Getting Beyond the Way of the Guru and Other Scientific Deadends

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ACT is drawing a great deal of attention and many of the folks now connecting with the work are not behavior analysts. In addition, behavior analysis itself is not necessarily evolving fast enough for visitors to see through to its core and to its potential without a bit of a roadmap. Many of the folks who visit this site would recoil from ACT's intellectual home base if dropped into an Association for Behavior Analysis convention, say, without a friend. Much of what is there will seem foreign or even hostile to an ACT / RFT perspective. But do the same with someone knowledgeable -- especially someone to help deal with the confusion because both mechanists and contextualists co-exist inside this tradition and to help find the right resources -- and the vast majority of those who connect with the ACT work will see the relevance of behavior analysis.

If the ACT / RFT agenda is successful this problem will eventually resolve itself because RFT (especially) and perhaps to a lesser degree ACT will move the home base itself. But we are not there yet.

The grand strategy here is this (this is not so much sequential and linear as it is an interconnected web):

build the contextualistic wing of BA, build the RFT research program, build the ACT program, build the links between ACT and RFT, build the other applied extensions of RFT, use ACT to draw mainstream clinical to the work, expose mainstream CBT to the value of RFT, expose mainstream cognitive psychology to the value of RFT and use RFT to do hard work in that area, expose other areas of psychology (prevention, education, etc etc etc) to the value of ACT / RFT and use ACT/RFT to do substantial work in those areas, use the support for ACT and RFT to build support in academic departments for basic behavior analysis, bump behavior analysis itself along, end up with a revitalized form of behavior analysis inside the mainstream of psychology.

Whew

This is not politics, though it may look like it in some of its features. It makes sense only if you believe that for the good of humanity functional contextual psychology should play far more of a role in the future of psychology than it otherwise seems destined to, and that to do that it needs not just to be understood but to develop itself.

But if you look at the list above you will see a problem. This agenda cannot work if the work begins and ends with ACT. The explosion of popularity of ACT is both a blessing and a danger. Folks come to the work and think it is just a neat technology. Some immediately start to modify it based not on theory or development of needed processes but on comfort (I like doing X, X is not in there, I will do ACT + X). Some folks are doing ACT studies without ever having been to an ACT / RFT conference, or even an extended ACT training, etc. So just when we have a chance to leverage attention for even more dramatic change, we risk crumbling into incoherence.

Once ACT is a technology only, it is done. Because then, how doe sit develop?

If you just let the technology stay as it is you have:

Option A. The Way of the Empirically Supported Treatment Manual. The technology is it. Sell the manuals. Validate them. Sell them some more. Then let them gather dust.

If you are going to let it develop then you have other options:

Option B: The Way of the Guru. A charismatic leader declares new things to be in or out. Yuck.

Option C: The Way of Politics. Anything goes provided enough folks support it, thus create subgroups to support innovations/styles/techniques etc. Eventually this option becomes Option B, or ACT just splinters into nothingness
and you are left just with a name and canonical texts.

Option D: The Way of Scientific Battleships. Anything goes provided you have some data. The kitchen sink is useful, too, so don't forget to throw that in. And, way the way, where did those ideas you threw in come from in the first place? Ahhh. Hmmm. Brute force science linked to commonsense cannot see through to the essence of things. Precision, but no scope. Eventually this becomes a sequential version of Option A.

There is another option. It is the way bieng followed in the ACT / RFT approach. ACT is a model, based on processes and techniques that modify those processes. The processes are linked to basic principles and a basic research program on those principles. All of that stands on a philosophy of science and on an intellectual and methodological tradition.

This is Option E: The Way of an Evolving Science.

But to do this, we have to take responsibility for it. Folks drawn into ACT, for example, need to take seriously the possibility that overtime they will need to learn more about RFT, and then about behavior analysis itself (even if they are, say, psychoanalysts, or existentialists, or cognitive therapists). If you force that too early or too rudely and it is a barrier. But ignore it altogether, and it is a recipe for ultimate irrelevance. Thus ACBS. Thus, the World Conferences. Thus this website.

We cannot expect someone else to do it. Together, as a community, we have to work together to create a progressive science more adequate to the challenge of the human condition.

- Steve Hayes