Reframing: a CBT skill and the Christian faith

By Sarah Earles, MS, LPC, NCC | August 25, 2023 

Many Christians share concerns about the theories and techniques used in counseling. They want to make sure that therapeutic techniques and theories align with their faith. This is a real and valid concern. Fortunately, many theories and techniques align fairly clearly with biblical teachings. The cognitive behavioral theory of reframing is one such example.

What is cognitive behavioral therapy? A man named Aaron Beck developed cognitive behavioral therapy [CBT] in the 1960’s (Suma, Kukel, & Huecker, 2022). Beck developed the therapy to work on understanding the thoughts that motivated behavior. If thoughts could be changed, behavior might change as a result, he thought (Miller, 2019). CBT is a common style of therapy and is used to address a range of struggles from depression, to relationship struggles, and more (APA, 2017). Reframing is a technique commonly used in this type of therapy, as well as in many other theories of counseling.

Which kind of technique is reframing? Reframing is a cognitive behavioral therapy [CBT] technique used to identify unhelpful thoughts and replace them with more helpful thoughts (Harris, n.d.). The tool is used to change the mind by considering something from a different perspective (Morin, 2022). Some practitioners use the phrase, “catch it, check it, change it” to describe how reframing works (NHS, n.d.). The idea is simple in theory, but it can be hard to do. This is where therapy can help.

How does reframing fit with the Christian Faith? The Bible says that the heart controls what a person thinks, says, and does. The heart is the center of all of the ways of human life (Easton, 1893). See for example, Matthew 12:34 that says “the mouth speaks what the heart is full of” (New International Version, 2011). Luke 6:45 says, “A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart.” From this perspective, one can  conclude that a change of the heart could change what comes out of the heart. Put differently, heart change can lead to behavior change.

The Bible also explicitly commands thought change. In Romans 12:1, Paul exhorts believers to “be transformed by the renewing of [the] mind” (New International Version, 2011). Later, he encourages believers to “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthian 10:5). Reframing is a helpful tool in this process, capturing unbiblical thought and restructuring it to align with biblical truth. Lysa TerKeurst, in her book, It’s Not Supposed to Be This Way, writes that truth is helpful for healthy coping because it “comes from God and then helps…process all [a person is] dealing with.” When a person believes truth, they are able to behave in ways that better honor God, and that benefit themselves and others.

Conclusion. Reframing is a basic skill that can help believers catch and change their thoughts to become more Christlike, and healthier, for themselves and others. Sometimes this is a self-help technique. Sometimes this is a therapeutic technique. Sometimes it is both. In any case, believers can rest assured, and find peace in the alignment of this technique with the truths of the Bible.

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Many Christians share concerns about the theories and techniques used in counseling. They want to make sure that therapeutic techniques and theories align with their faith. This is a real and valid concern. Fortunately, many theories and techniques align fairly clearly with biblical teachings. The cognitive behavioral theory of reframing is one such example.

What is cognitive behavioral therapy? A man named Aaron Beck developed cognitive behavioral therapy [CBT] in the 1960’s (Suma, Kukel, & Huecker, 2022). Beck developed the therapy to work on understanding the thoughts that motivated behavior. If thoughts could be changed, behavior might change as a result, he thought (Miller, 2019). CBT is a common style of therapy and is used to address a range of struggles from depression, to relationship struggles, and more (APA, 2017). Reframing is a technique commonly used in this type of therapy, as well as in many other theories of counseling.

Which kind of technique is reframing? Reframing is a cognitive behavioral therapy [CBT] technique used to identify unhelpful thoughts and replace them with more helpful thoughts (Harris, n.d.). The tool is used to change the mind by considering something from a different perspective (Morin, 2022). Some practitioners use the phrase, “catch it, check it, change it” to describe how reframing works (NHS, n.d.). The idea is simple in theory, but it can be hard to do. This is where therapy can help.

How does reframing fit with the Christian Faith? The Bible says that the heart controls what a person thinks, says, and does. The heart is the center of all of the ways of human life (Easton, 1893). See for example, Matthew 12:34 that says “the mouth speaks what the heart is full of” (New International Version, 2011). Luke 6:45 says, “A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart.” From this perspective, one can  conclude that a change of the heart could change what comes out of the heart. Put differently, heart change can lead to behavior change.

The Bible also explicitly commands thought change. In Romans 12:1, Paul exhorts believers to “be transformed by the renewing of [the] mind” (New International Version, 2011). Later, he encourages believers to “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthian 10:5). Reframing is a helpful tool in this process, capturing unbiblical thought and restructuring it to align with biblical truth. Lysa TerKeurst, in her book, It’s Not Supposed to Be This Way, writes that truth is helpful for healthy coping because it “comes from God and then helps…process all [a person is] dealing with.” When a person believes truth, they are able to behave in ways that better honor God, and that benefit themselves and others.

Conclusion. Reframing is a basic skill that can help believers catch and change their thoughts to become more Christlike, and healthier, for themselves and others. Sometimes this is a self-help technique. Sometimes this is a therapeutic technique. Sometimes it is both. In any case, believers can rest assured, and find peace in the alignment of this technique with the truths of the Bible.

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References

American Psychological Association. (2017, July). What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Clinical guide for the treatment of posttraumatic stress disorderhttps://www.apa.org/ptsd-guideline/patients-and-families/cognitive-behavioral

Chand, S.P., Kuckel, D.P., & Hueker, M.R. (2022, September 9). Cognitive Behavior Therapy. Stat Pearls. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK470241/

Easton, M.G. (1893). Heart. In M.G. Eason’s Easton’s Bible Dictionary. BibleHub. https://biblehub.com/topical/h/heart.htm

Harris, S. (n.d.). Reframing our thoughts to have positive feelings. All Health Network. https://www.allhealthnetwork.org/colorado-spirit/reframing-our-thoughts-to-have-positive-feelings

Miller, K. (2019, May 6). CBT explained: An overview & summary of CBT (Incl. history). Positive Psychology. https://positivepsychology.com/cbt/

Morin, A. (2022, May 4). What is cognitive reframing? Very Well Mind. https://www.verywellmind.com/reframing-defined-2610419

New International Version. (2011). BibleGateway.com. http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/New-International-Version-NIV-Bible/#booklist

NHS. (n.d.). Reframing unhelpful thoughts. https://www.nhs.uk/every-mind-matters/mental-wellbeing-tips/self-help-cbt-techniques/reframing-unhelpful-thoughts/

TerKeurst, L. (2018). It’s not supposed to be this way. Thomas Nelson.

References

American Psychological Association. (2017, July). What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Clinical guide for the treatment of posttraumatic stress disorderhttps://www.apa.org/ptsd-guideline/patients-and-families/cognitive-behavioral

Chand, S.P., Kuckel, D.P., & Hueker, M.R. (2022, September 9). Cognitive Behavior Therapy. Stat Pearls. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/ books/NBK470241/

Easton, M.G. (1893). Heart. In M.G. Eason’s Easton’s Bible Dictionary. BibleHub. https://biblehub.com/ topical/h/heart.htm

Harris, S. (n.d.). Reframing our thoughts to have positive feelings. All Health Network. https://www.allhealthnetwork.org/ colorado-spirit/reframing-our-thoughts-to-have-positive-feelings

Miller, K. (2019, May 6). CBT explained: An overview & summary of CBT (Incl. history). Positive Psychology. https://positivepsychology .com/cbt/

Morin, A. (2022, May 4). What is cognitive reframing? Very Well Mind. https://www.verywellmind.com/ reframing-defined-2610419

New International Version. (2011). BibleGateway.com. http://www.biblegate way.com/versions/New-International-Version-NIV-Bible/#booklist

NHS. (n.d.). Reframing unhelpful thoughts. https://www.nhs.uk/every-mind-matters/mental-wellbeing-tips/self-help-cbt-techniques/reframing-unhelpful-thoughts/

TerKeurst, L. (2018). It’s not supposed to be this way. Thomas Nelson.