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  • Writer's pictureKarey Pohn

Presto-Chango— Changing Meaning Through Reframing

One Erickson's most important techniques is reframing. The meaning of things depends on the frame in which you put them, and reframing transforms meaning because

when you change the frame, you also change the meaning.  When the meaning changes so do your responses and behaviour.  The ability to reframe events gives greater freedom and choice . . . .  Metaphors are reframing devices. They say in effect “this could mean that . . .” Fairy tales are beautiful examples of reframes . . . . inventors make reframes . . . . Jokes are reframes.  Nearly all jokes start by setting events in a certain frame and then suddenly and drastically changing it.  Jokes involve taking an object or situation and putting it suddenly in a different context or suddenly giving it another meaning. (O’ Connor & Seymour, 1990, p. 127)

Reframing breaks out of limiting preconceptions to broader understanding of human possibilities.  Watzlawick, a colleague of Bateson’s, mentions that the "essence of brief therapy is the gentle art of reframing" (Lankton & Lankton, 1983, p. 336) O' Connor and Seymour, in discussing reframing note that reframing is not akin to looking at the world with rose-colored glasses and seeing everything as "really good." They explain: “Problems will not vanish of their own accord, they still have to be worked through, but the more ways you have of looking at things the easier they are to solve . . . . reframing gives you room to manoeuvre.”  (O'Connor & Seymour, 1990, p. 128).  Advertising and politics are nonpsychological fields in which reframing abounds.

The song “A Spoonful of Sugar” is a metaphor and lesson in reframing. Along the way, reframing occurs in the visit to Uncle Albert’s, at the fireplace before the rooftop adventure, and when Bert talks with the children after the bank run. As we will see in the “I Love to Laugh,” section of the scene-play, reframing is the essence of jokes.  

Now that we have got a taste of Ericksonian magic and have been alerted to its occurrence in Mary Poppins, let us take a last look at how Mary’s Ericksonian magic applies to George, who we can perhaps consider to be the ego, or conscious mind. George Banks is rigid, like the ego, which is structured in a certain way, and not very open to new things.  It would not be useful to confront George directly, because then he would become defensive, which would increase his resistance and rigidity.  Mary works her magic by dealing directly and indirectly with the children— representing the unconscious, while Mary repeatedly confuses the conscious mind, George.  George however "gets" all of the lessons in the end, because the children have shared them with him along the way.  Even though George consciously resisted them at the time, he unconsciously assimilated the lessons due to his constant state of confusion and also due to the fact that they were not directed directly at him.  Play deterritorializes the ego in a similar fashion.  Through play and nonordinary states, we can transform, using the same archetypal pattern with which we have been playing.  And speaking of archetypal patterns, let us take another look at laughter in this light. Laughter, too, deterritorializes the ego as we will see in our final excursion of the dissertation, the laughter excursion. Let us go there now.


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