Applied RFT

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The most obvious form of "applied" RFT is Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. However, ACT is only one small portion of the applied work being done that utilizes RFT concepts.

Indeed, the principles of RFT and procedures that RFT researchers are honing can be widely applicable to learning, education, child and adult development, clinical problems, and much more.

Below are some areas in which RFT is being used to predict and influence complex human phenomena and to help improve interventions in many clinically relevant areas.

RFT and Perspective Taking

Perspective-taking is a word that refers to a common experience in every one’s life. Behavioral scientists have talked about perspective-taking in many different ways, but the field tends to conceptualize that skill as an intrinsic capacity very often not susceptible to direct manipulation or training, which from a functional contextual point of view is not very useful. Additionally, RFT links this skill to other diverse psychological phenomena such as intelligence or experiential avoidance and it does it from a unique and theoretically coherent framework.

Nowadays, although the RFT started with work on children and kids with developmental disabilities, the literature is expanding to phenomena such as stigma (see Vilardaga et al. 2008 ppt), social anhedonia and psychosis (see Villatte et al, papers in the publication section). Perspective taking is a central aspect of what makes us most human: our ability to interact effectively with other human beings and to form groups, communities, countries and coalitions of countries. Work on deictic framing is a good example of the broad applicability of behavioral principles to human affairs.

RFT and Intervention in Autism Spectrum Disorder

A key aspect of language, and one that is at the core of communication deficits for children with autism, is generativity—put simply, the ability to produce or understand totally new sentences. Understanding and accounting for linguistic generativity is critical to any account of language development (Malott, 2003), and to the creation of programs for teaching flexible and fully functional language repertoires. RFT provides new insight into the issue of generativity, by conceptualizing the core skill in language as learned contextually controlled relational responding (referred to as relational framing).

Typically developing children learn relational framing through natural language interactions during which they are exposed to contingencies that establish these response patterns (e.g., Lipkens, Hayes & Hayes, 1993; Luciano, Gómez & Rodríguez, 2007). However, children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) do not easily learn this key form of responding (e.g., Rehfeldt, Dillen, Ziomek, & Kowalchuk, 2007) —while many children with ASD are able to learn functional language skills through explicit training, language use for many remains rote, despite intensive intervention (see, e.g., Luciano, Rodriguez, Manas, Ruiz, Berens, & Valdivia-Salas, 2009).

A number of recently published RFT-based studies, however, (e.g., Murphy, Barnes-Holmes & Barnes-Holmes, 2005; O’Connor, Rafferty, Barnes-Holmes & Barnes-Holmes, 2009) have begun to show that relational framing can be successfully trained in developmentally delayed populations including individuals with ASD. This work holds great promise for the future.


  • Lipkens, R., Hayes, S.C., & Hayes, L.J. (1993). Longitudinal study of the development of derived relations in an infant. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 56, 201-239.
  • Luciano, C., Gomez Becerra, I. & Rodriguez Valverde, M. (2007). The role of multiple- exemplar training and naming in establishing derived equivalence in an infant. Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior, 87, 349-365.
  • Luciano, C., Rodriguez, M., Manas, I., Ruiz, F., Berens, N., & Valdivia-Salas, S. (2009). Acquiring the earliest relational operants: coordination, distinction, opposition, comparison and hierarchy. In Rehfeldt, R.A. & Barnes-Holmes, Y. (Eds.). Derived Relational Responding: Applications for Learners with Autism and other Developmental Disabilities. CA: New Harbinger.
  • Malott, R. W. (2003). Behavior analysis and linguistic productivity. Analysis of Verbal Behavior, 19, 11-18.
  • Murphy, C., Barnes-Holmes, D. & Barnes-Holmes, Y. (2005). Derived manding in children with autism: Synthesizing Skinner's Verbal Behavior with relational frame theory. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 59(1), 445-462.
  • O’Connor, J., Rafferty, A., Barnes-Holmes, D. & Barnes-Holmes , Y. (2009). The role of verbal behavior, stimulus nameability and familiarity on the equivalence performances of autistic and normally-developing children. The Psychological Record, 59(1), 53-74.
  • Rehfeldt, R.A. & Barnes-Holmes, Y. (2009). Derived Relational Responding: Applications for Learners with Autism and other Developmental Disabilities. CA: New Harbinger.
  • Rehfeldt, R. A., Dillen, J. E., Ziomek, M. M., & Kowalchuk, R. E. (2007). Assessing relational learning deficits in perspective-taking in children with high functioning autism spectrum disorder. The Psychological Record, 57, 23-47.

 Additional information will be added soon.