Critic mode

Transforming the Critic mode: from self-attack to self-compassion

When I practised as a CBT therapist (before training in schema therapy), one of the things that stumped me was clients who were highly self-critical. I had some success with these clients, but if I’m honest, it always bugged me that I couldn’t help them more. That is one of the many reasons I love schema therapy, because it offers a highly effective set of strategies for helping people be less self-critical and more accepting of and compassionate to themselves.

One reason ST is so good at combatting self-criticism is because of the mode model. This allows us to separate out different aspects of a client’s inner world and then work with them directly. One of the most common modes we call the Critic, which is usually divided into two parts. The Demanding Parent is the part of us that just pushes way too hard – it sends us messages (as self-critical thoughts) that we are not good enough, too lazy, resting on our laurels, not keeping up with our peers… It’s well-intentioned, but the pressure it exerts is way too much – leading us to feel stressed, pressurised, exhausted and eventually burning out.

The other maladaptive parent mode is the Punitive Parent. This may be an introject (internalised messages) from a very harsh, cruel or hurtful parent or other caregiver. Or we may just have started being mean to ourselves, for a whole host of reasons, when we were a child – over time, these hurtful messages coalesced into a well-defined part of us that says things like, ‘You’re fat/stupid/ugly/worthless/unlovable.’ And, unsurprisingly, those message make us feel awful – in schema therapy terms, our Vulnerable Child gets triggered and we feel anxious, panicky, stressed, depressed, self-loathing, lacking in self-worth or even suicidal.

This is clearly much more toxic and harmful than the Demanding Parent, so we may need to take a firmer, more vigorous approach to combatting it. But it’s important to remember that, with any kind of Critic or maladaptive parent mode, we are not looking to fight or get rid of it – we couldn’t even if we tried, because it’s part of our client. Instead, we need to transform it, first helping the person feel sufficiently safe and protected (that Vulnerable Child mode again), before negotiating with and persuading the Critic to be more constructive, encouraging and generally helpful. I often suggest that the Critic becomes more like a teacher, or coach – offering advice and suggestions but in a calm, helpful way, which seems to work really well.

If you would like to know more about how to help your clients with self-criticism or self-attack, come along to one of the upcoming workshops below, or my one-day workshop – Transforming the Critic: Working with Self-Dislike, Punitiveness & Perfectionism.

And if you would like to know more about any of my workshops, call me on 07766 704210 or use the contact form to get in touch.

Warm wishes,


Upcoming Schema Therapy Skills workshops include:


In schema therapy, there is a strong emphasis on using experiential techniques such as imagery rescripting and chair work, which are seen as more effective and transformative than just talking about problems from the client’s past and present. This one-day workshop will teach you how imagery techniques can help rescript even the most traumatic experiences from your client’s childhood, such as incidences of abuse or neglect.

Cost: £180 including refreshments, all training materials and certificate of attendance confirming 6 CPD hours

Next date: 31st May 2019


This one-day course will explain the concept of ‘modes’, which are different aspects of our personality that are activated in different situations and by particular triggers. In addition to a brief overview of the theory of schema therapy and schemas/modes, you will learn how to assess and formulate your clients’ modes, as well as specific techniques such as imagery and chair work for working with key modes.

Cost: £180 including refreshments, all training materials and certificate of attendance confirming 6 CPD hours

Next date: 21st June 2019