Also called ‘context-changing talk’ by Solution Focused Therapists, reframing involves building a different frame of reference around the problem to make it more solvable.
Kim (2008) gives strong prominence to this feature in his description of the role of the SFT practitioner. “The active role of the practitioner is to ask questions to help the client look at the situation from a different perspective …” (p107).
Reframing involves finding another way to look at the problem that will hopefully increase the chances of overcoming the problem; jointly negotiating a meaning to the client’s situation that will enhance the possibility of change (O'Connell, 2005; p35).
The idea of reframing might seem inconsistent with the principle of staying as close as possible to the client’s agenda or worldview. But current ways of viewing a situation may form a major block to finding a solution. The intention of reframing is to help the client find another interpretation of their situation, that is just as personally meaningful, but which offers more scope for positive action. “In SFT the meaning of the client’s experiences is negotiable….The purpose of the therapeutic dialogue is to negotiate jointly a meaning to the client’s situation that will create possibility of change for him” (O'Connell, 2005; p35).
With its theoretical base in social constructionism, SFT assumes that events, actions and situations have many possible meanings, and that the meanings that are chosen or preferred are negotiated socially. Meanings that people bring to a counselling situation have often been picked up from the dominant culture and may involve generalisations and prejudices that are not helpful. Labels that pathologise or put people into fixed categories such as ‘delinquent’, ‘addict’, ‘drop-out’, or ‘borderline personality disorder’ are interpretations of behaviour that are relatively static and imply that problems are intractable. Reframing in SFT seeks alternative meanings that view problems as changeable in response to action by the person. Reminding the person of their unique context, and reflecting on how the problem varies with context is particularly important to reframing in (Nelson & Thomas, 2007; p9-10).
This is sometimes called ‘contextualising’. Thus a label like ‘delinquent’ may be reframed as ‘trying to survive when I have no money and feel angry’; ‘drop-out’ may be reframed as ‘leaving school because I wasn’t learning anything useful’, and ‘borderline personality disorder’ might be reframed as ‘often being overwhelmed by my emotions’.
‘Externalising’ the problem, a practice element associated with Narrative Therapy is another form of reframing that is sometimes integrated into SFT. This involves viewing the problem as something that exists outside of the person rather than a fault or flaw that exists inside of them.
Another is ‘mutualising’ which involves framing the problem as something that arises between two people in the context of their interaction, rather than a fault that exists within one person or both of them (Ziegler & Hiller, 2007; p93-94).