Advances in Relational Frame Theory: Research and Application -- Book Interview

Printer-friendly version

Edited by leading Relational Frame Theory (RFT) scholars, Simon Dymond, PhD, and Bryan Roche, PhD, Advances in Relational Frame Theory presents advances in all aspects of RFT research over the last decade, and provides a greater understanding of the core principals of acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT). The book also contains chapters written by Steven C. Hayes and Kelly Wilson, both research-active experts from the RFT community around the world.

Below, the book's editors Simon Dymond and Bryan Roche discuss the book, as well as the future of RFT.

Q: So what in a nutshell is Relational Frame Theory (RFT)?

Relational Frame Theory (RFT) is a contextual behavioral theory of language and cognition. It holds that the essence of language and cognitive thought is relational in nature.

Q: Why did you produce this book and why now?

As we outline in the Preface, it's been more than ten years since the publication of the first edited volume on RFT: the so-called, "purple book" (Hayes, Barnes-Holmes, & Roche, 2001).

Q: Who is the target audience?

Everyone with an interest in behaviour analysis, verbal behaviour, language and cognition, and clinical therapy. Really, there's something for everyone in the book, be they students, researchers, clinicians or just interested in what modern behaviour analysis has got to say about complex human behaviour.

Q: What might therapists, or other practitioners, and researchers get from the book?

RFT has truly emerged from a very healthy applied-basic research agenda. The theory has been informed from the beginning by the concerns of those trying to explain real world phenomena in the clinic, work or social setting. But it has also been built from the ground up based on sound principles of behavior analysis. So this theory speaks very well to therapists and practitioners in the work or clinical setting. RFT is not an esoteric theory – we always have our eye on the prize, which is not surprising given that we are pragmatists.

Several chapters in the book deal with clinical issues, and explain what RFT has to offer by way of well worked out functional explanations of clinical phenomena. These analysis have very real and immediate implications for the practice of therapy and show how RFT feeds directly into clinical practice. A further chapter illustrates the application of RFT to understanding behavior and behavior change in the workplace. These chapters will help practitioners get a grip on how it is precisely that RFT underpins therapeutic practices such as those used in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) and other mindfulness based treatments. It is an excellent primer for a practitioner who wants a one-stop-shop for everything you needed to know about ACT and RFT.

But researchers will also get a lot from this book. Several chapters outline the verbal/relational underpinnings of clinical problems, which has the potential to better inform novel therapeutic interventions and to inspire exciting translational research endeavours. It represents the latest compendium of advances made in basic RFT research this past decade and is an essential book for any basic researchers interested in cutting edge changes in the experimental analysis of language and cognition. In other words, it's sssential reading for all those interested in clinical issues!

Q: What are some highlights of the book?

That's a hard question; there are so many highlights! Perhaps one of the most exciting advances made in RFT in recent years is its interfacing with neuroscience. The use of fMRI and EEG measures have complimented the development of RFT and some very impressive studies and analyses have been conducted since the publication of the first RFT book in 2001. These studies allow us to speak directly to neuroscientists and to validate some of the predictions of RFT regarding the verbal nature of the transformation of functions and to identify the neural correlates of language and cognitive phenomena in behavioral terms. Many readers will also be keen to read the chapter on the Implicit Relational Assessment Procedure (IRAP), which has also been developed since the 2001 RFT book. The IRAP uses an RFT approach to implicit testing to develop a test that allows researchers to measure implicit attitudes with an empirical integrity that probably outshines that achieved by the eponymous Implicit Association Test. This an excellent example of the application of RFT in domains of research (in this case social cognition) that were typically avoided by behavior analysts. It also represents an excellent example of bridge-building across the various domains of psychology and an impressive example of the kinds of translational research behavior analysts need to be doing.

We should also point out that there is an important conceptual chapter in the book in which the approach to science that we call contextual behavioral science (CBS), is integrated into a larger body of selectionist and contextualistic scientific approaches, namely evolution theory. This is an important new illustration of the fact that contextual behavioral science is quite an all-encompassing approach to science that can move us closer to a single, but multi-level and unified account of individual’s behavior. These types of conceptual advances are very exciting and very important for assessing the maturity and progressiveness of the CBS approach.

But, there are 11 chapters in the book, and all are worth highlighting!

Q: What are the future challenges and opportunities for RFT?

RFT is still a young theory in terms of the number of basic researchers who employ it as a paradigm in their basic research. It has come a long way but we need to see more translational work being done so that researchers and practitioners in other fields sit up and take notice. This has already started to happen in the fields of experimental psychopathology and implicit testing, and of course it has already happened for ACT in the world of therapy. 

Numerous challenges lie ahead, such as ensuring new organisations like ACBS and journals such as JCBS are able to continue to "spread the word" about RFT to a wider audience, especially given ongoing changes in scholarly publishing models and the growth of open access solutions. This is balanced, however, by numerous emerging opportunities such as the widespread acceptance that verbal/relational processes may play an important role in causing and maintaining human suffering (and the potential for RFT to inform such clinical theories), the fact that RFT is uniquely positioned to contribute its own functional account of language and cognition to debates underway in cognitive science and clinical psychology (Jan De Houwer, in the Foreword to the book, makes a great point in this regard), and the momentum behind ACBS and other organisations in reaching out and developing a genuine community of researchers, clinicians and students interested in RFT and its implications. We think the best service we can do for behavior analysis is to showcase RFT as our crowning achievement to date, and to do our best to use it to bring a behavior-analytic perspective to all and any behavior, regardless of their apparent level of complexity.