What is Reframing and How Can It Help?
Imagine you’re standing in a house, looking out of a window into the backyard. You see the grass is brown, the shrubs are dying. You see a few trees, but their color looks uninspiring, to say the least. All in all, it’s a pretty ugly view. But then a friend in the room calls you over to look through their window, just another ten feet down the wall.
Suddenly, as you gaze through this new window, you begin to see a different scene. The brown grass is still there, but you now see that it’s only a particular patch. The other side of the shrubs actually look quite healthy and, where once they seemed to be dying, they now seem to only need a little more care. And, sure, the trees’ color still isn’t great, but from here you can see the bird’s nest in the tree and the baby birds peeping inside it. It’s the same backyard as before, but by seeing it from a different angle, the entire space has transformed into something much nicer than you had previously perceived.
In the world of therapy, this is what we call reframing.
What is Reframing:
The essence of reframing in therapy is all about altering our perspective, the viewpoint from which we’re looking at an experience, allowing us to see any situation in a new light. You know those moments when you find yourself entangled in a web of negative thoughts and perceptions? The situation just seems so bleak that there’s nothing that can be done. That's when reframing steps in, offering a fresh, rejuvenating perspective.
And let’s be clear, reframing is never about denying what’s there; the backyard still had shrubs that needed care and a patch of grass that was browning. But it is about seeing the full scope of what’s happening and, in doing so, it allows us to be psychologically stronger and more able to find a path forward through whatever difficulties we’re facing.
So how does it work?
Imagine grappling with a situation that feels insurmountable. You're looking at it from a perspective etched with stress, anxiety, and negativity. It feels like there’s simply no path forward; it’s a towering mountain whose peak is lost in the menacing clouds. Reframing acts like a gentle breeze that clears the cloud cover, revealing the same peak, but suddenly, bathed in the warm glow of the sun. It’s still a climb, but now it feels more conquerable.
The act of reframing is about stepping back from our current perspective and using our imagination and real curiosity to examine the scenario in new ways. One of the most common examples of reframing has to do with taking situations where you feel powerless or out of actionable options, and reframing them as, at least partially, in your control.
For instance, say you’ve lost your job, an all-too-common experience these days. This unexpected loss has you feeling hopeless and adrift. You find yourself replaying the day you were fired in your mind and hating the job as a whole because of it. You’re constantly berating yourself for not being better at your job, but simultaneously hating your boss for picking you out specifically in a sea of mediocre coworkers. You hate that you spent so long there, but also can’t imagine doing anything else. All in all, you feel stuck and unable to see any path forward. So, let’s practice some reframing.
First, let’s consider the way your exit from the job is coloring your view of your entire employment. Was there anything good about your time there? Did you gain any skills that you didn’t have before, or meet any people that you might still stay in contact with (who might even help you find another job)? Is it possible to reframe this as simply one step on your career journey?
Was it really a matter of being fired for lack of ability, or was this simply a financial decision by the company unrelated to the quality of your work? Did your boss actually select you personally, or was it a decision made by higher-ups who didn’t know you? Or looking back, did you not actually perform up to your responsibilities and capabilities, and could this be a learning experience for you to put more of yourself into your work in the future? Or do you realize that you don’t have a passion for this work at all, and this can be an opportunity to find something new in a direction that you’re excited about?
While this certainly isn’t a happy experience, and it’s one with significant financial repercussions, is it possible to reframe this as an opportunity to move your life in a new direction; or to recommit yourself to this path with new energy and verve?
Again, notice that none of these questions discount the real emotional pain and situational turmoil that losing a job entails. They also don’t presume to have an answer, you’re really asking the questions. Reframing simply pulls us back from the certainty of our initial negative interpretation of the event.
Why does this matter in therapy?
Consider a scenario where you're burdened by the thought, “I must always meet everyone’s expectations.” Feels heavy, right? Reframing might help us to gently shift this perspective to “It’s great to meet expectations, but it's okay if I don’t always succeed.” See how that might be easier to carry? That’s the power of reframing – a subtle shift making a world of a difference.
“Okay, I’m getting it, but how do I practice this?”
Imagine holding a pair of magic glasses. These glasses give you the incredible ability to see life from another person’s perspective. Choose someone you love or care about, like a partner or a best friend. These are your reframing glasses. Whenever a situation feels overwhelming, slide them on. How might your vision change when seeing things through their eyes? What new hues and shades of the situation do you now see? Are there any paths forward that you hadn’t previously considered?
You can take this exercise a step further by writing down your experience. Think about a challenge you're facing and write it down in detail. Now, consciously choose to look at it from a different viewpoint. How would a friend view the situation? Or a coworker? Or a random stranger on the bus? Take the time to write down the new perspective and observe how it feels. Notice the change in your emotional landscape? That’s the gentle touch of reframing at work!
By incorporating reframing, you're embracing a transformative psychological tool. You're engaging with concepts like "cognitive restructuring," acknowledging the power that your thoughts hold over your emotions and behavior. It's an active step towards breaking the chains of negative thinking patterns and seeing your mind free to explore new avenues of growth, healing, and well-being.
Just remember, reframing is not about dismissing or minimizing your experiences and emotions. It’s about empowering you to choose how to interpret and relate to them. It’s about reclaiming the brush and painting your narrative with strokes of understanding, resilience, and hope. You hold the power to change the frame, to illuminate the canvas of your life with the vibrant colors of fresh perspectives and insights. The picture of your life is constantly being painted, stroke by stroke, frame by frame. So, what do you want your frame to look like?
If you like the idea of incorporating reframing and other psychological tools into your life, Lifeologie Counseling has got your back. Meet our many specialists at and find out which therapist in our practice is right for you.
About Richard Aab
Richard Aab, LCMHCA, has a BFA in Theatre from NYU and received his Clinical Mental Health Counselor, M.Ed. (Master’s in Education) from North Carolina State University. He is a Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor Associate (LCMHC-A) and Nationally Certified Counselor (NCC). Richard has a deep commitment to working with individuals overcoming developmental and childhood trauma, and he combines cutting-edge, neuroscientific research with traditional existential and behavioral therapeutic modalities. He is supervised by Elizabeth Grady, LCMHCS, and sees adult clients by telehealth.Meet Me