Higher Logical Level
Eliciting a more general category:
Meta-frame The prefix “meta” alone has been used ambiguously in the past to indicate either a larger scope or a more general category. Since “Expand frame” already describes a larger scope, I will use “meta-frame” to mean a shift to a more general category that includes the original scope or category. “And that is an example of. . . ?”
There are many such meta-frames, and many specify content. Some of the more useful and familiar ones that have been described previously are listed below:
Positive Intent “And the positive intent of that is. . . ?” Positive intent creates a category of which this experience is an example. (“I did that to make you happy.”)
Learning “And what you learned from that is. . . ?” elicits a more general category of “learnings.”
Curiosity “And what was most interesting to you about that is. . . ? elicits a more general category of “interesting things.”
Hierarchy of criteria “And what is more important to you than that is. . . ?” elicits a more general category of “things that are important.”
Metaphor/Analogy “And that is like what. . . ?” Metaphor elicits a category that an experience is “like,” in some way or ways, meaning that it satisfies one or more (but not all) criteria for inclusion in the category.
Self-reference elicits a category that includes itself as an example) These patterns are seldom applicable, but very useful when they are, because they are logically “airtight.” Both of these loop between logical levels;
Apply to self (applying a category to itself) “And is what you just said an example of itself?. . . ” “You said that you hate complaining; is what you said a complaint?”
Paradox (apply to self with negation) “And is what you just said not an example of itself?. . . ” “You said, ‘I won’t communicate with you,’ but what you said is also a communication.”
Redefinition or Redescription “And a different way to describe that is. . . ?”
Lower Logical Level.
Eliciting a more specific category or an example (scope):
Category to more specific category “And that is what kind of. . . ?”
Category to scope And an example of that is. . . ?”
Counterexample category (Category to specific category with negation) “And an example of when that isn’t true is called. . . ?”
Counterexample scope (Category to scope with negation) “And an example when that isn’t true is. . . ?”
Expand frame (larger scope) “And the larger context around that is. . . ?”
Shrink frame (smaller scope) “And part of that is. . . .”
Change frame (different scope) “And something entirely different than that is . . . .”
Perceptual Position (self, other, observer) “And how s/he would see this is. . . ?”
Prior cause (earlier scope) “And that’s because. . . ?” Notice that “And what happened before that was. . . ?” is much subtler because it implies prior cause (causality), rather than presupposing it.
Consequence (later scope) “And the result of that is. . . ?” Notice that “And what happened after that was. . . ?” is much subtler because it implies consequence (causality), rather than presupposing it.
Expand frame (larger scope) “And if that still picture were expanded into a movie to include what happened before, and what happened afterward. . . .” Often a traumatic memory is seen as an unchanging still image “frozen in a moment in time.” Seeing that horrible moment of peak emotion in the longer context of a movie is a powerful intervention that provides a larger perspective, while presupposing that the static moment will change into something else.
Shrink frame (smaller scope) “And a part of that event is. . . .”
Change frame (different scope) “And a very different period of time is. . . .”
A major disadvantage of working at a more abstract level is that the prototype for a behavior like “honesty” is much less detailed and sensory-specific than “speaking in a loud voice,” which is much less ambiguous. That makes it hard to know what specific behavior constitutes “honesty” in a given situation—intellectual honesty, emotional honesty, financial self-disclosure, etc.? The highly abstract category indicated by the words “collateral damage” doesn’t include vivid images of screaming, bleeding, burning flesh.
Knowing this trade-off between wide generalization and specificity can sensitize us to the likely consequences of working at different logical levels, and makes it possible to choose the logical level at which to make an intervention. A general principle is to work at the most specific logical level that will get the desired outcome. For instance, if a client is distressed because they can’t spell well, teaching the successful spelling strategy will be more useful than teaching them “how to feel comfortable about making mistakes.”
Each of these is a pure process intervention that changes what a client attends to, and that elicits a different (and hopefully a more useful) experience and response. The different reframing patterns provide a familiar window for understanding how these three fundamental processes underlie all change work. This greatly simplifies the task of characterizing a client’s experience, and also indicates what kind of intervention will be most useful.
Most of the reframing patterns below are content-free processes, meaning that the therapist doesn’t introduce content into the client’s experience. However, as the client shifts attention in response to an intervention, they will attend to different content out of their own experience, and this will often change their response.
This reorganization helps you understand how all the different reframing patterns are related, what kind of change of experience will result from using each, and points out ambiguities in earlier presentations of reframing patterns.
Whenever a pattern has previously been named (for instance in Robert Dilts’ “sleight of mouth” descriptions) that name is used. Dilts lists 14 different patterns; the list below contains 24, but some are different names for the same kind of scope/category/logical level distinction, and some differ only in content. The number of fundamental patterns is not written in stone; that depends on how specific you make distinctions in creating categories.
A simple sentence stem is used to exemplify each intervention, to make it easy to distinguish the different patterns listed (sometimes this restriction
The sensory-based experience of a “chair,” before it is categorized, is a scope, which becomes an example of a basic category, such as “chair,” or “furniture,” or “household belongings,” or any other category. A sensory-based scope example is arbitrarily designated logical level 0.
A category like “chair” that includes a group of sensory-based scopes is called a basic level category, at logical level 1.
However, the category “chair” could be included in a more general category “furniture,” including tables, beds, desks, etc. A category whose members are also categories (rather than sensory-based scopes) is at logical level 2
The category “furniture” (at logical level 2) could be included in a yet more general category like “household belongings,” along with other level 2 categories such as “clothes,” “clocks,” “shoes,” etc. A category whose members are categories at logical level 2 is at logical level 3.
However, the category “chair” could also be divided into more specific basic level categories at logical level 1, such as “antique chairs,” “modern chairs,” “lawn chairs,” etc. In that case, the category “chair” would be at logical level 2, rather than 1.
If “antique chairs,” “modern chairs,” “wooden chairs,” were not basic level categories, but were further subdivided into yet more specific categories, then they would be at logical level 2, and “chairs” would be at logical level 3.
From the foregoing it should be clear that logical levels are not fixed, but reflect how someone categorizes, a way to track how someone categorizes, which has many uses. One is that the prototype image for a higher logical level will be less specific (more abstract) than the prototype image for a lower level. This has both advantages and disadvantages.
A major advantage to making a change in a more abstract behavior like “honesty” is that it will generalize much more widely (to more contents and contexts) than a more specific behavior, such as “speaking in a loud voice.” This makes it possible to predict—at least in a general way—how widely a change will generalize. Some behaviors (like sex) are usually more useful if they are somewhat narrowly contextualized, while others (like being observant) are useful in a much wider range of contexts.
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