A man gives a woman a wonderful looking engagement ring.
“Gosh, that’s beautiful!” she says. “Is that a real diamond?”
And he says, “Well, if it’s not, I’ve just been conned out of three dollars!”
We see things one way – then along comes something (like a punch line) that completely reframes our perspective.
A determining factor in your clients’ happiness is not just what happens to them but how they ‘frame’ their reality. All effective therapy (and humour!) involves re-framing; because events and situations are only ‘good’ or ‘bad’ if we see them that way.
We all know people who make the best of the worst and the worst of the best. And strong emotion skews how we frame reality.
If we’re angry, we frame events through the lens of rage; when in love, we frame everything as ‘wonderful’; and when we’re depressed, then neutral or good events will be interpreted negatively.
People come to therapy because they want to feel and think in new ways that help them live happier and healthier lives.
The 3 things I always do when reframing
1) I don’t argue
Delivering reframes isn’t about ‘putting them right’. Direct advice giving seldom works because people need to feel:
- not bamboozled – even with the best of intentions.
It is much more effective to present reframes as innocent questions, observations, misunderstandings or even truisms.
Yes, I see a lot of clients for vomiting phobia
is an undeniable truism – but also subtly reframes the vomit phobic’s conviction that they are ‘the only one’ who feels like this.
2) I remember that reframes are more than just ‘cognitive’
You might be forgiven for thinking that a ‘cognitive reframe’ only works on the level of thinking. But it’s actually easier, by far, to change our feelings in order to change our thoughts than the other way round (as an aside, this is why I use hypnosis with my clients and train our therapists to as well).
A reframe needs to be felt. It needs to have an emotional impact beyond its appeal to the ‘thinking mind’. This is because the new frame needs to be more emotionally compelling than the old one if it is to be accepted. We do need to calm our clients, of course, but we also need to know how to sometimes raise their emotional pitch in order to embed a new more productive way of seeing.
By discovering what’s important to your client, you will find out what raises their ’emotional temperature’ and you can utilize what motivates them to help them view things differently.
For example, a businessman and landlord who needed to stop cigarettes choking the life out of him was given the following analogy:
Imagine a tenant whom you had to pay to live in your house. Imagine that you paid them to be there while they soiled your furniture, wrecked your carpets, damaged the walls and roof… Would you call that a good deal for you?
After this reframe the man said he just couldn’t continue smoking. This reframe worked for him because of the nature of his own business, and as a businessman the importance to him of ‘good deals’. He could no longer think of smoking in any other terms than ‘a terrible deal’ for him.
3) I open the ‘attention gates’ before I deliver a reframe
I shouldn’t really be doing this, but I’m about to tell you something very few people have ever heard before…
Ok, that’s a bit over the top – but hopefully I’ve made my point and got your attention!
Because we need to ensure that our client is in the right state of mind to be receptive to a new, more therapeutic take on things.
We need to know not only how to construct a reframe but also how to open our client’s ‘attention gates’ so that they can become receptive enough to actually take in and absorb the reframes we offer them. No matter how elegant your reframe, if the client blocks it out, it will be useless.
This is why all psychotherapists need to understand how people can become ‘hypnotically receptive’ in so many other ways than just through being formally ‘hypnotized’.
Milton Erickson was a master of the art of ‘prepping’ a client so that reframes would take hold. He would regularly use, singly or in many artful combinations:
- hypnosis and
- practical demonstration and instruction.
All these different techniques would get people’s full attention, loosen them up and get them into the right frame of mind for his reframes to take root. He would then deliver a carefully crafted and individually targeted ‘new perspective’ that would completely alter the troubling and limiting ideas that were causing them unnecessary difficulty in life.
Of course, there are many ways to deliver reframes but when you keep these three principles in mind your clients may just find themselves leaving your office with powerful new ways of seeing which transform how they live.
Would you like to enhance your reframing skills?
Click here to read how my online course ‘Conversational Reframing’ shows you how to craft cunning reframes and slip them past your clients’ conscious criticisms.
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