BLOG: Are You Using the Full Potential of Perspective Taking in Your Clinical Work?


Perspective taking shift is one of the most powerful tools you can use to help your clients gain awareness and transform the meaning of critical experiences. Many psychotherapy models explicitly include perspective-taking moves, but the way these interventions look like can vary. For example, in Compassion Focused Therapy (CFT), we might encourage a client to develop compassion toward herself by imagining what a kind friend who say to her. In Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), we might invite a client to go back to a meaningful memory in order to reconnect with values or to project herself in the future to identifying valued actions. In Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), clients are often encouraged to take the perspective of their wise minds so as to gain self-efficacy. In Emotion Focused Therapy (EFT) and Gestalt Therapy, we might invite a client to engage in a dialogue between different selves, sometimes using chairs, to discover new information.

Clinical RFT, the clinical application of relational frame theory, is not a psychotherapy model, but a set of basic behavioral principles of language and cognition that can help you integrate techniques from different models into a coherent and flexible framework. In RFT, perspective taking is approached through the concept of deictic framing, which includes three dimensions: interpersonal, temporal, and spatial. It means you can imagine yourself in someone else’s shoes, or travel in time and space purely by imagination.

Two other dimensions are useful to consider when using perspective-taking shifts in therapy.

One of these dimensions determines whether perspective taking is projective or reflective. When perspective taking is projective, you observe the world from a new point of view (e.g. “If you were 10 years from now, how would you describe yourself then?”). When perspective taking is reflective, you observe your current experience from another point of view (e.g. “If you were 10 years from now and remembered how you were today, how would you describe yourself?”). In projective perspective taking, we often want to help clients look outside the box and broaden their awareness. On the other hand, reflective perspective taking creates a kind of mirror effect, in which clients can access insightful information about a current situation. Projective and reflective perspective taking can be crossed with interpersonal, temporal, and spatial perspective taking. For example, you can take the perspective of another person in order to find inspiration (e.g. “What would I do if I were my mentor now?” — an example of interpersonal projective perspective taking) or imagine what you would say if you were your best friend hearing your own self criticism – an example of interpersonal reflective perspective taking to develop self compassion).

Another important dimension of perspective taking corresponds to the alternative between egocentric and allocentric shifts. In egocentric shifts, we invite a client to imagine what another person would do, think, feel, say etc. if this person were in the client’s shoes (it is ego-centric because other people are brought to the client’s point of view). In allocentric shifts, it’s the client who takes the point of view of another person (“allo” means “other” in Greek). Allocentric shifts are particularly useful to assess, evoke, or train empathy (e.g. “How would you feel if you were your partner and you heard what you just said?”) while egocentric shifts can be helpful to increase the client’s ability to deal with a difficult situation by borrowing skills from another person (e.g. “What would your brother do in this situation?”). Allocentric and egocentric shifts can even be mixed to invite a client to take the perspective of “another self” (e.g. “How would you deal with this situation if you were your best self?”). Here again, this egocentric/allocentric/mixed dimension can be crossed with other perspective taking dimensions (interpersonal/spatial/temporal; projective/reflective).

Checkout this video demonstration using a variety of projective temporal perspective shifts to help a client develop a continuous sense of self.

More on RFT and perspective taking:

McHugh, L. & Stewart, I. (2012). The Self and Perspective Taking: Contributions and Applications from Modern Behavioral Science. Oakland: New Harbinger.

Do you want to learn how to use RFT in your clinical practice? Checkout this 6-month online course. Registration closes on September 14!

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