Posted by: Steve Andreas in: Articles
The Structural Patterns of Change:
(A reorganization of reframing patterns)
Note: I have revised this presentation repeatedly since I first offered it several years ago, trying to make it clearer and more “user-friendly.” It is an attempt to summarize what I presented in my two-volume book, Six Blind Elephants (578 pp.) but which I failed to provide in those books. So it inevitably leaves out a lot of detail—and almost all of the examples. Please consider this a “work in progress” to be further refined in the future.
You can download this article as a PDF here:
Reframing is usually thought of as a relatively small part of NLP, originally divided into content reframing and context reframing, and later further divided into the 14 “sleight of mouth” patterns. However, I think that all change can be usefully described using one or more patterns of reframing, and all of these different patterns derive from only three variables. Every change of experience changes one or more of the following:
NLP is often defined as “The study of the structure of subjective experience.” The main difficulty in describing the structure of an experience of scope is that usually a scope is immediately categorized, and that nearly all the words we have to use to describe a scope indicate categories (except for proper nouns such as “John Smith” or “New York City”). Scope is what is experienced (seen, heard, felt, smelled, or tasted) before it is categorized or identified.
An example of this is hearing someone speaking a language you don’t understand; you can hear the sounds perfectly well, but you don’t know how to punctuate the stream of sounds into separate scopes of sounds, or what those scopes indicate. Or think of a time when you didn’t know what you were seeing or hearing; you could see it or hear it, but you couldn’t immediately categorize it. Usually an experience of this kind is immediately followed by a vigorous effort to identify what it is, because that is so useful in responding appropriately.
For simplicity, let’s first explore scope in a moment in time, as if the flow of time were stopped:
Each modality provides information that is different from the other modalities—though there is some overlap, such as location. (If there were no overlap, we wouldn’t be able to integrate the scopes from the different senses into the unitary experience we usually enjoy.)
Every still image will have submodalities, but only some will have partial enhancement that “highlights” one (or more) aspects of an image, drawing attention to it. This effect is often a factor in internal representations of importance or values, which are motivating (toward or away from) and if out of balance, may result in compulsions or addictions.
Even the shortest movie changes the scope of time, and this usually changes the scope of space. We typically punctuate our experience of time into segments of different length, with somewhat arbitrary beginnings and endings. The span of an “event” can vary from a “split-second” to days or months, or even a lifetime, before categorizing it, as in “That was a tough interview,” or “He had a good life.” A longer scope in time provides a larger context, similar to that provided by a larger context in space, the “bigger picture.” However, a larger context in either space or time usually makes it harder to notice the smaller details, unless you “zoom in” to magnify a part of the image.
A friendly challenge:
In this short article I’m claiming that every intervention that changes subjective experience—whether officially designated as “NLP” or not—can be usefully described using this set of reframing patterns, which are based on only three fundamental process variables—scope, categorization, and logical level. As you experiment in the ways I have suggested above, if you find an communication that you have difficulty characterizing (or you think you have found an example of a pattern that isn’t listed above) read my two-volume book, Six Blind Elephants, which provides much more detail, and many more examples.
Practicing and using this information
There are many ways to use the information in this very brief outline; here are just a few:
You can examine the individual steps in any standard NLP intervention (such as the Meta-Model questions, change personal history, or the phobia cure) and notice which reframing pattern occurs in each.
You can write down examples of what you have said to clients, and discover which patterns you typically use. The ones that you don’t use indicate where you can expand your range of skills and flexibility.
You can think of things clients have said to you that you found difficult or confusing, and find out what patterns they exhibit. How does that suggest to you how you might respond the next time a client says something like that?
Better yet, make a transcript of a short recorded segment of a session with a client, and notice which patterns you use, and which patterns your client use in response. Do they respond appropriately to the pattern in what you said, or not? If not, did you repeat what you said, or did you accept their inappropriate response?
You can do the same with transcripts of different therapies, to notice how they are biased, and how this limits what they can accomplish. For instance, psychoanalysis mostly asks for an earlier scope of time (“prior cause”) and the tired old, “How do you feel about that?” asks for a higher category, what is often called “meta” (All emotional feelings are categories that include the experiences they include and evaluate.) directing attention away from practical problem-solving.
You can practice using different patterns together for greater effect, for instance: “When you see the larger context around that memory, how else could you describe that situation?” first asks for an expanded scope, and then for a recategorization of the larger scope. “Give me an example of that, and tell me how you responded?” first asks for a specific scope included in a category, or a smaller category, and then asks for a report of the consequences later in time.
As an exercise, pick any two patterns at random, and create a sentence that uses both; then notice how hearing that sentence changes your experience.
You can say to a client, “Tell me more about that,” which is ambiguous, and notice which patterns they use in response. That will tell you something about how they are processing a problem or outcome—or how a previous therapist has trained them to respond in the therapy context.
This article has described verbal interventions, but the same principles apply to the nonverbal aspects of a communication. For instance, if you ask, “How else could you describe that situation?” while gesturing broadly with both arms expansively, that is an invitation to expand the frame in space to include a larger context, and then to recategorize it. Using a gesture in which both hands move together indicates a smaller context, a smaller scope of space, instead of a larger context. If you ask the same question with a sweeping horizontal gesture, that’s an invitation to expand the scope of time to include what happened before and after an event, while a shorter gesture invites attending to a smaller scope of time. Asking the same question while raising a hand vertically is an invitation to think of a more general category at a higher logical level, while a downward gesture would invite the client to think of a more specific category. These are only broad generalizations of course; utilizing the gestures a client spontaneously uses to indicate these kinds of shift will be much more dependable.
Ambiguous Reframing Patterns (in addition to meta-frame (described above) Each of the categories below is an example of one of the previous categories described.
Outcome “And the outcome of that is. . . ?” An outcome can be either a scope of experience (a specific new car) or a category of experience (status). Asking about an outcome could shift from one scope to another scope, one category to another category, from a scope to a category, or a category to a scope (four possibilities). Notice that an outcome could be in the past (“What I wanted to achieve”) the present (“My outcome is”) or the future, (“What I hope will happen is”).
Another Outcome Just as an outcome is ambiguous, another outcome could also yield the four possibilities listed above.
Meta-outcome (outcome of the outcome) Again, asking about a meta-outcome could also yield the four possibilities listed above. When the prefix “meta” a used in other ways, it is also ambiguous in regard to scope and category.
“Chunk down” can mean either going to a smaller scope or to a more specific category, or to a specific example (scope) included in a category.
“Chunk up” can mean either going to a larger scope or to a more general category, or from a scope to a category.
Reality Strategy asks for the evidence (the epistemological basis) for their experience. “And the way you know that is. . . ?” The responder may tell you a category (“That is one of the things my parents told me.”) or a scope of experience (“I saw it happen,” or “It’s in the Bible.”).
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