Context Reframing

Context reframing has to do with the fact that a particular experience, behavior or event will have different implications and consequences depending on the context in which it occurs. Rain, for example, will be perceived as an extremely positive event to a group of people who have been suffering from a severe drought, but as a negative event for a group of people who are in the midst of a flood, or who have planned an outdoor wedding. The rain itself is neither "good" nor "bad." The judgment related to it has to do with the consequence it produces within a particular context.

According to Leslie Cameron-Bandler (1978, p. 131) contextual reframing in NLP "accepts all behaviors as useful in some context." The purpose of contextual reframing is to change a person's negative internal response to a particular behavior by realizing the usefulness of the behavior in some contexts. This allows us to see the behavior as simply "a behavior" (like the rain) and shift our attention to addressing the issues related to the larger context (i.e., instead of cursing the rain when we are flooded, we learn to focus on creating more effective drainage systems).

As an example, let's say a mother is distraught because her teenage son is constantly getting into fights at school. A context reframe would involve saying something like, "Isn't it nice to know that your son could protect his little sister if anyone bothered her on the way home from school?" This can help her to shift her perception of her son's behavior and view it in a broader perspective. Rather than being outraged and ashamed, the mother may be able to appreciate her son's behavior as useful in a particular context, and thus respond in a more constructive way.

Negative responses often serve to maintain and even escalate problematic behaviors, rather than extinguish them. Blame frequently produces a type of "polarity response"

which actually serves to stimulate rather than inhibit the unwanted behavior. When the mother in the previous example is able to see the positive benefits of her son's behavior in a single context, it can help her to get a better Mmeta position" to that behavior, and thus begin to communicate more usefully with her son about his behavior and the context in which it is occurring.

Having his own behavior validated as useful in a particular context, rather than being attacked and criticized, also allows the son to view his own behavior from a different perspective, rather than constantly being on the defensive. As a next step, the mother and son could work to establish the positive intent and benefits related to the son's behavior at school and explore more appropriate substitutes.

Changing the frame size from which one is perceiving some event is clearly one way to perceive it within a different context.

Content Reframing

Instead of shifting contexts, content reframing involves altering our perspective or level of perception with respect to a particular behavior or situation. Consider an empty field of grass, for instance. To a farmer, the field is an opportunity to plant new crops; to an architect, the field is a space on which to build a dream home; to a young couple, the field is a wonderful location for a picnic; to the pilot of a small airplane that is running out of gas, it is a place to safely land; and so on. The same content (the "field") is perceived differently according to the perspective and "intent" of the viewer. This is clearly the mechanism underlying the Sleight of Mouth pattern of shifting to another outcome.

Using the analogy of a physical picture, for instance, one way to view a painting or photograph differently is to "reframe" it by considering the intent of the artist or photographer in creating the picture. What response did the artist or photographer intend to elicit in the observer? What emotion was the artist or photographer intending to convey? Considering something within the framework of its intention alters our perception of it.

Similarly, "content reframing" in NLP involves exploring the intention behind a person's external behavior. This is most commonly accomplished in NLP by finding the "positive intention," "positive purpose," or "meta outcome" related to a particular symptom or problematic behavior. One of the basic principles of NLP is that it is useful to separate one's "behavior" from one's "self." That is, it is important to separate the positive intent, function, belief, etc., that generates a behavior, from the behavior itself. According to this principle it is more respectful, ecological and productive to respond to the 'deep structure' than to the surface expression of a problematic behavior. Perceiving a symptom or problematic behavior in the larger framework of the positive purpose it is intended to satisfy, shifts the internal responses to that behavior, opening the door to addressing it in a more resourceful and creative manner.

As an example, an NLP practitioner was counseling the family of a teenage boy who complained that his father always objected to any future plans that the young man proposed. The practitioner said to the youth, "Isn't it nice to have a father who is trying to protect you from being hurt or disappointed in any way? I'll bet you don't know very many fathers who care that much about their children." This comment took the young man by surprise, as he had never considered that there might be some positive purpose behind his father's criticism. He had only thought of it as an attack against him. The practitioner went on to explain the difference between being a 'dreamer', 'realist', and 'critic', and the importance that each role played in effective planning. He pointed out that the function of an effective critic is to find out what might be missing from a particular idea or plan in order to avoid problems, and that the teen's father was clearly in the position of the "critic" to his son's dreams. He also explained the problems that can occur between a dreamer and a critic in the absence of a realist.

The NLP practitioner's comments were enough to shift the teenager's internal response to his father's objections from one of anger, to one that included sincere appreciation. This new framing of the father's behavior also allowed the youth to consider his father as a potential resource for helping him learn how to plan his future, rather than as a liability or roadblock. The validation of the father's intent also allowed the father to shift his perception of his own role (and thus his method of participation) in his son's life. The father realized he could take on the role of a realist, or coach, as well as that of a critic.

Thus, content reframing involves determining a possible positive intention that could underlie a problematic behavior. There are two aspects to the intent. The first is the positive internal motivation behind the behavior (e.g., the desire for safety, love, caring, respect, etc.). The second is the positive benefit that behavior could serve with respect to the larger system or context in which it is occurring (e.g., protection, shilling attention, getting acknowledgment, etc.).

One of the primary applications of content refraining in NLP is Six-Step Re framing. In this process, a problematic behavior is separated from the positive intention of the internal program or "part" that is responsible for the behavior. New choices of behavior are established by having the part responsible for the old behavior take responsibility for implementing alternative behaviors that satisfy the same positive intention but don't have the problematic by-products.

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