Tibor Magyar, Ph.D.
(aka Russell C. Davis, Ph.D.)
Reframing is a simple but potent technique that may be used by a therapist to gain resolution to “unfinished” issues which continue to traumatize a client/patient. Although the term “reframing” came into the vocabulary of therapists through the work of Bandler and Grinder in the late 1970s and early 80s, the author points out that the technique itself actually was being used in some form or other much earlier. One example cited involved the use of reframing by a Veterans Administration therapist who was using this technique when working with Vietnam veterans who were hospitalized for PTSD.
The Magic of Words
Of all the words of tongue or pen,
none is more sad than these:
“It might have been.”
There is magic in words and their meanings. With the exception of English, most of the world’s major languages still retain a full subjunctive mode of expression which allows the speaker to express a thought or idea which is clearly contrary to fact. Unfortunately for the speaker of modern English, there are only small remnants of this mode of expression still to be found, such as “If I were king.”
Alas, these, too, are rapidly disappearing and it has become acceptable in all but the most formal of circumstances to say “If I was king…,“ further blurring the distinction between what actually did occur and what you wished had happened. Still, we generally understand the intent of the speaker, though because English lacks this fully developed and separate mode of expression, we often fail to fully appreciate the emotions and implications which underlie that utterance.
A Clue for Therapists
As therapists, we must be aware of and sensitive to this kind of statement and of the underlying emotional state which prompts its use. It is nothing less than an important clue to the emotional conflicts of the client and a key to helping that client to leave the pathway of self-recrimination and guilt and step boldly and confidently onto the road to recovery.
Let us, then, focus on what is perhaps one of the most common responses of a client who is undergoing past life exploration: the expression of a “wish” phrase, a statement of some variation of “If only I had…or some similar “wish” statement. As the client reviews his or her past lives, there come those times when something is left unsaid or not done or perhaps something which was said or done which the client regrets.
This is, of course, not limited to the field of past-life therapy, for it is a common cord which winds itself through the experiences of virtually any client, whether dealing with the present life or one in the past. These “wish” statements are stated in the subjunctive of “If only…and seem to be founded on internalized guilt.
How often at a funeral one hears expressions of “wish” statements made by attendees who now regret not having said to or done something for the departed one. It seems then that the mourner’s grief is all the more intense for not having done or said whatever it was, and that omission is made all the more grievous by the certain knowledge that now it never can be said or done.
Let us examine this more closely, for herein lies an important key: This morass of guilty feelings and sense of unfinished business is the “sticky stuff” which holds the client captive. It is, if the reader will allow a metaphor, an emotional quicksand against which the client struggles unsuccessfully to free him- or herself.
Now there are many past-life therapists (and some more conventional ones, too!) who feel that simply uncovering the root causality of a particular problem is, in and of itself, likely to bring about resolution, and sometimes they are correct. But what about those cases in which it does not? These are the precise cases in which the discovery of the root event is only the first step in the recovery process.
In such cases, the knowledgeable therapist can use the “magic” of reframing to help the client to become unstuck and move towards recovery. In its simplest context, reframing is helping the client to change history, to change the outcome of an event, or to say or do what was left unsaid or undone. When it is used properly and appropriately, it is a powerful tool. Obviously, it has limitations, but its potential to effect change is enormous. Reframing cannot, for example, bring the dead back to life, but it can certainly help a person to go back in time and say that which had not been said.
An Answer Found in a Veteran’s Administration Hospital
The principle of reframing is the same whether we are talking about events in a past life or this present life. So, let us look at an example. It is well-known that many soldiers returning from the battlefield are scarred by their experiences, both emotionally and physically. Historically, we have been better at healing the wounds of the body than those of the mind. The still all-too-recent Vietnam experience continues to haunt and bedevil many returning servicemen and -women. Unlike the returnees from other wars, Vietnam veterans found themselves both plagued by the horrors of their combat experience and the vocal scorn of large scale demonstrations which branded them “murderers” and “baby killers” and other horrible names. There were no hero’s welcomes, no parades, no glory.
Thus, a much higher percentage of returning Vietnam service personnel experienced, and continue to experience, the ravages of trauma coupled with feelings of self doubt, guilt, and other complex emotional cocktails. This situation has given rise to the proliferation of veterans’ walk-in clinics across the country that try to help them to sort out their feelings and get on with life. The more extreme cases continue to choke the facilities of VA hospitals and other centers.
One of the earliest frustrations of therapists dealing with Vietnam vets was their apparent resistance to recovery. Thus it was all the more remarkable when in the early 1970’s one therapist at a VA hospital was achieving what appeared to be an almost miraculous recovery rate.
So, the question became one of wondering what this therapist was doing, and why he was experiencing high rates of success while his colleagues were seeing primarily only failures. His method was simple, yet brilliant and unquestionably effective. He did not even have a name for it, but it worked.
It might be appropriate to note that when the author first observed this process, he postulated that perhaps what the therapist was doing was to give his clients/patients forgiveness, as if the therapist had taken on the role of a priest in the confessional. After all, was the confessional not the place where the devout person could confess his or her sins and then receive forgiveness which would remove that heavy burden and allow that person to get on with life? While that was an interesting and even enticing theory which perhaps was not entirely incorrect, the process was actually much more. It was nothing less than a process by which individuals who carried with them the traumatizing knowledge of unresolved issues could, at last, bring them to resolution and begin to return to a meaningful life, freed of the quagmire of guilt-ridden thoughts and feelings.
Reframing as a Technique
It is interesting to note that although the process he was using lacked a general term at that time, it later came to be called “reframing.” This is a term which actually came into existence through the work of Bandler and Grinder, who were analyzing the methods of Dr. Milton Erickson, who even in the 1940s was using a type of reframing technique, though it was not called such until well over three decades later. Their studies of Erickson’s methods eventually became the basis for what is now called Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP). For a fuller explanation of NLP and its techniques, the reader is referred to the references cited at the end of this article. Each of these works contains much valuable material, especially Bandler and Grinder’s TRANS-Formations and Cameron-Bandler’s Solutions. There are also numerous references to this process found in Lucas’ Handbook of Regression Therapy.
Despite lacking a formal name, what the VA therapist was doing was reframing, pure and simple. Early on, he determined that many of his patients were suffering from battle-related trauma and intense feelings of guilt which seemed to center around the combat death of one or more friends, while the patient himself survived. This brought on an intense emotional reaction. The focus of this intensity seemed to be centered on guilt for having survived while comrades-in-arms did not. The common questions were “Why did they have to die? Why did I survive?” Beyond this lay the unresolved issues which taunted and tortured the patients such as “I never was able to tell my buddies what I thought about them” or “I never got to say goodbye” or “I never got to thank him for sacrificing his life to save mine.” These are the very kinds of issues for which the process of reframing is so effective.
When working with traumatized Vietnam veterans, the therapist would discuss the patient’s feelings of guilt, anger, being stuck, etc., and at an appropriate juncture, discuss with him the possibility of using a “special technique” in the next one-on-one therapy session. Once that conversation had taken place and the patient’s permission received, the next session proceeded as follows:
Sitting on straight chairs facing each other so that their knees nearly touched, the therapist would gently lead the patient into a hypnotic state and guide him back to the traumatic incident(s) which seemed to be the causal factors. Once there and the root cause of the trauma described by the patient, the therapist then intuitively employed the technique which was later called “reframing” by Bandler and Grinder.
When the traumatic event was accessed, the patient, usually in a state of profound abreaction, was encouraged to describe what was happening, how he felt, etc. What follows is a reconstructed sequence of events which synthesizes the essence of a typical session. While it is a construct and is much abbreviated in nature, it is based on observations of real sessions and does portray the essence of those sessions actually conducted by the therapist. Thus, it will give the reader a feel for the therapeutic process.
Patient: Oh God, the VC are everywhere. Shit. They’re over-running our positions. Oh, God, NO!
Therapist: What’s happening now?
P: Some VC threw a grenade into our hole. Oh God, oh God.
T: Go on…
P: Dodger (buddy’s nickname) can’t get a hold of it. He’s trying to smother it. Oh God, it just blew up and he’s dead. Dodger’s dead! (sobs quietly for several seconds)
T: What are you feeling now?
P: Why did Dodger do it? Why him? Why not me?
T: Dodger used his body to protect you, didn’t he?
P: (sobbing, voice barely a whisper) Yeah. Dodger, you bastard…why did you do it?
T: He was your best buddy, wasn’t he?
T: What hurts the most?
P: I never told him he was like a brother I never had.
T: You can tell him now, can’t you?
T: Go ahead and tell Dodger (taps on patient’s left knee)
P: Dodger, you’re my brother, man. I love you, man.
T: And you can thank him for giving his life to save yours, can’t you? (Taps on patient’s left knee again.)
P: Man, I love you for what you did. I love you, man. (Sighs, then breathes deeply)
T: Yes. And now you can say goodbye to him because he now knows how much you loved him and that you are grateful to him for saving your life, can’t you? (Taps left knee once more)
P: Hey, Dodger, man, I love you and I’ll never forget what you did for me today, man…never.
T: And is there anything else you would like Dodger to know? (Taps left knee again.)
P: No…(shakes head, seems visibly calmer)
At this point the therapist reinforced the learning, reminded the patient that he could now get on with life because he had been able, at last, to tell his friend, Dodger, all the things he hadn’t said before. Then the therapist gave suggestions to his patient about being able to relax and let go of the feelings of guilt. Finally, the therapist guided the patient back to the present time and place, giving further suggestions about being now able to get on with life, etc. The use of the knee tap acted as a prompter for the patient, and also served as a type of “anchoring,” the connecting of a physical stimulation with the mental process.
When researching the use of reframing as a technique, the author came upon references to a similar process called “rescripting” which is described as being the “technical complement of reframing.” (Kaisch, 1988). This technique calls for the therapist to urge the client to reinvent history, in essence, by rewriting an unpleasant event in a past life and imagining it to be what they wanted it to be. There are, to be sure, karmic implications involved here. While it may be described as a complementary technique, rescripting seems to venture well beyond the normally accepted bounds of the reframing process. Because it does so, it cannot be considered a simple alternative to reframing.
Rescripting has both its supporters and its detractors and was the subject of several interesting articles in the Spring, 1988 issue of The Journal of Regression Therapy. Among these articles is a cautionary review of the technique by Hazel Denning, Ph.D., who sets forth her concerns about its use. A companion piece in the same issue was written by Chet Snow, Ph.D. He also issues some caveats on its use, but also states that rescripting does have a role in modem hypnotherapy. Thus, it would seem of the two approaches, rescripting is much more controversial than reframing. The interested reader is urged to consult the cluster of articles on this topic appearing in the previously cited issue of the Journal. It should be noted, in passing, that the author shares the concerns enumerated by Drs. Denning and Snow about the use of rescripting, though he does enthusiastically endorse the application of reframing, whenever appropriate.
The Application of Reframing to PLT
The previously presented constructed dialog above serves to illustrate how the therapist in question was able to use a simple technique with traumatized patients to achieve spectacular breakthroughs. Subsequent use by a growing number of past-life therapists indicates that it is equally effective whether the unresolved issues seem to emanate from either the present lifetime or a past life of the client. The essence of the technique may be broken down into five easily identified stages:
- Recognizing that the patient/client seems to be “stuck” in an emotional quagmire as a result of some earlier traumatic event(s).
- Structuring the process: A discussion in which the patient/client is informed about the possibility of using regression and reframing to achieve mutually agreed-upon positive goals, i.e., discovery of the traumatizing event(s) through regression, and then the use of reframing to defeat unresolved issues as a first step on the road to recovery.
- Identifying causality: Conducting the session in which the patient/client is guided into an altered state and then regressed back to whatever event(s) caused the trauma, whether the event(s) themselves have taken place in the present or a past lifetime. Central to the practice of regression therapy is the focus on discovering the original causal event, whether that event took place in the present lifetime or in a previous one.
- Reframing: Once the trauma has been uncovered, the patient/client is assisted to identify the feelings of anger, guilt, etc., and what is needed to resolve the issue(s). Most commonly, this is to be able to tell someone something: For example, how the patient/client felt about him or her, what the patient/client had not been able to say before, or to ask forgiveness or simply to say goodbye. In the altered state, the patient/client can accomplish these healing tasks that were left undone before. This is the essence of reframing.
- Closure: Once the reframing phase has been completed, then the therapist uses positive reinforcing suggestions and gently guides the patient/client back to the present time and place. Closure is an important phase. It provides the positive reinforcement vitally needed by the patient/client and sets the tone for future therapeutic sessions. Because it is so vital, it must be done with awareness and thoroughness. It is integral to the whole process and is the culmination of all that has preceded it.
These processes can be used whether the traumatic events occurred in a past life or the present one. Reframing is a potent, dynamic tool which should be in the therapeutic repository of all practitioners who use altered states, and especially those who work with past lives.
Cameron-Bandler, L. Solutions. San Rafael, CA: FuturePace, 1985.
Bandler, R. and Grinder, J. Frogs into Princesses. Moab, UT: Real People Press, 1979.
——— Reframing. Moab, UT: Real People Press, 1982.
——— TRANS-Formations. Moab, UT: Real People Press, 1981.
Denning, H. Rescripting: An opinion. Journal of Regression Therapy, Vol. III (1), 42-46, 1988.
Havens, R. and Walters, C. Hypnotherapy Scripts. New York: Brunner/Mazel Publishers, 1989.
Kaisch, K. Rescripting: A Family of Therapeutic Techniques. Journal of Regression Therapy, Vol. III (1), 26-31, 1988.
Lankton, S. Practical Magic. Cupertino, CA: Meta Publications, 1980.
Lucas, W. Regression Therapy: A Handbook for Professionals, Vol. I & II. Crest Park, CA: Deep Forest Press, 1993.
Rossi, E. and Cheek, D. Mind-Body Therapy. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 1988.
Snow, C. Rescripting: in Past Life Therapy: Personal Experiences. Journal of Regression Therapy, Vol. III (1), 46-51, 1988.