Reframing is a technique used by counselors to shift a client’s view of a particular problem, event, or person. It is based on the assumption that when clients are able to view a situation from another perspective, opportunities for finding alternative, acceptable solutions to their problems increase. The effectiveness of reframes in therapy is documented in both clinical outcomes and empirical research.
A reframe differs from an interpretation in that interpretations are associated with a basis in reality or truth. In a reframe, the therapist attempts to shift how a client views a problem as a method for moving toward change rather than replacing a faulty belief with a different, but accurate, view. The therapist’s utilizing a reframe helps the client move from a linear view of a problem to a systemic and circular view. It provides a context for clients and therapists to work together toward promoting change.
Using Reframes in Counseling
There are two core elements to the successful application of reframes in psychotherapy. Because people often associate bad intentions with inappropriate behavior, reframing that changes the manner in which a problem is perceived can change a person’s attributions and meaning of the behavior. Presenting the problem in a positive context (for example, the behavior helps the couple bond) rather than a negative one (the behavior is an indication of a lack of trust) is the first element in reframing. This is known as a positive connotation.
A second core element in reframing is moving from an individual to a systemic framework. Often when couples or families come to counseling, one person is viewed as the individual with the problem. This individual has already been targeted by the family as the one who needs to change; however, unless all family members (including the individual’s partner) can view the problem from a systemic stance where members acknowledge their contributions to the maintenance of the problem, therapy will not be effective.
Movement from an individual to a systemic framework is accomplished through systemic and/or bilateral reframes. Systemic reframes are those where one statement captures the dynamics of both partners in the relationship and is positive. For example, a systemic reframe for a couple who constantly argue might be to remark how much passion and care is evident between the members of the couple, as most couples who do not care about each other do not fight. Bilateral reframes are two or more statements that reframe each individual’s behavior. Both statements are commonly, but not necessarily, used in combination with a paradoxical intervention. An example of this is when a therapist congratulates one partner for resisting the other partner’s attempts to move toward a more intimate relationship, as intimacy can be frightening. The other partner also is congratulated, then, for supporting his or her partner’s attempts to avoid intimacy.
Reframing appears to be a simple technique, but is actually quite difficult to implement properly. Therapists should give attention to differentiating between an interpretation (a supposed statement of truth) and a reframe. Supervision should be sought when the therapist is in doubt.
- Weeks, G. R., & Treat, S. R. (2001). Couples in treatment (2nd ed.). Philadelphia: Brunner-Routledge.