the focus of tomorrow’s instalment.

This list and the thematic notes alongside it form the backbone of the finished course. In the next instalment we’ll consider some of the tips and tricks that help us to make sense of the many strands that will need to be pulled together to construct a really effective training session.


Course design 9: Schema (build on what they know)

According to Wikipedia a schema can be described as…

  • An organized pattern of thought or behavior.
  • A structured cluster of pre-conceived ideas.
  • A mental structure that represents some aspect of the world.
  • A specific knowledge structure or cognitive representation of the self.
  • A mental framework centering on a specific theme that helps us to organize social information.
  • Structures that organize our knowledge and assumptions about something and are used for interpreting and processing information.


This is one of the reasons for the importance of themes and the sequential structure of topics that are introduced in a logical order throughout the training day. It helps participants to maintain a cohesive schema. But there’s more to it than that.

All of your training ‘victims’ will have their own schemata (worldviews) already. They bring them into training with them and good training acknowledges that.

If the materials you present appear to conflict with their pre-established worldview then you will have great difficulty in maintaining their interest, their engagement and your own credibility. So it’s important to start the ‘journey’ they will take through the training with what they already understand. To put it another way…

Meet them where they are

In the previous instalment I used the example of a deliberate self harm course for a reason. It’s because it provides us with an excellent illustration of how to use participants’ pre-existing schemata to gain engagement and then lead them on to new discoveries and more sophisticated understanding. Let me explain….

Many people believe that deliberate self harm is all about us. They think (because for years care professionals have told them) that deliberate self harm is all about attention seeking and manipulation. The reality is that this is not true but to begin with this blunt statement would meet signficant resistance that the trainer may never really overcome.

So before we can lead people to this realisation we need to do two things…

First we need to give the participants a reason to change their minds – they must make their own decision. As Rudyard Kipling once wrote

“A man convinced against his will

Is of the same opinion still”

Secondly we need to ‘soften the blow’ by incorporating as much of their pre-existing knowledge into the new belief system as we possibly can.

In deliberate self harm training I usually do this by exploring coping in general and by asking the group about their own coping skills. Once we have developed a long enough list of coping skills we highlight the ones that induce chemical changes in the central nervous system. At this point we have not directly mentioned self harm, just general coping skills.

In this way we tap into the participants’ existing schema about coping and then added a small piece of information (that doesn’t contradict their original view) which is that they are manipulating brain chemistry to feel better.

Only once they have clearly understood the chemical aspect of coping skills such as exercise, alcohol and substance use, arguing, making love, relaxing/meditating, comfort-eating etc do we make the point that physical trauma also stimulates endorphins in the central nervous system in exactly the same way.

We have begun with what they already understand about their own coping, added a piece of information that is non-threatening and then introduced the same information to demonstrate that deliberate self harm is just another version of what we all do.

This is working with the participants’ schemata. It also remains consistent with the general themes of the training…

  • Deliberate self harm is a coping strategy.
  • We’re all the same.
  • Care workers are not the focus of people’s problems – it’s not about us.

By taking the time to work with peoples’ schemata we can introduce some quite sophisticated concepts over the course of a day without difficulty. It isn’t uncommon for participants to report a completely changed point of view by the end of the day without having to overcome any significant resistance during the training. This lack of resistance is a sign that attention has been given to step by step development of their existing schemata rather than trying to go straight into what may be contentious, unfamiliar or otherwise uncomfortable for them.