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What is Reframing?

By Page Coleman
Updated May 17, 2024
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Reframing is a communication technique used in psychotherapy, life coaching, and neurolinguistic programming (NLP). The therapist encourages a client to look at a behavior or situation from a new perspective. When reframing is done effectively, it can induce rapid change in the client’s outlook.

The technique originated through work done by Virginia Satir, an American psychotherapist, as she developed her family system therapy. Her efforts introduced the technique into the field of psychotherapy. NLP developers Richard Bandler and John Grindler derived some of their NLP concepts from Satir’s work.

An underlying assumption of reframing is that every behavior and perspective makes sense to an individual given her particular frame of reference or internal context. Successful practice changes that context. Reframing behaviors can be most difficult when the client’s context is primarily emotion and thought-based.

A therapist or coach will help a client reframe a behavior or situation either by reframing the context or reframing the meaning or content. When reframing the context, the undesirable behavior is unchanged, but the context of the behavior changes. For example, a client complains she is very forgetful yet she does remember a time when a friend snubbed her. A therapist may suggest that forgetfulness can be useful in letting the client forget the snub. The behavior of forgetfulness has not changed, but the client may see that it can have value.

When reframing meaning or content, the situation remains the same but the meaning given to the situation changes. A teenage client may resent a curfew her parents imposed, and she may believe her parents are trying to ruin her social life. After working with a therapist and rethinking the situation, the teenager realizes that her parents may be imposing a curfew because they love her and are worried for her safety.

To work most effectively, the therapist or coach should have established some level of rapport with the client. As a provocative therapy, the therapist may argue a position opposite of the client’s to help the client consider a new perspective. If the client does not trust her therapist or coach, she may feel threatened by these techniques.

People who understand how to use this technique may wish to use it on themselves to view situations more positively. Being stuck in a traffic jam often causes stress, yet it could be reframed as an opportunity to relax and practice deep breathing techniques. A job loss can be devastating, but it can also be an opportunity to explore other careers, obtain additional education, or start a new business.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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