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What is reframing?

Reframing is the technique of positive thinking. An important principle of this technique is that something only acquires a meaning in a certain context. "All meaning is context-dependent" as Alfred Korzybski wrote in his book "Science and sanity” in 1933.

Whether behaviour is functional or not functional, depends on the context in which it occurs. Reframing can be compared with the placing of a new frame to a painting. That new overall picture can cause a very different effect. That's exactly what we do with reframing. We put a new frame around behaviour.

All meaning is context dependent. If we change the context, it changes the meaning. The basic example of reframing is implied in NLP presupposistions, namely:

  • 3. The map is not the territory.
  • 5. The meaning of all the behaviour is dependent on the context.
  • 6. Every behaviour has a positive intention.

Reframing is changing the context or meaning of a situation (event or statement). By doing that the situation (internal representation) is set in a different frame and a different (positive) meaning can be given to that situation.

Behaviour can be given another meaning by placing it in a different context or to look for the higher positive intention of the behavior. That’s why: The basis of reframing is to separate the INTENTION from BEHAVIOR.

Reframing is a very powerful communication tool. The two main forms of reframing that we learn during the Practitioner training are :Reframing Content (or Meaning) and Reframing Context.

These forms of reframing are used to change the meaning of a problem and not to directly solve the problem. These forms of reframing are not intervention in itself, because you do not change the behaviour. However, it gives the person with the problem often a new and different perspective on the problem (behaviour) and simultaneously creates a different state.


Reframing changes the meaning of an internal representation. This changes the mood and that can lead to different behavior. Reframing is not something new. Many stories, metaphors, fables and fairy tales are about events or behaviours whose meaning changes when the context changes. The chick that looks so different, looked like an ugly duckling but eventually turned out to be a swan, more beautiful than all the ducks which he had compared himself to.

Reframing is existing in almost in every joke. What looks like something, suddenly changes and becomes something entirely different. Reframing is also applied in the therapeutic context. When a therapist tries to get clients to ”think about things in a different way” or "show a new perspective" then those are attempts to reframe events in order to ensure that the client will react differently.

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