Barnes-Holmes, D., Barnes-Holmes, Y., Stewart, & Parling. 2019

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APA Citation: 

Barnes-Holmes, D., Barnes-Holmes, Y., Stewart, I., & Parling, T. (2019). Introduction to the special issue on conceptual developments in relational frame theory: Background, content, and the challenge going forward. Journal of Contextual Behavioral Science, 12, 355-357.

Publication Topic: 
RFT: Conceptual
Publication Type: 
Relational Frame Theory, RFT

In 2015, Relational Frame Theory (RFT; Hayes, Barnes-Holmes, & Roche, 2001) reached approximately 30 years of age. We make that claim in the sense that, “The first detailed presentation of the RFT idea was in an invited address… at the Association for Behavior Analysis meeting in Columbus, Ohio in 1985 entitled Verbal behavior, equivalence classes, and rules: New definitions, data, and directions” (Hayes, 2001, viii). Thirty years is a long time in science and it constitutes quite a professional investment by those who have spent most of their careers working on the theory itself. In this context, there may be a tendency among those most closely connected with the theory to show some reticence in seeking to develop or extend the account, much less alter or transform it in some fundamental way. Such resistance is easy to understand as a natural human reaction to protect something in which an individual or group has invested so much time and energy. And of course, science is quite sensibly a relatively conservative activity, which typically avoids rapid large-scale change unless there is strong and compelling empirical evidence to support an alternative perspective or view.

While recognizing the importance of conservatism in the scientific enterprise, both basic and applied, we would argue that after more than 30 years it may be time to reflect upon the extent to which RFT has developed conceptually and is continuing to do so, especially since the first full book-length treatment of the theory (Hayes et al., 2001), which is itself approaching 20 years of age. In so doing, we would hope to build on the strengths of the theory and the advances it has allowed behavioral psychology to make in creating a modern, functional-analytic approach to human language and cognition (see Barnes-Holmes, Barnes-Holmes, Hussey & Luciano, 2016; Dymond & Roche, 2013; Hughes and Barnes-Holmes, 2016ba, Hughes and Barnes-Holmes, 2016ab). We believe that in focusing on current and future conceptual development, both the basic science and its application may benefit (see Barnes-Holmes, Hussey, McEnteggart, Barnes-Holmes, & Foody, 2016). Indeed, as we hope will become clear, a large part of the motivation behind focusing upon ongoing conceptual development for RFT is to facilitate and enhance the reticulating model of basic and applied science, and practice, that lies at the heart of the contextual behavioral science tradition (Hayes et al., 2012, Zettle et al., 2016). We should add, however, that in calling for a greater focus on conceptual development in RFT, we are not advocating for an intellectual “free-for-all” or “anything goes” approach. Indeed, quite the contrary – as we will make clear toward the end of this introduction, we believe that it is vitally important that RFT remains a monistic, functional-analytic abstractive theory of human language and cognition with its roots remaining firmly planted in the Skinnerian tradition from which it originally grew.

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