A Therapist’s Tool We Can All Use
by Lisa Edwards
for the PSI Blog
February 27, 2018
My children wake up early. Very early. The only time we ever use an alarm clock is if we are traveling and have to get up for a flight. Needless to say, I tend to complain about this. And when my oldest started school and we realized that she couldn’t be dropped off until 8:40 a.m., I complained even more. What would we do for several hours each morning before school? How would I ever make it to a 9:00 a.m. meeting?
Why doesn’t school start earlier for young children?
My complaining went on for about 6 months, and during that time I never adjusted to our new routine. I resisted it, whined about it, and my energy was spent completely at odds with our reality.
One day as I was venting to a friend about all the wasted time we had in the mornings, my friend gently suggested the following: “I’ve heard you say that you feel like you don’t have enough time in the evenings once you get home from work, but you also say you have too much time in the mornings before school. Why not start to use the mornings to spend time with the family and do those things you can’t do at night?”
I remember feeling stunned by my friend’s logic, and a little embarrassed that I hadn’t thought of it before. At that moment I experienced the power of a reframe. It’s a tool we like to use as therapists because it provides an alternative way of viewing a situation. When someone provides a reframe, we suddenly feel a shift and new insight, and oftentimes we feel more hopeful because of this increased awareness.
In therapeutic situations, reframes can be amazing. They help clients see other people’s behavior from a new perspective (e.g. “Maybe this is her way of showing her care for you”), or they help clients see how their own behaviors are affecting their lives (e.g. “I wonder if others would interpret your actions as being hurtful”). Of course reframes are not advised for all situations, as there are times when shifting a perspective might in fact hide an important reality that shouldn’t be ignored, such as being in an abusive relationship.
After my friend’s reframe I felt like I had a new perspective about my “day” with my family, which included an understanding that morning and evening hours together made up my time with them. I felt like I could stop wallowing in the dissatisfaction about the mornings because I was empowered to change my view of the situation. For me, this was profound. I won’t say that I love getting (woken) up early or that I love mornings now, but I’ve stopped thinking of them as wasted time and instead try a little harder to have some together time (e.g. reading a book, Play-Doh), or even tackle minor projects (e.g. baking or birthday and thank you cards) with the kids.
The best part of reframes is that we can get them from a friend, but we can also provide them for ourselves. When you find yourself reacting negatively to a minor stressor, or stuck in a certain pattern of thinking that isn’t working, see if you can challenge the thoughts you have about the situation. Propose a different way of looking at things, a reframe, and see if it offers some hope and motivation to change.
Lisa Edwards, PhD is a mother and professor of counseling psychology at Marquette University. She created hopefulmama.com to offer strategies to help mothers cultivate their strengths. She has also served as a volunteer on the Spanish HelpLine for Postpartum Support International. To read more from Lisa you can follow her blog or find her on Facebook and Twitter. On her Pinterest boards you’ll find many resources about perinatal mental health, positive psychology, and parenting.