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Aoife Durcan

Aoife Durcan

Dr. Aoife Durcan is a Chartered Counselling Psychologist and is a graduate of the Doctorate in Counselling Psychology at the school of psychology, Trinity College Dublin. Aoife has worked in a variety of services including psychiatric hospitals, universities, child and adolescent services, educational settings and primary care centres. She currently works in an Adult Mental Health service providing both individual and group interventions for clients presenting with complex mental health difficulties. Dr Durcan is extremely passionate about schema therapy and has a specific interest in helping adults who have experienced childhood trauma. She is currently undertaking advamce-level individual certification with Dr Susan Simpson. Dr Durcan has extensive experience working with highly sensitive people. She has written an article for the Schema Therapy Bulletin (STB) on working with highly sensitive clients. Dr Durcanalso identifies as a highly sensitive person which gives her huge insight and compassion in working with sensitive people who are experiencing psychological pain. Dr Durcan runs various workshops for sensitive adults and young people in her private practice.

  • Individual Schema Therapy for Highly Sensitive Patients: Building Resilience Through Differential Susceptibility

    Co-Presented with Rachel Samson,

    We will present a comprehensive approach to using Schema Therapy with highly sensitive patients to promote resilience and flourishing. It is estimated that around 30% of the population are highly sensitive. High sensitivity is considered to be a heritable and evolutionarily conserved temperament trait presenting equally in males and females and observed in over 100 species of non-human animals. The scientific term for high sensitivity is sensory processing sensitivity (SPS). Research shows that SPS is a continuous temperament trait with people falling somewhere on the sensitivity continuum between low sensitivity and high sensitivity. High SPS is thought to be a phenotypic marker of a higher susceptibility to environment influence. Highly sensitive people tend to be more aware of information in their environment and process this information on a more complex level than most people, which is believed to affect the way they think, learn, plan, and experience the world. Highly sensitive individuals across species have been found to be more sensitive to their environment.

    Research has shown that in stressful and unsupportive early environments, highly sensitive children may have poorer developmental outcomes and an increased likelihood of experiencing behavioural disturbance and psychological difficulties (e.g., anxiety, depression) in childhood and later life. In contrast, in supportive and highly nurturing early environments, those who are highly sensitive have the capacity to flourish and may have better developmental trajectories than less sensitive individuals (e.g., enhanced emotional wellbeing, greater social competence).

    In addition to addressing maladaptive schemas and modes stemming from unmet needs in childhood, highly sensitive adults can learn to modify both their behaviour and the environment in ways that promote resilience and uncover the “bright side” of differential susceptibility. It has been argued that psychotherapy represents a supportive environment that highly sensitive clients are disproportionately likely to benefit from over and above less sensitive clients.


    The ST model assumes that temperament plays an important role in the acquisition of maladaptive schemas and modes and, consistent with this, updated case conceptualisation forms explicitly invite consideration of temperament in the patient’s presentation. However, in general, it has been argued that too little weight is given to temperament in the context of psychotherapy (Aron 2012). This workshop will demonstrate how schema therapy is uniquely positioned to meet the needs of highly sensitive patients. In this workshop, Schema Therapists will:

    • become familiar with differential susceptible paradigm and how we can leverage client temperament to build resilience;

    • learn how to utilise psychoeducation and temperament counselling to (a) empower patients to understand the physical and emotional needs associated with high sensitivity, and (b) modify the environment in ways that reduce stress and promote resilience;

    • learn how to incorporate the patient’s sensitivity beyond conceptualisation to all aspects of treatment, including cognitive, behavioural, and experiential techniques. Detailed case examples, and video examples of themes, concepts and interventions will be provided. There will be opportunities for discussion and role plays.

    Target audience: Suitable for all levels.

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