Advances in Relational Frame Theory: Research and Application

It’s been a long year: in the work context, teaching, supervising and marking have been all-consuming, while at home Max decided that sleeping through the night was not for him. However, currently things are looking up: many responsibilities in the academic year have come to an end and Max now sleeps, at least sometimes, from 7pm until 5am. Hence the smiles below.


And so a few days ago, this relieved academic opened up his ‘list’. The list includes all of the things that I needed to do throughout the term that I just didn’t have time to address. Item number 1 on the list was to prepare for an ACT workshop I was giving at Bath University last week. I just about managed to pull this together and the workshop went well, I think. On the drive back from Bath I felt relief again. However, that relief ended the morning after when I once again consulted the list. Item number 2 said ‘prepare for Seattle conference’. Oh dear, my heart sank.

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ACBS conferences are just brilliant, but they often involve taking part in activities that bring discomfort. This year I agreed to co-deliver (with Louise McHugh, Matt Villatte and Charlotte Dack) a workshop in which we try to help people become Relational Frame Theory (RFT) researchers. My heart sank when I saw Item number 2 because, and I hope this happens with others too, people think I know a lot more about RFT than I actually do, and here I was having to talk about it, in public, as an expert. Cue ‘not smart enough’ self-story. So I did what many scared human beings might do in this situation, I panicked. But whereas some might panic by drinking, eating a tub of Ben n Jerry’s or curling up into the foetal position and crying, I engaged in the topographically different but functionally equivalent behaviour of reading. Specifically, I read ‘Advances in Relational Frame Theory, Research and Application’ by Simon Dymond and Bryan Roche, in the hope that reading this book would enable me to do a better job of helping people get into RFT research.510qD3h0PWL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_

The book itself, which was published in 2013, does exactly what it says on the tin. It describes the story of RFT research. This means that any person wishing to avoid reading a shedload of complex RFT papers could quench their thirst by reading this edited volume. The first two chapters (by Hayes et al. and Wilson et al. respectively) contain information about functional contextualism; the philosophy of science underpinning ACT / RFT. To be quite frank, the authors of these chapters are the best in the business of breaking down philosophy of science into understandable parts, but as someone with zero history of studying philosophy of science, a lot of the information went over my head. My guess is that in time and with practice I will return to these chapters and see their genius.

After the opening two chapters Ian Stewart et al. provide a brief overview of RFT. For those of you who do not already know this, Ian Stewart is a brilliant writer. If you get a chance to read some of his work as you scale the great wall of RFT then it will do you the world of good. Following the introductory chapter, Robert Whelan et al. focus on how neurophysiological methods can be used to measure relational responding, Sean Hughes et al. present information and research on the IRAP and then Yvonne Barnes-Holmes et al. describe how empirical work has progressed on deictic relations and perspective taking. All three chapters are informative and clear. In fact, the number of research studies in these three areas is quite remarkable given that the purple RFT book was written only 15 years ago.

In the next three chapters the empirical work of well known researchers including, in particular, Ruth-Anne Rehfeldt (using RFT to help individuals with developmental disorders), Bryan Roche (using RFT to improve intellectual development) and Simon Dymond (modelling avoidance from an RFT perspective) is described. These chapters, which cover some of the most powerful empirical demonstrations of RFT, may be of much interest to readers due to their applied implications.

The book ends with a chapter on the relationship between ACT and RFT written exquisitely by J.T. Blackledge, and a chapter on the use of RFT in Organizational Behavioural Management written by Denis O’Hora. If I had one criticism of the book it would be that these two chapters read pretty conceptually, in contrast to the middle 6 chapters that were so empirically dense. In fact, maybe this criticism simply highlights an underlying disappointment of mine; that after only 6 chapters detailing the empirical advances of RFT, there was not much else left to cover.

But I guess this problem is the exact reason why we chose to present a workshop in Seattle entitled ‘How to do RFT Research’. When you break down the amount of labs in the world running RFT research, you won’t find too many of them. Indeed, it should probably be noted that many of the researchers mentioned in this blog are either directly or indirectly associated with the name of Dermot Barnes-Holmes, who despite choosing to support a terrible football team, seems to have been pretty influential when it comes to RFT! Our thoughts are that there must be barriers stopping other researchers from beginning their own RFT work. Our feeling is that (1) maybe people do not have the tools to run RFT research and (2) maybe people do not have a network of support that they can call upon as they begin to make their journey to Mordor.


So, if you are interested in RFT research and are attending the Seattle conference, then in our workshop we will teach you the basics of some RFT procedures (e.g., Match-to-Sample; the Implicit Relational Assessment Procedure [IRAP]; the Relational Perspective Taking Protocol, the Relational Evaluation Procedure [REP]). We will also teach you how to use these procedures to do things such as assess and train relational framing and thus boost language / intelligence. We will then try to think of ways in which clinical work can be studied in the lab by bringing an RFT informed precision to the language used in ACT interventions. After that, we will spend a significant amount of the session brainstorming concrete research ideas and giving participants the chance to establish on-going support networks and collaborations (i.e. create fellowships). Hopefully, doing this sort of activity might function to spread RFT research to labs other than those already established; such that the next time Dymond and Roche write such a useful volume they really will have their work cut out.

Dymond, S., & Roche, B. (2013). Advances in relational frame theory: Research and application. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger.

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