Encouraging Change: Reframing

Natural ElementsWhen one is faced with a difficult situation, one tends to automatically select elements of the situation. As times goes on, people get fixated on these same elements and ignore other aspects of it. This fixation, or obsession, can lead to uncomfortable emotions. How one can move toward change to alleviate the discomfort?

Reframing is a tool helping individuals revise how they perceive and interpret difficult situations or factors toward a more constructive and workable direction. It helps clients alter their emotions, personal meanings, and perceived options. Reframing what a client encodes and perceives can reduce defensiveness and mobilize the client’s resources and forces for change.

Reframing involves the following components:

Identification of client perceptions and feelings in situations of concern

During therapy the helper assists clients in discovering what they typically attend to in problem situations

Enactment of selected perceptual elements

This component allows the client to bring habitual attentional processes fully into awareness and under direct control

Identification of alternative perceptions

The therapist can help the client change his/her attentional focus by selecting other elements of the difficult situation to attend to rather than overlook or ignore

Modification of perceptions in situations of concern

The therapist instructs the client to attend to other elements repeatedly during role-play or imagery enactment. Repetition is the key to embody the change so that the client gradually experiences a sense of relief, strength or optimism.

Follow-up and homework

For reframing to be effective it needs to be plausible and acceptable to the client. Research findings provide compelling descriptions of how internal tensions in one’s perspective and emotions surrounding issues need to be understood for reframing to be meaningful and effective.


Prochaska, J. O., & Norcross, J. C. (2010). Systems of psychotherapy: A transtheoretical analysis (7th ed.). Pacific Grove: Brooks Cole.

© 2014 Maria Stella, PhD. All Rights Reserved.

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