Reframing – why Perception is Everything

During therapy, it's important to try and understand that how one sees the world is not necessarily how the world actually is. Phenomenology, one of theories influencing humanistic counselling, argues that is impossible for us to ever cast aside the veils of perception and see the world as it actually is. Our view of the world is inseparable from our perceptions which colour what we see, and perhaps more importantly, what we don't.

Your perception is unique to you.
Think of your perception as a pair of sunglasses pieced together from your memories, thoughts and feelings; often formed in childhood. Each person's sunglasses, the way they see the world, are unique to them. Problems can occur when we assume that everybody sees the world as we do.

Because everyone is unique, a one size fits all approach may not work in counselling. For example, when a client talks about grief, the counsellor should try to set aside any personal experiences of bereavement and theoretical knowledge of the grieving process to try to understand the client. It's always an imperfect process as none of us can ever quite see the world as another person does; nevertheless the attempt itself can be so valuable.

Why is it important to look at how we see the world?
Because often problems occur in people's lives when we begin to think that how we see the world = how the world actually is. Our sunglasses, or how we see the world, was often formulated when we were very young perhaps, unable to make connections or put things in context as we can now. Often clients come to counselling when their worldview is too narrow and inflexible, not reflecting the reality of their lives in the present.

Deny, distort or reframe – the choice is yours.
For example, if as a child I am told repeatedly either explicitly or implicitly that 'I'm stupid', over time this belief may become so ingrained that I start to believe 'I'm stupid'. This belief might then influence how I act creating a self fulfilling prophecy as I stop trying hard in classes because 'why bother'.

Over time I might have new experiences which contradict how I perceive the world – my belief that I'm stupid. When this happens we have three responses open to us:

  • We either deny they exist – I get a B on the test but it slips from my mind even though I can tell you in detail about the many D's I've got.
  • We distort them – I tell myself I got that mark because the test was easy or the teacher liked me.
  • We reframe our worldview – Maybe, just maybe I'm not as stupid as I thought I was.

Counselling can often help you shift your paradigm about how you view your world. We can work together to challenge outdated negative beliefs, dispel self-fulfilling prophecies, and expose emotional cul de sacs.

We cannot change what happens to us. But we can control and change how we react to what happens to us by reframing and revising our world view. Give it a try below.

Reframing – give it a try at home
Take an event that happened to you recently, which caused a level of discomfort.
For example: I saw a friend walking down the road. I smiled and said 'hello' but she ignored me and I was hurt and wondered what I'd done wrong.

Try and describe the event dispassionately separating the facts from your perceptions.
Facts: I saw my friend and said hello, she did not respond.
Perceptions: I felt ignored, hurt and worried that I may have done something wrong.

Is the feeling you are left with familiar to you?
Yes, often I was left out by friends as a child and it bought back these memories.

Can you reframe the experience? Are there any alternative explanations?
She could have not seen me. She could have been in a rush. 

Once you've done the exercise you can see how much our thoughts, feelings and beliefs create our world and how, with a little work, we can change these. We can choose to pick a different lens through which to view the world (or another pair of sunglasses). We can reframe our perceptions - the choice is ours.

Counselling Directory is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.

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