Reframing

Reframing involves helping people to reinterpret problems and find solutions by changing the frame in which the problems are being perceived. Reframing literally means to put a new or different frame around some image or experience. Psychologically, to "reframe" something means to transform its meaning by putting it into a different framework or context than it has previously been perceived.

The frame around a picture is a good metaphor for understanding the concept and process of reframing. Depending on what is framed in a picture, we will have different information about the content of the picture, and thus a different perception of what the picture represents. A photographer or painter who is recording a particular landscape, for example, might only "frame" a tree, or choose to include an entire meadow with many trees, animals and perhaps a stream or pond. This determines what an observer of the picture will see of the original scene at a later time. Furthermore, a person who has purchased a particular picture might subsequently decide to change the frame so that it fits more esthetically in a particular room of the house.

Similarly, because they determine what we "see" and perceive with respect to a certain experience or event, psychological frames influence the way we experience and interpret a situation. As an illustration, consider for a moment the following picture.

Small Frame

Now consider what happens if the frame is expanded. Notice how your experience and understanding of the situation being represented is widened to include a new perspective.

Larger Frame

The first picture does not have much "meaning" per se. It is simply of a "fish" of some type. When the frame is widened to produce the second picture, we suddenly see a different situation. The first fish is not simply a "fish," it is a "little fish about to be eaten by a big fish." The little fish seems unaware of the situation; a situation that we can see easily due to our perspective and our "larger frame." We can either feel alarmed and concerned for the little fish, or accept that the big fish must eat in order to survive.

Notice what happens when we "reframe" the situation again by widening our perspective even more.

Even Larger Frame

Now we have another perspective and a new meaning altogether. By changing the frame size, we see that it is not only the little fish who is in danger. The big fish is also about to be eaten by an even bigger fish. In his quest to survive, the big fish has become so focused on eating the little fish that it is oblivious to the fact that its own survival is threatened by the much bigger fish.

The situation depicted here, and the new level of awareness that comes from reframing our perspective of the situation, is a good metaphor for both the process and purpose of psychological reframing. People frequently end up in the situation of the little fish, or of the fish in the middle. They are either unaware of some impending challenge in their larger surroundings like the little fish, or so focused on achieving some outcome, like the fish in the middle, that they do not notice an approaching crisis. The paradox for the fish in the middle is that it has focused its attention so much on one particular behavior related to survival that it has put its survival at risk in another way. Reframing allows us to see the "bigger picture" so that more appropriate choices and actions can be implemented.

In NLP, reframing involves putting a new mental frame around the content of an experience or situation, expanding our perception of the situation so that it may be more wisely and resourcefully handled.

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