This is my voice. If you are here listening, I thank you from the bottom of my heart.
If you’ve been here before you know that I have a passion for RFT and science. I have spoken about my love of Rubik’s cubes, measurement, and quantum physics.
Let me show you how I began to walk this path. It will be difficult to share.
Parts of my life have been a bit too much like a Chuck Pallinuik book. Nothing making much sense or being reliable, but the unreliability. Chaos breeds a different type of focus, if you survive it.
Those that do find a way to survive, like I did, give purpose and find meaning in their deepest pains. RFT is the framework beyond most. If you have a purpose, it’s highly likely it can help you get there. If you don’t, it can help you find it.
Experiential contact has a way of making you aware, metaphorical has a way of gently guiding, and hierarchicals they give you a direction. They are the light at the end of the tunnel when life unceremoniously leaves you searching in the dark.
So, RFT is my swiss army knife of functionality and sense making.
Gone are my days of reading Kafka, Dostoyevsky, Dante’, Camus, and Pallinuik in pain, so I can briefly touch a hierarchical that brings existential crisis skipping only steps behind it.
Why? Because stories of giant beetles don’t do much for real world application. They are abstracted metaphorical frame networks that leave you with little to ‘do’.
Yes, yes, there is meaning there but I find myself a little defused and over connected with that creepy beetle.
All of these things show us through metaphor, twisting and winding, a framework. And yet, what can I do with a kafka-esque framework but believe it?
Sticky coherence that doesn’t apply well to reality is a framework for blindness through rule governed insensitivity. If a rule blocks your sensitivity, a network of rules is a blindfold.
As a scientist… that part of philosophy always pissed me off. So, I am like Sisypus? Pushing my rock up hill? Great. I can feel it, now what? Stop?
Obviously you’ve never met gravity.
You got a problem? RFT-it.
If it is something to do with people, thinking, or anything thinking people made… chances are RFT can tell you something meaningful about it.
It is a framework that is infinitely build-able, testable… no, not testable in the way of this “framing” is occurring in this particular moment. I’ll leave that to the basic researchers. My world is in application.
I came here to fix things. So, let’s get down to business people. The world has been waiting for us to walk the same direction. Let’s use a swiss army knife to strap these airy construct theories together and start moving some real change.
That. would. be. meaningful. That would be aware. That, could change the world.
There are many ways to understand every therapy. Here I’ll offer a granular analysis of what seems to occur in the high impact FAP. What I present here is not an opposition to the current model of FAP but a different layer of analysis. I would agree that contingent reinforcement of behavior is a key mechanism of FAP. The purpose of an RFT level analysis is to offer additional ways to measure and understand some of the effects of FAP that are harder to characterize and measure.
I’m focusing on the symbolic relations that are created in what I call ‘high impact’ FAP. What I’m calling to in this description is the tendency of present moment relational therapy to become more powerful and evocative than one would normally suspect of a treatment based on reinforcement of adaptive behavior via the therapeutic relationship.
Those of you who have been to a FAP intensive or are highly experienced in FAP may be familiar with the report of FAP being “life changing”, “transformative”, etc. (Not that all treatments don’t have those that experience it this way… but the rate of this intense response seems a bit higher in FAP. And, an RFT driven analysis there are empirical logical explanations for why those that experience FAP as moving may experience it as life altering.)
Note that RFT is about symbolic relations and their properties. Patterns of pairing (between behavior, language in any form, sensations/perceptions, contexts) can all become meaningful over time through association with important (e.g., painful, joyful) experiences.
This is no different than operant reinforcement or classical conditioning – the type of pairing, the frequency/schedule, context, etc. all affect the relations made. The only difference here is that the SD can show up more easily symbolically (via language or some other cue).
So, let’s now look at perspective (the “I”) that orients your experience. You walk through life each day seeing, doing, feeling, thinking… and each of these things becomes a part of your continuing experience. In some way, they have become paired with the “I”. Perhaps very weakly paired but paired none the less. (See RFT: The space-time of the human universe for further description of perspective).
Experiences that happen over and over, including consistencies in the way that people describe you or relate to you become a part of your “I” and your concept of the other, or symbolic “YOU”.
The way you explain what occurs in these relations gives them additional power as it becomes a symbolically ‘sticky’ way of seeing the world (i.e., coherence relations, schema). You see others through this story of yourself and yourself as well. They, similarly, have stories about themselves and others and how people relate by which they organize their experience.
Now consider that everything you do in a relationship creates an associations between:
The “YOU” and “I” present, or symbolically referenced (spoken about, etc.). Further the emotions you express, the way that you talk about yourself and others, the behaviors you emit in any respect all become attached to the “YOUs” and “Is” in the room. (Yes, plural “I”s through the sometimes distinct tracks of symbolically defined behavior (e.g., roles, contexts, etc.) serving to create classes of behavior that ‘hang’ together.
Stop and consider that for a bit… Do you often belittle yourself in your own mind or in front of others? If you do you may find that people’s behavior towards you will begin to reflect this relation or that your own behavior towards your self will become less compassionate over time.
Our learning histories, ‘sticky’ self stories, and current histories all affect the our sense of self and other. And, because the “I” is theoretically the relation most complexly derived (it is always there as a part of the associations forming) transformation of the “I” can ripple through all the attached relations.
Stop and think for a minute. All your sensory experience, all your visual perceptions, all your everything is hooked right through that “I” relation. So, what if it is altered? What will you experience?
If the alteration is “good”, perhaps you feel like this?
Now let’s switch to thinking about the process of an intimate relationship, using a lovely cheesy music video metaphor that we’ll then build upon both these to discuss the complex symbolic relating than can occur in high impact FAP.
Do watch as it will help you connect to the symbolic journey we’re going on through metaphor. The Story of My Life
Imagine that the moments of your life are pictures. The experiences that reflect complexity (ERRRs) most often are a series of pictures with richly emotional colorful (good or bad) details. See the birth of your child, and the hundreds of picture to capture the complex experiences that follow.
Now look around your home… are there single large photos blown up… special moments you wanted to save. These are likely snap shots of complexly derived moments (see the pictures from Hawaii… feel the sand beneath your toes? 😉 Sometimes complexity is lovely.
Now there are thousands of random shots in between that capture random moments, important relationships, accomplishments… and because this is your life, not a photo album imagine that all the moments you never wanted to remember are also there. In their full, and sometimes awful glory.
That time you fell on your ass in front of a crowd…
Your worst mistakes. All of them are memorialized in all their complex and highly derived glory (because rumination derives!) in big lovely photographs you keep hidden away.
All these moments that form the history of you, your pain, your joys, your disappointments… see them all strung along the wall back behind you (in time).
Now imagine opening your heart and mind to pull out these photographs and show another. Each time that you hand a painful or joyful memory to this person a connection between you forms, a connection between both of you and the memories seen, the emotional expressions of both (YOU and I) then shape the memories and the relationship. There’s a heck of a lot of relating going on here – temporal, deictic, high complexity, transformation of stimulus functions through coordination/distinction/opposition with the other.
And, this… is just a close relationship. This isn’t even therapy.
Notice how we all are deeply affected by our relations, good or bad, to those around us.
People are a core of our experience, ourself, and our world.
Now, let’s work towards understanding the complexities of high impact Functional Analytic Psychotherapy relating.
Let’s walk through a super simplified course of FAP via the special case of intensives. For the unfamiliar this is 3-4 day long training of therapists who come to hone their skills together by experiential practice.
Much like most FAP treatment itself it generally begins with some sort of Life History or discussion of adaptive (CRB2) and maladaptive (CRB1) behaviors. The very discussion pulls the relations along from the past, symbolically, to accompany the present. The power of the past (pain and joy) becomes more accessible by relation.
Now you begin to hand not the pictures described above but your real present moment experience (that is sometimes still fused with pain) to your colleagues. You may be brought to tears by the transformation of stimulus functions simply involved in discussing your pain and struggles in front of another.
As you engage in this interaction the other makes out-to-in parallels creating a symbolic I-YOU relation linking to the past relations involved (to people and behaviors that can be present in the now for changing).
In doing this, you are allowing the present moment interaction to alter contingencies set in other relationships because the attachment of past and present I-YOU to in the moment I-YOU is like creating a transcendent I-YOU.
The impact of the learning experience naturally becomes stronger as the symbolically present and in vivo relations combine. Anything altered through reinforcement or otherwise can now be affect the past, the present, the “I” and the “YOU” in the present, and all other “Is”and “YOUs” relevant to these relations.
At this point contingent reinforcement takes on a new life. You’re shaping behavior but you’re also shaping relations, which allows you to interact with and shape someone’s relating to what occurred long with someone else. The shaping of that entire chain of relation can in a sense begin to over-write the relations of the self, the other, and the world.
The result can be “magic” and leave people changed. A present moment, relational therapy, driven by behaviorism. This is powerful medicine (not without its challenges).
Intensives in particular may evoke strong reactions as days of present moment relating in a uniquely supportive environment while bringing in other relations and experiencing the transformation of pain from long ago… it’s a bit like flooding of the deictic relations with new (hopefully adaptive) learning.
And if this weren’t all interesting enough, as a measurement geek, I love the implications of how to test for these unique effects.
I won’t go into too much detail here (because I’d like for someone to contact me and run one or more of these as study. 🙂
But let’s play with the implications here. Self relations are generally highly complex networks (see all of personality theory, schemas, etc. that would object to notions of the core of who you are behaviorally or otherwise being significantly or lastingly altered over the course of 3 days.) And yet, if many people describe an experience as “transformative” that is indeed the magnitude of experience they’re cueing us into. (Sure. It could be rule-governed behavior at work but its a little strange for people to keep emitting rule-governed behavior in contexts where the contingencies go the other way.)
So, by empirical logic we can link up what RFT may predict through combinations of relations and previous research. Then couldn’t we demonstrate something impressive by moving schemas in 3 days? (YSQ-3 anyone?)
This is not entirely CBS consistent for measurement but hey… sometimes you have to use what you’ve got. If the pre-post difference in YSQ exceeds test-retest significantly, and further, if it does so in ways we’d predict based on RFT then we can demonstrate change nomothetically on an ideographic functionally defined treatment.
There also ways to add to this with Ecological Momentary Assessment (EMA) and Natural Language Processing to watch these processes unfold in a high grain multi-method approach.
If you want to do this or would like other methods for similar studies to support efficacy or effectiveness research on FAP, email me at Presence.for.change @ gmail.com
Functional Analysis (FA) our most powerful and under-utilized tool.
What RFT can offer to FA.
General guidelines for bringing RFT-FA into the room via integration with the 5 Rules of FAP.
A few groups of relations described functionally
What RFT guided FA could do for our ability to assess the effectiveness of functionally oriented treatments (e.g., FAP).
RFT has a lot to offer for the applicability, precision, and utility of Functional Analysis.
Consider that FA is one of our most powerful therapeutic frameworks in behaviorism (underlying most of our orientations), yet it has fallen out of use in the clinical environment.
1.) We are generally not in the clients environment to see the variables controlling their behavior.
2). People are exceedingly bad at understanding/describing the variables that control their own behavior (see above on seeing everything through your own relational history and Measurement: Why we get no R.E.S.P.E.C.T. which explains how CBS has tried to deal with issues of measurement relation to behavior).
3.) And, in the therapy hour what you can do with FA is often to teach the client how to recognize (and hopefully influence) their own behavior or contexts, outside the therapy environment. Then you hope for the best.
So, let’s consider FA and what RFT-informed Functional Analysis has to offer clinicians:
First, by gaining and experiential knowledge of RFT/REC we get a much better picture of what variables may be controlling the client’s behavior, in the room and in their lives.
Second, we get a much better picture of how to intervene effectively by being able to test our hypotheses (often per session) by altering the variables in the room (in present moment) and paying attention to the client’s response, our experience, and other contextual variables.
Thus, with RFT/REC we can go a long way to restoring our ability to use functional analysis during the therapeutic hour. (Not to mention getting more of the warm fuzzy feeling you get when you realize you’re doing something that’s ‘working’ for the client.)
So, let’s talk about how can begin to use RFT in Functional Analysis. I’ll present some general guidelines and then discuss the how and why of these.
You’ll also notice that this is going to map right onto the “5 Rules” of Functional Analytic Psychotherapy (FAP; FAP Training Events). This is purposeful as in my experience: 1) FAP is already one of the models that purposely trains you to bring FA into the present moment and look at behavior functionally, rather than topographically, and all we’re really doing here is adding knowledge of how the properties of symbolic relating also get tied into all the other ‘behaviors’ you see.
Note: This isn’t meant to substitute or be better than learning RFT in other forms. If you want a full, more advanced understanding of RFT, I would recommend starting with Villatte, Villatte, and Hayes’ Mastering the Clinical Conversation or Matt Villatte’s online course on RFT through Practice Ground. Much of what I say here is an entry point to what these resources and others (such as Hayes’ Rule-governed Behavior) may teach you.
First, and, above all else listen to the client’s experience. (Rule 1: Watch for CRB1s AND watch for the general pattern of behavior (verbally and ‘non-verbally’ around important relations.)
Look for rule-governed behavior and rules (If you’re in a stuck spot and feel like you’re bumping your head against the wall it’s highly likely that either you and/or the client are responding to a ‘rule’.) This Rule 1 again but rule-governed behavior is such a big factor in break down of communication I feel it stands repeating.
Understand what the HOW of the behavior tells you. (Again, Rule 1 in FAP but extended to understanding, using RFT, the function and properties the symbolic relations that show up in the room.)
Start altering the context in the room, in the moment, with your hypotheses and noting the clients HOW of response. (This is Rule 2, Evoke, from the FAP model, except evoke is also extended to using RFT to evoke verbal relations and understand the client’s response.)
Relate (functionally). (This is Rule 3, Reinforce, from the FAP model… except for when you bring RFT into the miss you begin to see how many more ways you can affect the client’s relating to you, themselves, the world, their pain, etc… right their in the moment. This may sound a bit foreign but I almost promise you that you’re already doing some form of it. If your an ACT clinician and the client is fused… then you get them to defuse. Congrats! You just moved a relation! Except RFT has far more to offer than defusion. Some of which I’ll describe below.)
Note your impact on relations as well as other behavior (Rule 4, Notice your impact except extended to noticing your impact on relations and their properties as well as other behavior).
Provide functional interpretations (Rule 5, in FAP) except that I would say that ‘functional’ may need to also be seen from an RFT perspective. Sometimes it’s helpful to provide direct feedback about the relations you perceive but we also know that humans like simplicity a bit too much. Careful with the providing interpretations that may easily be turned into rules (and rule-based insensitivity) so tread lightly and experientially here.
It’s good to have a general awareness of how the character of the behavior (e.g., approach/repeat may indicate presence of reinforcing qualities) may indicate relations. Then in the FA you learn the problematic relation only through noticing what moves the relation in a more adaptive direction (functionally determined).
Helping the client flexible context sensitivity and functional coherence (read awareness when its adaptive and an overall system of relating that ‘works’ for the client)
The overall means of treatment are:
Transforming symbolic functions by altering context (read influencing relations and their properties by any of your symbolic behavior in the room with the client, etc.)
So, in doing a Functional Relational Analysis we’re doing in the moment analysis with the goal of increasing adaptive relating as defined by Villatte, Villatte, and Hayes in the manner in which we influence relating with the 5 Rules in FAP (you following me?)
So, now about the business of recognizing relations that can be influenced in your RFT-FA. First, let’s begin by making things a bit more simple some relations that frequently come up and affect treatment in the moment.
Rule-governed behavior – consider this a kind of fusion, that in whatever form usually results inability to contact important contingencies at hand.
Example(s): “Jimmy is always anxious.” vs “Jimmy is anxious.” vs. “Jimmy sometimes gets anxious.” Inherent in these statements are a rule. Though you’d need ideographic context they may likely indicate different levels of fusion with the rule (based on the way their stated) about Jimmy’s behavior. The intensity/rigidity and lack of noticing other contingencies may give you a good idea about how fused the speaker is to the rule and how unaware they may be when Jimmy acts in ways that are non-anxious (see later post on discrimination/stigma/violence towards others). Keep in mind that almost any kind of relation can be rule-ified into inflexibility over time, repetition, etc.
How to influence it: Defusion, context changes of many sorts (emotion, , experientially walking through of the contingencies that allows the person to note what was previously missed, etc.
How to assess your impact: Is the person now loosening in their behavior guided by the rule? Is their language around the rule more flexible?
Influencing awareness towards whole or parts – here I’m talking about several relations in combination functionally. We often use distinction framing (this but not that) combination (this and this), opposition (this is the opposite of that) to bring more awareness to the parts and pieces. Some forms of mindfulness can be going towards noticing the parts and
Examples(s): Hierarchicals and moving towards seeing the self or experience as a part of the continuing experience… I am this feeling, this moment, this etc. vs I am more than my experience.
How to influence it: Mindfulness either noticing of continuity, wholeness or otherwise noticing detail.
How to assess your impact: Do they seem (verbally or otherwise) more aware the direction needed to note important contingencies? Other relations can also be added in but let’s focus on these for now.
What can elements of an RFT allows us fine grain and repeated attempts to change relating of several types each session. We can aim for more or less flexibility, more or less awareness of certain contingencies, more adaptive stories about the “self” and its experience. This can allow several dimensions for FA beyond what is normally present.
Add the REC Model in and you can evaluate behavior based on its complexity and derivation (allowing you to watch whether you need to increase the variety and complexity of learning experiences to make it stable and adaptive learning.
Further elaborating on this kind of work up might allow us to more effectively assess some of the benefits of functionally oriented treatments?
With RFT everything can be parsed relationally in some respect (every treatment, nearly every behavior, diagnosis, etc.). This in combination with other FA relations (e.g., reinforcement) can allow us to examine change across therapies, diagnoses, contexts, etc. Further, noticing the change in relation in verbal behavior gives us many more opportunities for altering and assessing our impact each session.
If you’re thinking that assessment and coding of verbal relations would take years, wait for the posts on Natural Language Processing, Machine Learning, and sensor-based experience sampling.
Sometimes effective change has to come from the bottom up. This may be the case in the behavioral sciences where the proliferation of construct-based measurement has lead to pervasive problems in the scientific endeavor itself.
The behavioral sciences are those that focus on issues that influence us nearly non-stop in our daily lives. And yet, these fields are now obstructed by reliance on methods of measurement and research that oppose the findings of the field itself.
We know that human behavior is influenced by many inter-related factors and yet the pace of growth and influence by the behavioral sciences has stalled. Why?
The field, as a whole, continues to rely on outdated measurement methodology and technology, mostly as a result of the nature of academia itself. In a ‘Publish or Perish’ academic culture innovation and effective change are risky endeavors. Academics must often choose between publishing and obtaining career milestones key to their own survival and innovative/integrative work that may better move the world.
This is apparent in how the Behavioral Sciences major funding agencies NIMH and NIH are shaping their current funding agendas.
The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) has moved towards the Research Domain Criteria Initiative (RDoC) which requires heavy integration of biological factors into research design. This initiative, though well intentioned, seems in opposition with a wealth of evidence from the behavioral sciences that indicate that biological factors alone carry little weight in development or differentiation of psychological ‘disorders’ and human distress.
At the heart of both these issues is our over-reliance on constructs. Once required to account for the wide array of human behavior that appeared measurable by basic behavioral principles (e.g., Operant, Classical Conditioning). The inability to measure and thus, influence, a wide-array of human behavior led to a proliferation of frequently useful construct-based research and development.
As this progressed the field has moved away from what is directly observable to measurement and statistical methods that determine truth and usefulness of data based on of reliability in measurement and reduction of ‘error’-based variance. This once necessary methodological and statistical jump has left the field inattentive to advances that can unify its efforts.
Several, if not many of these advances, that could move change in our world have been largely ignored in the competitive and bureaucratic world of academia. Our organization seeks to advance these cross-disciplinary innovations in an effort to create a behavioral science and world that moves human development.
If you weren’t able to attend the annual Contextual Behavioral Science conference in Seattle, WA this year you missed quite a conference.
In the post Seattle glow there are a few overall themes that were more than worth sharing. I’ll discuss some of these briefly and others at length in future posts.
Here’s a brief synopsis:
1) Relational Frame Theory (RFT) is here and you’d better start taking notice.
This year’s conference had an entire track of RFT driven workshops and talks. And, while the general consensus for most clinical psychologists in response to RFT is still somewhere between, “huh?” and “@#$#@#$.” The winds are a changing. This incredibly useful theory describing properties of verbal symbolic relating that appear to affect everything from sense of self, empathy, and behavioral outcomes that can’t otherwise be predicted based on operant and classical conditioning alone. Much more on this in future posts.
2) Integration is where it’s at.
This has always been a theme in Contextual Behavioral Science but the call to action is becoming louder and, slightly, more integrated itself. This years conference hosted big names from familiar third wave family members, including: Dialectical Behavior Therapy’s Marsha Linehan; Functional Analytic Psychotherapy’s Bob Kohlenberg and Mavis Tsai; and all the usual Acceptance and Commitment Therapy players. There were also talks by Tony Biglan and others known for their integrative tendencies. Of note this year, however, was the more apparent presence of the business community and therapeutic technologies that bridge the gap from therapy to influence of society. This was evident with the presence of David Sloan and his pro-social model.
3) Current assessment and statistical strategies are sadly inadequate for characterizations of human behavior.
If you’re a contextual behavioral clinician/researcher up on the research this is no surprise to you but this year the call to arms was louder and clearer. One panel discussion on assessment at CBS this year was called ‘Shreddin it’ in reference to the suggestion of Kelly Koerner (chair) that we, as psychologists, simply shred our paper questionnaires and wait for better assessment strategies. That’s the situation. Much more on this in future posts.
4) We see the benefit of technology integration in psychology but we’re a little intimidated.
This one hurts a bit as I am a bit for me as a techie. Tech has grown so much, become so much cheaper, and has the potential to address large scale problems not only in psychology but in society. Yet, for the most part, many of these technologies have gone underused simply due to lack of awareness and perceived difficulty associated with them. As a technie myself I’ve encountered these confusions endlessly from colleagues. When I discuss Natural Language Processing (an area with 20+ years of research under its belt) people look at me as if I’ve just said I can grant them three wishes. I’ve encountered near the same caliber content in response to my work in Ecological Momentary Assessment (EMA) and mentions of Machine Learning or AI. There’s something about the frames that participate with the terms “Machine Learning” and “AI” that seem to only participate in coordination with “psychosis” for psychologists. Yes, I admit… they sound magical but the days of this technology being out of reach for psychologists are gone. Open source adaptable technology is here if you’ll simply learn to use it. (So much more on this in future posts.)
5) Society needs change.
On my first night in Seattle for the Functional Analytic Psychotherapy (FAP) intensive a large group of us decided to go to a local gay club to see a show. This same night while we were all standing together in the warmth of inclusion and the presence of friends from across the globe we see only once a year… a tragedy struck. The next morning as I sat with 70+ contextual behavioral clinicians working to improve their own ability to promote human connection through behaviorism… we learned of the massacre at an Orlando gay club. I don’t think it registered for me for a few days. Now, still… I feel the moving in and out of avoidance of this horror. I saw it affect my community both in that room and felt the reverberations of this event throughout the intensive and CBS following. The consensus seems clear amongst the CBS community that we need to help society move towards more adaptive, flexible, and inclusive behavior. Without this, we seem set on a path to self-other destruction.