Early maladaptive schemas and depression in adulthood

Early maladaptive schemas and depression in adulthood

A systematic review and meta-analysis. Clinical Psychology & Psychotherapy, in press.

Bishop, A., Younan, R., Low, J., & Pilkington, P.D. (2021).



Improved understanding of the specific cognitive risk factors associated with depression is needed to inform prevention and treatment approaches. Recent research has examined the relationship between Early Maladaptive Schemas (EMS) and depression, but the findings were yet to be integrated using meta-analytic methods. The aim of this review was to synthesize the evidence on the relationship between depression and EMS.


A systematic review and meta-analysis was conducted in accordance with the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses (PRISMA) statement, by searching the PsycINFO, PubMed, and CINAHL databases. Included studies were peer-reviewed journal articles that examined the relationship between one or more EMS and depression in adulthood in participants aged 18 years or older.


A total of 51 studies were included (k = 743; Pooled N = 17,830). All 18 EMS were positively correlated with depression, with effect sizes ranging from small (r = .23 [.17, .29]; Entitlement) to large (r =.53 [.46, .60]; Social Isolation; r = .50, 95% CI [.45, .54]; Defectiveness/Shame).


The evidence suggests that individuals who feel like they do not belong, or that they are flawed, bad, or unlovable, report higher levels of depression. However, most studies used cross-sectional designs and further longitudinal research is needed to establish the direction of the relationship between EMS and depression. These findings can guide preventative and treatment approaches. Focusing treatment on the Social Isolation and Defectiveness/Shame EMS may aid in relieving depressive symptoms.