The Definition of Cognitive Reframing

Mental Health Terms Used in Treating Troubled Teens

Reframing is a helpful technique for teens.
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Reframing describes a technique used in therapy to help create a different way of looking at a situation, person, or relationship by changing its meaning. Also referred to as cognitive reframing, it's a technique often used by therapists.

The essential idea behind reframing is that a person's point-of-view depends on the frame it is viewed in, the specific way they look at and understand it. When the frame is shifted, the meaning changes and thinking and behavior often change along with it.

Another way to understand the concept of reframing is to think of looking through the frame of a camera lens. The picture seen through the lens can be changed to a view that is closer or further away. By slightly changing what is seen in the camera, the picture is both viewed and experienced differently.

Examples of Reframing

  • In a family therapy session Carla complains bitterly that her mother is overly involved in her life, constantly nagging her about what she should be doing. In attempting to shift Carla's negative view of her mother, the therapist offers this reframe: "Isn't it loving of your mother to teach you ways to take care of yourself so you'll be prepared to live on your own without her?"
  • A teen in individual therapy is struggling to accept the limitations of having a chronic illness. The therapist attempts to reframe how the teen views his illness by saying, "Can you think of your illness as a built-in reminder to take care of your health throughout your life?"
  • A teen is upset she didn't make the basketball team. The therapist asks her what positive things could come from not making the team. The teen is able to say she will have more free time and with enough practice, she might be able to make the team next year.
  • A boy says his mother has ruined his life by taking away his smartphone privileges because he was caught texting while driving. Eventually, he is able to see that his mother's actions weren't meant to ruin his life, but instead, were meant to save his life.

    Why Reframing is Important

    Teens often think their outlook is the only way to see a problem. If a friend didn't call back she must be mad. Or, if a teen fails a test it must mean he's stupid.

    While this technique is often used in therapy, it's something that you can use with your teen at home as well. With practice, your teen will learn to remind himself that his initial conclusion is only one possible explanation.

    Ask questions like, "Is there another way to look at this situation?" or, "What are three other possible reasons this could have happened?" Help your teen see that there are likely dozens of potential reasons a problem exists.

    Asking questions and validating your teen's feelings will help her develop healthy self-talk. Eventually, she'll learn how to coach herself as she begins to recognize there are many ways to view the same situation. 

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