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Summary

Background  The role of ingrained cognitive and emotional patterns (schemas) in patients with psoriasis and eczema has not previously been investigated. High levels of psychiatric morbidity and psychological distress observed in these populations suggest the presence of maladaptive schemas and therefore a possible target for future successful psychological intervention.

Objectives  To investigate the presence of early maladaptive schemas (EMS) in patients with psoriasis and eczema and to explore their links with psychological distress.

Methods  A sample of 185 adults (psoriasis = 55, atopic eczema = 54, chronic disease control = 23, normal control = 53) completed validated, self-administered questionnaires.

Results  Differences were found between dermatology patients and control groups. Patients with psoriasis differed on seven EMS from the normal control group: emotional deprivation (= 0·011), social isolation (< 0·001), defectiveness (< 0·001), failure (< 0·001), vulnerability to harm (< 0·001), subjugation (= 0·009) and emotional inhibition (= 0·002). They differed from the chronic disease group on vulnerability to harm (= 0·002) only. Patients with eczema differed from the normal control group on eight EMS: emotional deprivation (< 0·001), social isolation (< 0·001), defectiveness (< 0·001), failure (< 0·001), dependence (= 0·010), vulnerability to harm (= 0·002), subjugation (= 0·006) and insufficient self-control (= 0·010). EMS were strongly positively related to psychological distress experienced by dermatology patients. Hierarchical regressions demonstrated two schemas, vulnerability to harm (< 0·001) and defectiveness (= 0·029), to be predictive of anxiety, and social isolation (= 0·012) and vulnerability to harm (= 0·018) to be predictive of depression, irrespective of age and years of coping for dermatology patients.

Conclusions  The findings have important theoretical and clinical implications for psychological management of patients with psoriasis and eczema. Treatment protocols may benefit by targeting schemas. Further studies are needed to investigate the benefits of schema-focused therapy in patients with skin disease.