Maladaptive Daydreaming: When Fantasy Becomes Problematic

Schema Therapy

Daydreaming is a common and often harmless activity that most people engage in regularly. However, for some individuals, daydreaming can become excessive and interfere with daily life – a condition known as maladaptive daydreaming (MD).

What is Maladaptive Daydreaming?

Maladaptive daydreaming is characterized by:

– Extensive, vivid, and immersive fantasy activity

– Interference with academic, interpersonal, or vocational functioning 

– Consuming hours of time each day

– Often triggered by music and repetitive movement

– Providing comfort/escape but also causing distress

Unlike normal daydreaming, MD involves extremely detailed and engrossing fantasies that can pull people away from reality for extended periods. While the daydreams themselves may feel pleasurable, the addiction-like nature of MD and its negative impacts on daily life cause significant distress for sufferers.

How MD Differs from Other Mental Phenomena

Researchers have worked to distinguish MD from related concepts like:

– Normal daydreaming – MD is more extensive, vivid, and disruptive

– Mind wandering – MD involves purposeful, complex fantasies rather than unfocused thoughts

Dissociative absorption – MD is voluntary, while dissociation is involuntary 

– Fantasy proneness – MD causes distress/dysfunction, fantasy proneness does not

– Attention disorders – MD involves absorption in fantasy rather than general inattention

While MD shares some features with these phenomena, it has emerged as a distinct condition with its own unique characteristics and impacts.

Origins and Comorbidities

MD often begins in childhood, sometimes as a coping mechanism for loneliness or trauma. It frequently co-occurs with conditions like ADHD, anxiety, depression, and OCD.

The vivid fantasies provide an escape but can become psychologically addictive. Sufferers may struggle to control the urge to daydream despite negative consequences.

Schema Therapy for Maladaptive Daydreaming

Schema therapy, an integrative approach developed by Dr. Jeffrey Young, may be particularly beneficial for individuals struggling with maladaptive daydreaming (MD). This therapy focuses on identifying and changing deep-rooted patterns of thinking and behavior, known as schemas, which often develop in childhood.

How Schema Therapy Can Help:

  1. Identifying Core Schemas: MD often serves as a coping mechanism for underlying emotional needs or traumas. Schema therapy can help uncover these core issues, such as feelings of abandonment, defectiveness, or social isolation, which may be driving the need to escape into fantasy.
  2. Mode Work: Schema therapy identifies different “modes” or states of mind. For MD sufferers, the daydreaming state could be conceptualized as a “detached protector” mode, shielding them from painful emotions. Therapy can help individuals recognize when they’re in this mode and develop healthier ways of coping.
  3. Limited Reparenting: This technique involves the therapist providing a nurturing, supportive relationship that may have been lacking in childhood. This can help meet emotional needs in reality rather than through fantasy.
  4. Imagery Rescripting: This powerful technique involves revisiting distressing childhood memories and imaginatively changing the outcome. For MD sufferers, this could help process past traumas that may be fueling the need to daydream.
  5. Chair Work: This technique involves dialoguing with different parts of oneself. It could be used to negotiate between the part that wants to daydream and the part that wants to engage with reality.
  6. Building a “Healthy Adult” Mode: Schema therapy aims to strengthen the individual’s ability to self-soothe and meet their own emotional needs. This can reduce reliance on maladaptive daydreaming as a coping mechanism.

By addressing the root causes of MD and providing new tools for emotional regulation, schema therapy offers a promising approach for those seeking to regain control over their daydreaming habits. As with any therapeutic approach, it’s important to work with a qualified professional who can tailor the treatment to individual needs.

About the writer:

Grace Higa LCSW is a psychotherapist and private practice owner of Balanced Mind. She specializes in Schema Therapy that addresses the underlying causes of maladaptive daydreaming.  Schedule an appointment with her here.

Schema Therapy at Balanced Mind of New York Can Help

At Balanced Mind of New York, we are committed to providing a comprehensive and personalized approach to mental health and well-being. Our experienced and highly trained therapists specialize in a range of therapeutic modalities, including Schema Therapy, to address the unique needs of each individual seeking support. With a deep understanding of the intricacies of Schema Therapy, our counselors will guide you through the exploration of core beliefs and early maladaptive schemas that may be contributing to your emotional challenges. Through collaborative and empathetic sessions, we will work towards identifying and restructuring these schemas, fostering lasting emotional healing.

Our commitment extends beyond traditional therapeutic approaches. We integrate Schema Therapy with other evidence-based methods to ensure a holistic and effective treatment plan. If you are seeking a profound and transformative therapeutic experience tailored to your specific needs, contact Balanced Mind of New York to gain support you on your journey towards emotional well-being and personal growth.


Somer, E. (2002). Maladaptive daydreaming: A qualitative inquiry. Journal of Contemporary Psychotherapy32, 197-212.

Somer, E., Soffer-Dudek, N., & Ross, C. A. (2017). The comorbidity of daydreaming disorder (maladaptive daydreaming). The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease205(7), 525-530.

Young, J. E., Klosko, J. S., & Weishaar, M. E. (2006). Schema therapy: A practitioner’s guide. guilford press.


Balanced Mind of New York

Balanced Mind is a psychotherapy and counseling center offering online therapy throughout New York. We specialize in Schema Therapy and EMDR Therapy. We work with insurance to provide our clients with both quality and accessible care.

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