Words of Wellness

June 14, 2009 | The Rev. Dr. Scott Stoner

Rose-colored or Tortoise Shell?

I purchased new eyeglasses this week -  something I had not done for over ten years.  I went to several different stores, and brought my wife and daughter along as my fashion consultants to help me choose my new frames.  Anyone who has been through this process recently knows that the variety of options is overwhelming. Trying to find the right frame is clearly more of an art than a science.  In my case I trusted my intuition and people I love. We just knew it when we found the best-fitting frames.

     When it comes to eyeglasses, the frames clearly make all the difference aesthetically.  No one comes up to say they admire your lenses; it’s the frames that define a look.  This idea is not just applicable to glasses, but is something I use in counseling and coaching work everyday.  How we frame a personal struggle  or a relationship difficulty we are facing makes all the difference in how we work our way through it.  In fact, I often will ask people the question, “What if we were to reframe this problem and describe it in a different way?” Just like with glasses, the crucial issue (being able to see or the relationship itself) may be the important part, but the right frames can totally change the interpretation - even if the lens prescription has been the same for years.  Here are few fictional situations to demonstrate this important concept of framing and reframing:

     A middle-aged man seeks counseling because he reports feeling down and depressed.  He says he is bored at work and feels inadequate in his marriage.  He feels like he cannot continue to pretend any more, getting really down on himself and on his life.  The frame he is currently putting around his struggles is “I can’t seem to do anything right these days--there is something wrong with me.”   This weighs him down further, causing him to feel even worse about himself.  The counselor (after listening and assessing that the man is not suffering from a clinical depression) offers a different frame.  He says to the man, “I am so impressed that you are here seeking counseling.   You are not content with just surviving, but want to thrive.  It’s time to make some changes to bring greater vitality to your work and personal life.  You are probably a little unsure about how to do that, but I’m here for support and encouragement.  Good for you! Now let’s talk about how to move forward.”  The man tries on this new frame and finds it a much better fit than his old frame.

     Imagine a couple who have been dating for a year.  They come to see a counselor because they all of a sudden find themselves fighting a lot.  They frame this as “maybe their relationship is coming to an end.”  The counselor offers a different frame to try on.  She says to the couple, “perhaps the relationship is deepening to a point where the intimacy is frightening both of you, and so you fight to create distance and protection for the vulnerability you are feeling. Try being aware of when you fight, and let’s see if there’s a way to get you back to where you can enjoy your relationship more.”  Proactively looking for the why framed their fights as a symptom of something more complex, making it less of a ‘relationship failure’ and allowing them to move forward.

     One more example:  Parents bring their 17 year-old daughter to a counselor complaining that she has become lazy, choosing to sleep whenever she can and showing no interest in her favorite activities and friends.  The parents have taken away all of her privileges, but that has not made a difference.  After a thorough assessment, the counselor says to the young woman, and to her parents, “I believe you are suffering from a clinical, biochemically-based depression.  You need medication and counseling to adequately treat this.”  This new frame provides real hope for change, and gives the whole family a chance to reinterpret the daughter’s symptoms.  It’s so easy to settle on a way of seeing things; trying to picture different solutions to a problem can sometimes provide us with a powerful solution.

     See? New frames really do make all the difference.  Is it time for you to pick out some new frames for yourself, or some situation in your life?  Remember, there are many options to choose from.  Keep trying different frames on until you find the one that gives you a new sense of hope, possibility or closer to a more satisfying future.

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