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Author Topic: Reframing Thoughts about Family (CBT technique for young people)  (Read 617 times)
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« on: February 10, 2012, 08:09:54 AM »

Reframing Feelings About Family

The way people perceive an experience or problem influences the possible solutions or options they see for change ¹. Reframing involves presenting an alternative possible explanation, interpretation or perception of an experience. This new interpretation may then facilitate positive change.

Reframing goes beyond reflective listening ², as it presents back to the client what is said in a way which deepens understanding about the event or problem, and creates possibilities for new ways to respond to the issues being discussed.

This approach helps a client create, via their perceptions, a reality in which they may operate more effectively and positively ³. For example, where a young person has been described by an adult as unruly or unmanageable, a reframe may suggest the young person is 'independent' or 'strong-willed.'

Reframing requires a certain amount of reflective listening and rapport prior to use. It takes place in the context of a conversation about a problem or difficult experience and gently confronts the young person's assumptions and interpretations, without provoking defensiveness.

Reframing needs to be used with care, so that feelings and experiences are not minimised or ignored; it needs to fit with the client's value system, so that their experience and hopes are honoured.      

1.   Reframing involves presenting an alternative possible explanation, interpretation or perception of an experience.   


2.   Use reflective listening to validate feelings and experiences and build rapport prior to using reframing techniques.   


3.   Reframe in a way which respects their perceptions and values, while offering a new perspective and possible solutions.   


Black and White Thinking

Black and white thinking is common, and is particularly present in adolescents whose cognitive development has not yet reached an adult stage. This way of thinking, perceiving and expressing thoughts involves using extreme language, and is often negative and blaming towards self or other.

Black and white thinking may lead to unhelpful perceptions about people, such as family members, which can build distance and resentment rather than understanding and compromise.

An example to illustrate this is a young person who says their mum is "always on my back". Reframing in this situation may involve:


"What does she do that makes it seem like she is "always on your back"?"


"So she tells you a lot, to tell her where you are going? How often do you think she would say that to you in one day or one week?"


"Once a day? So it's not all the time? Sounds like she cares about you and your safety. What would help you both to feel okay about this?"

This reframe enables a young person to perceive a different and more positive reality about why their mother is behaving in the way she is, and challenges the extreme language used by the young person. It further encourages the young person to respect others needs in a shared household, to consider positive solutions and to assert their own wishes and needs within the household.

Strengths-Based and Narrative Therapeutic Approaches

These approaches offer effective techniques and questions for reframing. McCashen (1998)4 recommends the following practice principles in order to implement a strengths-based approach in your work:

•   Respect for peoples' intrinsic worth, rights, capacities, uniqueness & commonalities

•   Sharing of information, knowledge, resources, skills and decision making

•   Collaboration: team work, partnership, consultation and inclusion

•   Social Justice: equity, access, equality, participation, self determination

•   Transparency: having things out in the open, open information and communication

Strengths-based questions seek to draw out an alternative perception or explanation of behaviour or an event, which helps the young person to identify and believe in their own or other family members' successes, skills, strengths and abilities.

Using this approach involves exploring what has worked in the past, rather than what has not worked. While both negative and positive perceptions are valid, the latter provides a more fertile soil for change, by helping the young person feel capable, empowered and motivated towards change. In contrast the deficit-based, problem-focussed approaches of traditional therapies present situations as requiring work and effort to address the problem and move on.

Narrative questioning provides the opportunity to rewrite the young person's story or narrative about events or experiences in a more positive light. It recognises and respects that young people and families may have endured many hardships. This approach avoids pathologising, ie. use of medical and psychological terms which indicate dysfunction, deficit or failure.

Instead, it assists young people to view themselves and their family as skilled, capable and resourceful. One technique used in this approach involve 'identifying exceptions to the rule' - when problems weren't present, or when things were better, so that these experiences can be emphasised and learnt from.

What If There's Nothing Positive?

Some parents behave in ways that don't lend themselves to reframing. An abused child, for example, needs to know that the behaviour is wrong, and that it was not their fault. In working with these young people it may help to emphasise their survival skills (rather than having a 'victim' focus) and to help them to identify the positive coping strategies that they used to deal with this difficult situation.

Other parents do not always behave in ways which help to build their young person's self-esteem. In these cases it is important to validate experiences for the young person, and identify behaviours which have been unhelpful.

In situations where a young person's safety is guaranteed, talking about parenting behaviour can be done in a realistic and non-blaming way that acknowledges some parents don't get it right all the time.

It is also helpful for the young person to understand their parents' behaviour in a broader context. For example, it may help to encourage the young person to think about their parents' experiences of childhood and whether they have simply been repeating patterns and mistakes made by their parents.

When using these approaches, it is very important to not minimise the pain or unfairness of particular experiences, but to empathise and validate feelings, to offer new language which may be less extreme (if appropriate), and to invite the young person to hold additional ideas and views about the experiences (reframe).

For example, reframing issues concerning family may enable a young person to identify their resilience, and see positive skills and knowledge that they have learned from what may be difficult family interactions and relationships. They may also see what family members may have been trying to do for them in the past that was interpreted by them in a negative light.

For example, a young person may be angry with his father, who was drunk a lot and left the young person to cook for himself.

Empathise and validate:

"How did that make you feel, that your dad was focussed on drinking alcohol and not on meeting your needs as a hungry child?"

"I can understand that you would feel angry and sad about that."

"How did you manage to know how to cook and to look after yourself?"

"Are there other times when you have managed to work things out for yourself?"


"Do you think your dad thought he was providing for you in other ways, such as working to pay the bills?"

"Do you think he knew that his drinking was stopping him from being the father you would have liked?"

"That's disappointing that he did not look after all your needs as a child, but were there other ways in which he was an alright father?"

"Because your dad was not looking after all your needs, were there any things you learned or skills you developed as a result?"

Reframing with Other Family Members

Reframing ideally takes place with other family members as well as with the young person. This maximizes the effect of the reframes and enable changes to perceptions, stories and attitudes at the level of the family system, not just within an individual.

1. Fuller, A. (1998) From Surviving to Thriving, ACER: Melbourne

2. Reflective listening, as a counselling technique, involves repeating back what has been said using different words, to demonstrate you have heard and understand the content and feelings expressed. This shows empathy and builds rapport and trust.

3. Becvar, D. and Becvar, R. (2002). Family Therapy: A Systemic Integration. Pearson Education Australia.

4. McCashen, W. (1998) The Strengths Approach: A strengths-based resource for sharing power and creating change. Bendigo: St Lukes Innovative Resources.

From Jesuit Social Services. Strong Bonds: Building Family-to-Family Connections. www.strongbonds.jss.org.au/workers/youngpeople/feelings.html

« Last Edit: July 16, 2019, 09:09:34 PM by Harri » Logged

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« Reply #1 on: February 13, 2012, 08:08:26 AM »

Reframing is a very powerful technique to change attitude and bring better results to your life. It's also something many young people can learn and adults can also learn and teach, as it's not complex, just needs practice.

Like anything, though, it's best to think it through and practice it ourselves before trying it with someone else.

1. Do you have experience reframing thoughts and feelings yourself? If so, what is an example?

2. Can you imagine teaching this technique to a young person in your life? What are your thoughts and concerns about that?

One strong caution I would add is that children of parents with mental illness may be experiencing a good deal of inconsistent parenting and sometimes emotional, verbal, and other forms of abuse. So before any reframing happens, it's important to determine what's actually happening as best you can and validate, validate, validate the child's emotional reactions to the experience (it make sense that Jeremy is upset when his mom yells, no matter what she's yelling about).

You do not want to send a message of "it's all in your head" or "it's not so bad" or even the classic "he/she is doing the best he/she can." That may be true, but it gives the child the feeling that he/she deserves to be mistreated.

You do want to help a child understand that he or she has some choices in the meaning he or she makes from events. Just because something happened once or even happens a lot doesn't mean it happens all the time or will always happen or will happen with everyone. Mom may get angry and shout a lot. That doesn't necessarily mean "nobody will ever love me" or "people are always mean to me." It's natural for a child to make those false leaps of logic, as their brains are still developing and they may be struggling with situations that are beyond their capacity to understand and master. That's where loving adults in their lives can help.

What they call you is one thing.
What you answer to is something else. ~ Lucille Clifton
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« Reply #2 on: February 13, 2012, 03:50:06 PM »

This sounds good, but I am still struggling with the validation part. Both with my DD25 and my gd6. Old patterns are hard to change. I will keep working at it.

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« Reply #3 on: February 16, 2012, 07:54:27 AM »

Do you recognize any of these forms of twisted thinking in either yourself or your child? Some of these forms of thinking are normal developmentally. Children at a certain age will think in black and white terms because that's what their cognitive development allows. So it isn't "twisted" at the appropriate developmental stage, only if it persists beyond. Our job as parents can be to improve the flexibility of our own thinking and help our children do the same as they grow up, just as we teach them how to take care of their own bodies, how to structure their time for success in school, how to ride a bike, and so on.

Ten Forms of Twisted Thinking

By Dr. David Burns

Companion article to bpdfamily.com/message_board/index.php?topic=56200.0

From The Feeling Good Handbook (Plume Publishers, 1999)

1. All-or-nothing thinking - You see things in black-or-white categories. If a situation falls short of perfect, you see it as a total failure. When a young woman on a diet ate a spoonful of ice cream, she told herself, "I've blown my diet completely." This thought upset her so much that she gobbled down an entire quart of ice cream.

2. Overgeneralization - You see a single negative event, such as a romantic rejection or a career reversal, as a never-ending pattern of defeat by using words such as "always" or "never" when you think about it. A depressed salesman became terribly upset when he noticed bird dung on the window of his car. He told himself, "Just my luck! Birds are always crapping on my car!"

3. Mental Filter - You pick out a single negative detail and dwell on it exclusively, so that your vision of reality becomes darkened, like the drop of ink that discolors a beaker of water. Example: You receive many positive comments about your presentation to a group of associates at work, but one of them says something mildly critical. You obsess about his reaction for days and ignore all the positive feedback.

4. Discounting the positive - You reject positive experiences by insisting that they "don't count." If you do a good job, you may tell yourself that it wasn't good enough or that anyone could have done as well. Discounting the positives takes the joy out of life and makes you feel inadequate and unrewarded.

5. Jumping to conclusions - You interpret things negatively when there are no facts to support your conclusion.

Mind Reading : Without checking it out, you arbitrarily conclude that someone is reacting negatively to you.

Fortune-telling : You predict that things will turn out badly. Before a test you may tell yourself, "I'm really going to blow it. What if I flunk?" If you're depressed you may tell yourself, "I'll never get better."

6. Magnification - You exaggerate the importance of your problems and shortcomings, or you minimize the importance of your desirable qualities. This is also called the "binocular trick."

7. Emotional Reasoning - You assume that your negative emotions necessarily reflect the way things really are: "I feel terrified about going on airplanes. It must be very dangerous to fly." Or, "I feel guilty. I must be a rotten person." Or, "I feel angry. This proves that I'm being treated unfairly." Or, "I feel so inferior. This means I'm a second rate person." Or, "I feel hopeless. I must really be hopeless."

8. "Should" statements - You tell yourself that things should be the way you hoped or expected them to be. After playing a difficult piece on the piano, a gifted pianist told herself, "I shouldn't have made so many mistakes." This made her feel so disgusted that she quit practicing for several days. "Musts," "oughts" and "have tos" are similar offenders.

"Should statements" that are directed against yourself lead to guilt and frustration. Should statements that are directed against other people or the world in general, lead to anger and frustration: "He shouldn't be so stubborn and argumentative!"

Many people try to motivate themselves with shoulds and shouldn'ts, as if they were delinquents who had to be punished before they could be expected to do anything. "I shouldn't eat that doughnut." This usually doesn't work because all these shoulds and musts make you feel rebellious and you get the urge to do just the opposite. Dr. Albert Ellis has called this " must erbation." I call it the "shouldy" approach to life.

9. Labeling - Labeling is an extreme form of all-or-nothing thinking. Instead of saying "I made a mistake," you attach a negative label to yourself: "I'm a loser." You might also label yourself "a fool" or "a failure" or "a jerk." Labeling is quite irrational because you are not the same as what you do. Human beings exist, but "fools," "losers" and "jerks" do not. These labels are just useless abstractions that lead to anger, anxiety, frustration and low self-esteem.

You may also label others. When someone does something that rubs you the wrong way, you may tell yourself: "He's an S.O.B." Then you feel that the problem is with that person's "character" or "essence" instead of with their thinking or behavior. You see them as totally bad. This makes you feel hostile and hopeless about improving things and leaves very little room for constructive communication.

10. Personalization and Blame - Personalization comes when you hold yourself personally responsible for an event that isn't entirely under your control. When a woman received a note that her child was having difficulty in school, she told herself, "This shows what a bad mother I am," instead of trying to pinpoint the cause of the problem so that she could be helpful to her child. When another woman's husband beat her, she told herself, "If only I was better in bed, he wouldn't beat me." Personalization leads to guilt, shame and feelings of inadequacy.

Some people do the opposite. They blame other people or their circumstances for their problems, and they overlook ways they might be contributing to the problem: "The reason my marriage is so lousy is because my spouse is totally unreasonable." Blame usually doesn't work very well because other people will resent being scapegoated and they will just toss the blame right back in your lap. It's like the game of hot potato--no one wants to get stuck with it.


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« Reply #4 on: August 12, 2012, 11:56:22 PM »

This is very good.  The focus on what is good and right vs. what is bad and wrong.  It is hard to do a don't as Rosenberg wrote... .

Reframing is one of the basic tenants of Positive Peer Culture. The strength of the reformed is twice the strength of a regular.  Where one person sees an adolescent as stubborn another person sees them as having strong convictions, where one person sees them as a bad influence another person sees them as having stong leadership skills.  Building the self image through reframing can be highly affective especially for teens who have not experienced positive reinforcement.

I constantly remind my daughter that she has been given a gift of being sensitive to other people's emotions. I encourage her to use her PPC skills to help her friends.

Great info!


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« Reply #5 on: January 10, 2013, 12:38:56 AM »

I like the concept of reframing, although I think it is most powerful when questions are open-ended rather than yes/no questions, which can come across as "leading questions."  I guess it depends if we are talking about counselors versus therapists/psychologists, in terms of the kind of "influence."

Thank you!  The examples were great!
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« Reply #6 on: January 11, 2013, 01:58:01 PM »

I kind of do reframing with my own thoughts all the time,  and I have always done it with my husband. It works,  and he does see another point of view,  but he changes his own point of view so often, that sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. I keep doing it anyway.
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