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Rachel Samson

Rachel Samson

Rachel is a clinical psychologist with over a decade of clinical experience working with highly sensitive adults and children using schema therapy. Rachel has International Certification in Individual and Child-Adolescent Schema Therapy (advanced-level, trainer-supervisor) and is a full member of the International Society of Schema Therapy (ISST). Rachel collaborated with Dr. Jeffrey Young and Dr. George Lockwood on the development of an expanded Schema Therapy model for highly sensitive and emotionally reactive individuals which was presented at the ISST international conference in Amsterdam in 2018. She co-authored ‘Understanding and meeting core emotional needs’ in Creative Methods of Schema Therapy, G. Heath & H. Startup (eds.), Routledge (2020). Rachel was awarded both First Class Honours in psychology and a Masters in Clinical Psychology by the University of South Australia. She was twice awarded the Australian Psychological Society Prize which recognises excellence in psychology. Rachel has delivered invited seminars and workshops, published research, coauthored book chapters, and presented at national and international conferences, including in Turkey, Austria, and the Netherlands, on the topics of parent-child attachment, the trait of high sensitivity and differential susceptibility, and Schema Therapy

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

    Co-Presented with Aoife Durcan,

    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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