Learning RFT: An Introduction to Relational Frame Theory and Its Clinical Application

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New Harbinger Publications, Nov 1, 2010 - Psychology - 288 pages
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Relational frame theory, or RFT, is the little-understood behavioral theory behind a recent development in modern psychology: the shift from the cognitive paradigm underpinning cognitive behavioral therapy to a new understanding of language and cognition. Learning RFT presents a basic yet comprehensive introduction to this fascinating theory, which forms the basis of acceptance and commitment therapy. The book also offers practical guidance for directly applying it in clinical work.

In the book, author Niklas Törneke presents the building blocks of RFT: language as a particular kind of relating, derived stimulus relations, and transformation of stimulus functions. He then shows how these concepts are essential to understanding acceptance and commitment therapy and other therapeutic models. Learning RFT shows how to use experiential exercises and metaphors in psychological treatment and explains how they can help your clients. This book belongs on the bookshelves of psychologists, psychotherapists, students, and others seeking to deepen their understanding of psychological treatment from a behavioral perspective.


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As language acquisition generally tends to take place within the realm of consciousness (operant) rather than as a biological or reflexive process (respondent), Skinner’s notions of generalization and discrimination are particularly important to how a child acquires and uses new words. One can perhaps use the terms transferability and non-transferability of behaviour to particular consequences respectively, and in relation to certain antecedents. In order to navigate successfully through life we learn to do or say things that we know we can perhaps repeat in given future situations depending on the contexts.
Being able to know when a certain action is required to achieve a certain outcome and knowing when that same action can be transferred to other types of outcomes or contexts as well as initiated from different antecedents, seems to be an ability that distinguishes humans from animals. This taking of shortcuts allows humans to learn to interact with and manipulate their environment in a way animals could never do.
A child quickly comes to understand that by carrying out a perlocutionary speech act such as the imperative “milk!”, an adult will react and also carry out an act. A child then generalizes this behaviour to similar speech acts in order to achieve generalised positive outcomes such as the receipt of milk, a toy or a dodi.
Niklas Törneke describes these and many other notions in a way that makes it very accessible to the non-scientific reader.

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About the author (2010)

Niklas Törneke, MD, is a psychiatrist and has worked as a senior psychiatrist in the department of general psychiatry in his hometown Kalmar (in the southeast of Sweden) from 1991 until he started private practice 1998. He earned license as a psychotherapist in 1996 and was originally trained as a cognitive therapist. Since 1998 he has worked mainly with acceptance and commitment therapy, both in his own practice and as a teacher and clinical supervisor. His clinical experience ranges from psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia to common anxiety and mood disorders with high prevalence in the general population.

Dr. Dermot Barnes-Holmes is foundation Professor of Psychology at the National University of Ireland, Maynooth, and served as the Head of Department of Psychology from 1999 to 2008. He studied under Professor Julian Leslie at the University of Ulster before taking up a teaching position at University College, Cork, where he founded the Behaviour Analysis and Cognitive Science Research Unit. After nine years at UCC he was appointed to his current post. Dr. Barnes-Holmes has published over 200 scientific articles, book chapters, and books, and he was recently ranked as the most prolific author in the world in the Experimental Analysis of Human Behavior during the period 1980 to 1999 (Dymond, 2002). He has served on, or is currently serving on, the editorial boards of the following journals: Experimental Analysis of Human Behavior Bulletin; Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior; Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis; The Behavior Analyst; The European Journal of Behavior Analysis; The European Journal of Psychology; The International Journal of Psychology and Psychological Therapy (Associate Editor); and The Psychological Record. Dr. Barnes-Holmes has graduated 25 doctoral research students and has been directly involved in attracting over 1,000,000 euro in competitive research funding. He served on the Health Research Board from 2002-2005 and was elected to the Council of the Psychological Society of Ireland from 2004-2007.

Steven C. Hayes, PhD, is Nevada Foundation Professor and director of clinical training in the department of psychology at the University of Nevada, Reno. An author of forty-one books and nearly 600 scientific articles, his career has focused on analysis of the nature of human language and cognition, and its application to the understanding and alleviation of human suffering and promotion of human prosperity. His work has received several awards, including the Impact of Science on Application Award from the Society for the Advancement of Behavior Analysis, and the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies.

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