by Angela Cathey, MA

As February has come to a close this year, I’ve found myself eyeing the construct of ‘love’ behaviorally. As we release the long-awaited “Last Lecture” of Kelly Wilson, PhD, we turn our attention to the same functional analytic analysis of important human behaviors by hermeneutic means. That is, as February has closed – I’ve taken a look at my own and other’s responses to ‘love’ and connection at a cultural and interpersonal level. As we vote, love, and move towards purpose in this world it becomes important to examine our own connectedness, response-ability, and behavioral repertoires with regard to each other.

That is, we stop to ask – “WTF is Love” behaviorally and phenomenologically. And, what does it mean to ‘love’ in our ever-evolving cultural and inter-intra-personal contexts?

Love is a cultural concept, largely influenced by our verbal and relational history with it over time. Love used to be thought of as mental illness and long term relationships (marriages) where thought to be endangered by it. 

Love is something we learn through other people’s tacting of it, which is often a dramatized into an impossibly unrealistic version – past the the point of unworkability.

As humans, we evolved in a context where we only saw a few members of our species most of our lives – for most of our history. ‘Love’ is now changed by technology and the transportability of humans. Love for most people likely functions as a hierarchical relation, somewhat related to ‘we’, ‘belonging’, etc. It is likely highly rule-governed for most people and thus sensitive to the same tendencies of rigidity, rule-governed lack of awareness, and – on the other side – emotional volatility. 

Love as a relational concept is tied to our sense of ‘self’, ‘other’ and the way relationships and our worlds should work (family, work, etc.)

Modern contingencies (Tinder, Facebook, and high human transportability) make ‘love’ a more fragile rule. Love often begins (and may be better maintained) through a relationship that is likely mutually reinforcing between two individuals. This is somewhat described behaviorally by Gottman & Levenson’s (1992 and earlier) descriptions of the importance of ratio of positive to negative interactions in couple dyads. Despite the influence of this work many behavior analysts (and apparently a few statisticians; Allison & Liker, 1982) have noted issues regarding lack of account for overall contextual factors and reliance of statistical non-dependence in analysis of this data. Additionally, the overall cultural milieu affecting relationship stability has no doubt been altered significantly by the ease at which reinforcer sampling through technology (ahem’ Tinder) – makes it easy to idealize others, to have others idealize you, and to leave the hard realities inherent in making relationships (love) work behind.

We no longer have to work through our differences as we had to in small interdependent communities. We can simply replace the individuals whom we make mistakes with – and this gives us a society further struggling to understand itself and its connection to others.

Love as most of our cultural conceptualizations represent it seems to entail:

  • Unconditional acceptance/support – noncontingent reinforcement. A condition of dominant appetitive  vs aversive control.
  • “Love does not anger easily, is patient, kind” – seems to describe a high level of perspective taking and mutual identification and valuing of the ‘we’. This would fit descriptions of Vilardaga, Hayes, & Levin’s (2014) Flexible Connectedness model – accurate perspective taking, ability to respond in a psychologically flexible manner to one’s own emotions and others. 
  • To love ‘workably’ one must be able to tact one’s ‘self’, the other’s impact, and the needs/relationship/connections between the two individuals.
  • This inevitably brings in ‘trust’ and ‘respect’ as doing the above makes one vulnerable in a close relationship. You have to trust that in love – you are expressing yourself safely, that your needs will be responded to, and that the other individual is influenced by ‘love’, ‘we’, etc. somewhat equally as a motivative augmental and hierarchical.
  • ‘Love’ as an act, as we describe it culturally, is likely to involve a high level of coordination relations and increase the likely of mimetic or reciprocal behaviors between individuals.

Though we popularly talk of love as a ‘feeling’ there are no reliable physiological conditions or behaviors associated with ‘tacting’ or maintaining the conditions of on-going ‘love’ or healthy loving relationships. 

Again, though “love” as a mid-level construct may be heavily influenced by our collective and verbal learning histories – it is also heavily derived from and influenced by our personal histories. 

I “love” the examples of “Tom, Dick and Jane” from Kanter, Holman, and Wilson’s “Where is the Love? Contextual Behavioral Science and Behavior Analysis” (2014), see page 4.

These examples describe three different individuals with different learning histories related to how their primary relationships tacted, reinforced, and punished – that in turn influenced their experiences of ‘love’. 

One of these individuals barely ‘feels’ love, another experiences it aversively, and the last one is overwhelmed and dysregulated by sometimes benign expressions related to it.

This is essentially somewhat explanatory of most of our romantic histories with love and the common adage of “two ships passing in the night” or a lovely metaphor Owen recently shared with me about porcupines trying to make love always struggling not to impale each other with their spines.

Our histories related to ‘love’ are ever-evolving, fluctuating in their association with aversive and appetitive qualities and related to complex and idealistic verbal histories related to ourselves, others, “love” and how the world should work. Truly, the miracle of “love” may be that it ever “works.”

Tips for the behavior analyst/or person engaging in the dangerous art of ‘love-ing’ one’s ‘self or another’:

  • Understand the individual’s perception of their past loving relationships. Did they experience a lack of love and understanding? Was love associated with pain to a high degree?
  • Pay attention to how you and the object of your love responds to gestures of “love”. Do they perceive love from you? Do they tact it back responsively in a verbal or behavioral manner? Do they appear to have respondent conditioning related to “love” that might make love aversive for them (e.g., do they shudder, pull back, look confused when love/caring are expressed towards them).
  • What are their verbal and behavioral responses in relation to love? Do these expressions equate to experiences of love as more related to appetitive or aversive conditions? Is “love” equated with “control”, “loss”, or “betrayal”?

All of us have both the overall cultural and behavioral context of “love” that we react to intermingled with long and ever-evolving relational contexts between our self and other “loved” ones. As you choose to take on the dangerous art of loving yourself or another – let us know your thoughts on these behaviors ‘in flight.’

 

An ACT Approach to Adolescent Suicide

An ACT Approach to Adolescent Suicide

by Amy R. Murrell, Ph.D.

             The paper summarized here, was written by myself and former students (Al-Jabari, Moyer, Novamo, and Connally), and published in the International Journal of Behavioral Consultation and Therapy in 2014 examines the problem of adolescent suicide from an Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) practitioner’s perspective. At the time of the paper’s publication, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2014), approximately 4,600 young people completed suicide annually in the United States. At the time of this summary, that number is nearly 7,000 (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2019). I chose to summarize this paper for two reasons: I wish that number were moving in the opposite direction, and I think the conceptualization written about here is useful.

            Of course, more adolescents attempt suicide and have ideation about suicide than complete it. Those youth are important to discuss from a functional contextual point of view, and that is what this article does. It is divided into seven major sections. The first section discusses the prevalence, antecedents, and consequences of adolescent suicidal behavior. The second introduces experiential avoidance, and the third introduces the ACT model. The next section is “the heart” of the paper, giving an ACT conceptualization of adolescent suicidal behavior. The next two sections talk about a specific client, first hypothetically and then with a case example. The final section summarizes the state of relevant empirical evidence to date (at the time of publication). Here I will cover just a bit of each section, so you get a feel for the article’s content. I am biased, but I think you should give it a read.

            The article states that there are some behaviors (e.g., substance abuse) that co-occur with and may predict suicidal ideation and attempt, but there are also individuals who have no previous diagnosis who have suicidal behavior. It is obvious, therefore, that there is no set pattern or easy prediction – with one caveat. Past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior. The costs of suicidal behavior are great. According to Yang and Lester (2007), every year in the United States alone, non-fatal suicide attempts cost about 4.72 billion dollars. The consequences go far beyond money, though. The article talks of cluster suicides, survivor guilt, and worsening negative emotional experiences. 

            This leads into the discussion of experiential avoidance (EA), noting that attempts to control, suppress, lessen, or avoid those negative emotions (or thoughts, bodily sensations, and/or places that might make them more likely) may worsen distress. Next, ACT is introduced as a treatment to address EA. In both the section on EA and the section on ACT, assumptions of functional contextualism are addressed (e.g., all behaviors serve specific purposes in specific settings). This is the perfect segue to Chiles and Strosahl’s (2005) definition of suicidal behavior as learned behavior that functions as an avoidance of – or escape from – negative emotions.

            In brief, ACT views suicide as a perfectly reasonable solution to feeling stuck or hopeless. Suicidal behavior is seen as the result of normative human language and cognition processes. The article states that normalizing suicidal behavior shifts the therapeutic context to an open and honest one that may help reduce client shame. Just as a little teaser, there is a discussion about relational framing related to thoughts of suicide and how that may bring relief. There are several intervention strategies suggested (e.g., values with specific future-oriented goals). The hypothetical client is used as a way to provide context for how suicidal behavior, in general, might be discussed. The issues of safety planning and contracting are discussed in this section as well.

            The ACT approach to these issues is different from many other clinical takes; if you don’t know it, you might find it an interesting read. A de-identified client example illustrating how defusion, values and several other ACT components were used to address suicidal behavior is the last section before empirical evidence is provided. The case example illustrates that, as is often the case, the client remains quite anxious yet she is living out her values more and thinking of suicide less.

            The data summary indicated the need for research on suicidal behavior. This is still a particular need. Fortunately, however, in the last six years the evidence for ACT with adolescents has increased. Since this paper was written, there have been 10 randomized controlled trials with participants under the age of 18. For details, see the Association for Contextual Behavioral Sciences State of the Evidence Page.

References:

ACBS State of the Evidence Page https://contextualscience.org/state_of_the_act_evidence.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. (2011b). Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System (WISQARS) [online]. Last Updated February 25, 2014. [cited]. Retrieved from http://libproxy.library.unt.edu:2465/injury/wisqars/fatal_injury_reports.html

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, NCHS Data Brief, No. 352, Oct 2019 [ online]. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/databriefs/db352-h.pdf

Chiles, J. A. & Strosahl, K. D. (2005). Clinical manual for assessment and treatment of suicidal patients. Arlington, VA, US: American Psychiatric Publishing, Inc.

Murrell, A. R., Al-Jabari, R., Moyer, D., Novamo, E., & Connally, M. L. (2014). An acceptance and commitment therapy approach to adolescent suicide. International Journal of Behavioral Consultation and Therapy9(3), 41–46. https://libproxy.library.unt.edu:2147/10.1037/h0101639

Yang, B., & Lester, D. (2007). Recalculating the economic cost of suicide. Death Studies31(4), 351–361. 10.1080/07481180601187209

 

Exposure to Privilege

Exposure to Privilege

The Function of Privilege within Our Science and Beyond

Angela Cathey, MA, LPA

If you’re familiar with my writing or social media, you are probably familiar with my tendency to advocate for the underrepresented and disempowered in our society. Recently, I’ve found myself in a Facebook debate about this, in my social feed, that warrants a more elaborate response. I am also a woman, in a science dominated by men in power positions, who continually seek to ‘educate’ me further when I disagree with them. So, read this post with all that in mind.

First, I’d like to acknowledge that posts on Facebook conversations are not an adequate medium for debate. Without our voices, without posture, and without other cues that reflect the complexity of our perspective we are virtually guaranteed to keep arguing even when we agree. Our specific wording, the individual’s perception of us, and the nature of the media itself are likely to drive the other’s responses more than what we’re intending to express. This is simply a result of how the contextual variables inherent in social media (e.g., anonymity, slow responsivity, lack of complexity, and a public venue) tend to function for us.

We are faceless, sometimes nameless, words on paper expressing complex ideas in bumper sticker length responses. This is in part why social media results in long, sometimes heated, and often pointless debates so frequently. We are not faced with the person behind the idea, the whole idea, cues about the person’s emotion – and are left responding mostly to our relata and words that are themselves varied in function. We miss the complexity of other’s ideas, knowledge, and experiences. This is, in large part, how words, and people, function out of context.

The post I made that began the debate was a repost of a USA Today post, entitled “All college students should take a mandatory course on black history and white privilege.” I will attempt not to recount the debate here in detail, name the individual, nor shame the individual for their perspective. I choose to believe that the individual is arguing because they, like myself, believe that our science can do a better job of moving the world forward. I choose to see us as on the same side. What occurred in the debate; however, encapsulates why I believe that our society needs “mandatory” exposure to the ideas and experiences of others and the impact of “privilege.”

We are all privileged and disadvantaged in some ways; however, those with less power in our society frequently have no way to express their perspectives without it being perceived as punishing to the majority. This is, in part, the essence of privilege. Those with power and privilege see their perspective represented all around them in their everyday experience. Those with power and privilege are more likely than those without, to be surrounded by people and experiences that reinforce their beliefs about themselves and others. Those without privilege are faced with few representations of themselves, punishing representations of themselves by the majority, and to find themselves represented in and responded to – as caricatures.

In some ways, being an underrepresented minority in like attempting to express complex ideas, about heated topics, on social media. The underrepresented are prone to be responded to based on relata. The complexity of their ‘selves’ (instead of their idea) responded to with hostility because their ‘otherness’ does not fit neatly into the boxes of those with the dominant view.

This is the influence of verbal symbolic rules, how they function interpersonally, and why I believe we should all be constantly exposed to the perspectives of others. We, in particular, need experiential exposure to minority perspectives in as many forms as possible. Some of these are going to be punishing for us, some of them are going to be overwhelming, and some of them are going to be affirming. And, we need to realize as a society that all of this is important for us to experience for our collective good. A course in white privilege or black history is a drop in the bucket. It may function for many aversively, and yet, we have to start embedding the minority experience in the lives of the majority. We are a society moving further and further away from complexity and existing in worlds that function as echo chambers. Within social media, within science, and within society – most of us have the privilege of being able to ‘unlike’, ignore, and benefit from the inherent reinforcement of our views from the dominant representations of our views surrounding us.

This is why exposure to the perspectives of disempowered minorities must be in some way “mandatory.” The coherence of those with significant privilege, in any form, is reinforced simply by existing in a world that endorses their perspective on nearly every level of their existence, all day, every day. The privileged have no reason, on mass, to decide to hear and appreciate the complexity of the minority experience. It tends to violate the sense of ‘self’ of the privileged to even hear that they/we are privileged. My colleague who debates me recognizes this and yet misses the complexity of my argument for mandatory exposure to the perspectives of minorities and our privilege.

True recognition of privilege and the perspectives of minorities that will create change means creating interventions that are embedded throughout our society. It means that media is created by minorities, it means that representations of the perspectives of minorities are embedded into our society in so many ways that they become not the expressions of an unknown caricature “other” but as part of our collective view of ourselves, our history, and our ability to change, together.

And, for the one who inspired the post, if the complexity of my perspective results in further attempts to correct me by insisting I simply need education on the basis of our science, on my feed, don’t be surprised if you get a more explicit public lesson on male privilege in our field and how your behavior functions aversively as ‘mansplaining.’ I am the female owner of a behavior analytic education site who disagrees with you, insisting that I need to educate myself in single-case design, reinforcement, and punishment because I disagree with you –  without stepping back to consider the context surrounding your behavior is an act of privilege in action.

 

RFT: Let me show you something beautiful.

RFT: Let me show you something beautiful.

AUGUST 11, 2016, original post to angela.cathey.com

Stop over thinking RFT and feel it.

I would say that sometimes it takes a different perspective to look at the tools we are given and see them quite differently. We, the second and third generation ACTers, FAPers, and rising CFTers… we are reveling, rejecting, remixing, and refining the elegance of technical masterpieces.

So, here is one of my remixes. I don’t like connecting with RFT in examples of coin size, driving, or equations about how cats = “cats” and … =Screen Shot 2016-08-03 at 11.03.28 PM

Okay, he’s cute. I’ll give you that… but he’s still a cat.

RFT is the rhythm of human thought and feeling. Just because the Internet is officially full of cats. doesn’t mean that our conceptualizations of human thought and language should be. (No offense to the cat lovers or Schrode’ [inside joke]}

So what is more human? Art.

Here’s a different way of connecting with frames. Take a moment to look at the picture below. Notice.

Screen Shot 2016-08-03 at 10.26.48 PM

Feel your eyes pulled to the highest point? The background falling away into fuzziness. There’s a feeling of being pulled upward higher. This is a visual metaphor for how a hierarchical functions. This is what connecting with values, belonging, purpose… does to your sense of the world. You tune into the higher point and the rest falls away into the distance.

Now, look at this picture.

Screen Shot 2016-08-03 at 11.17.51 PM

Notice how the pieces fall away and the whole pops forth? You notice the togetherness, the uniformity of what is actually separate pieces. When we feel in coordination with something we move towards it, we identify with it, we become in some way a reflection of the other. (This is also a bit hierarchical, but “frames” are always functional concepts so let’s stick with what ‘works’.)

Now look at this picture.

Screen Shot 2016-08-03 at 11.21.53 PM

Maybe you could technically ‘see’ that this is tree bark but that’s not likely to be what you were paying attention to. Context sensitivity is like zooming in. You see the details. You experience, and you might be hyper- sensitive to a change in the context. For example, a giant ladybug landing in the middle of this might jolt your attention more so if you’re more contextually sensitive in-the-moment.

Now look at this picture.

Screen Shot 2016-08-03 at 11.14.02 PM.png

This is a visual metaphor for coherence. See how your mind likes the fitting together of randomness into a pattern? It’s naturally reinforcing. People don’t like messes.

Now look at this:

Screen Shot 2016-08-11 at 7.33.12 AM

This is a bit like the concept of adaptive peaks. Sometimes we can miss the forest, sunrise, and distance when we’re focusing on making wishes on the dandelions we can see in the immediate path.

 

If you like learning about Relational Frame Theory, behavior analysis, principles, or the philosophy of science in different forms – let us know in the comments. If you’d like to learn more feel free to check our selection of online, on-demand, and live training events.

RFT: The Guerilla guide to pro-social change

RFT: The Guerilla guide to pro-social change

Original post to angelacathey.com, July 2016

Welcome to Frame Club. A Guerilla guide to pro-social change with RFT.

Screen Shot 2016-07-25 at 6.18.35 AM

The world is full of simple repetitive messaging. Everything is a bumper sticker. “Party A is evil, party B is good” and…. shootingsdiscriminationand ignorance follow.

Life and people aren’t bumper stickers. 

The repetitive simple messaging we’re privy to means that we’re deriving copies of copies of copies. That’s not good.  We’re also used to this and insensitive at times to direct contact contingencies. So, we get around rules in other ways for instance politicians can now move us more effectively through associative frame speak than through direct logic (eh hem… Drumpf for President anyone?).

And yet, we’re not doomed to idiocracy.

We know that simple low complexity derivation begets 1) rules, which leads to 2) unawareness (rule-governed insensitivity to contingencies).

When you add to that mix pain, you get: 1) avoidance, that leads of course to resilient and contagious ideas. This is why we teach acceptance by metaphor and experience. You can’t just say “accept” because you end up with a useless rigid rule and lack of awareness of the contingencies around it.

So, let’s acknowledge what’s there and why it’s there.

We all have histories of learning negative discriminatory relations about race, sex, gender, social class, body image, and a whole host of other things.

Even if they weren’t outright stated (aka you didn’t hear racist, sexist, anti-gay messaging regularly) simple repetition of any situation creates rules which spread in our minds in a variety of ways. We then deal with this in predictable ways.

Some of these rules may come about just through noticing differences and similarities between ourselves and others (Roche, Barnes-Holmes, Barnes-Holmes, Stewart, and O’Hora, 2002) and this influences our behavior.

So, we’re going to have these relations as a bi-product of our natural tendencies to categorize and organize our worlds (if we didn’t life would be a bit like 50 first dates. Where everything would be new and foreign each time we contacted it. That’s not workable. )

We’re going to have these rules in our heads about people that are painful as a result of living. We can try to wish them away but that’s just going to result in rules in the other direction then create insensitivity to direct contingencies (even if they’re as big as a gorilla in the room.)

Unfortunately, there is no erasing of relations. We all have painful thoughts that we’d rather not acknowledge.

Luckily, there’s been some great work on what this is in the social realm and what we can do about it (see Vilardaga, Levin, Hildebrant, Hayes, & Yadavia 2008, May ABA – need to log into ACBS for access) or Vilardaga, Hayes, Levin 2014 – The Flexible Connectedness Model).

We can deal with relations that are problematic in a variety of ways.

In some cases, we can simply derive new more complex relations that fade the old relations in importance; however, when the rule is more stubborn (i.e, involves any pain as it so often does when rules latch on to humans) this often won’t be enough.

We often need a shift in context (defusion, mindfulness of the contingencies of that drive our behavior in non-rule-based form). We can also combine these with combinations of context shift like this Deictic Framing Exercise (exercise by Vilardaga, Levin, Hayes, 2008 – video by Gareth Holman). This type of exercise combines several relations that move us past rule-based insensitivity including shifts in deictic and deictic related framing (temporal, hierarchial, etc.).

 This is likely to work for those who are willing to engage. 

However, we know that coherence, simplicity, avoidance of pain… all of this is self-reinforcing and we can’t expect a large portion of the population to sit down and do a perspective-taking exercise just yet. So, what can we do?

 Adapt the message or the context.

If argumentation and rule-based insensitivity are likely you need to adapt the message. Go metaphorical, go high complexity, and go associative. Feelings aren’t as easily blocked (see every perfume commercial ever made.)

Or shift the context, humor can work well at getting our attention when insensitivity is the norm (see Old Spice Muscle Pump  commercials that get our attention when we normally tune commercials out).

When humor, feeling, metaphor, aren’t practical and/or the consequences are too high, we can also reduce the accessibility of Sds (discriminative stimuli) if we know what’s pulling the problematic frames. We could be enacting this in some of our institutions (e.g., the justice system) now. We know the impact of race on judgments and sentencing and yet we just keep sending people into the justice system and pretending human bias isn’t there. When are we going to just start recognizing and adjusting to human bias tendencies to protect people? We’ll tend to engage in mass scale rule-based insensitivity to avoid contacting what’s difficult (see the DARE program and abstinence education for policies that continue to be funded despite their widely recognized ineffectiveness).

Contextual Behavioral Science and RFT can begin to mindfully examine these contingencies if we take the time to look at what’s going on with a stance of self-other compassion without blaming or shaming either party we can start from a new context where together we step forward to understand what keeps us stuck hurting ourselves and each other.

You and I: Understanding and measuring high impact Functional Analytic Psychotherapy (FAP)

You and I: Understanding and measuring high impact Functional Analytic Psychotherapy (FAP)

Original Post to AngelaCathey.com on July 24th, 2016
by Angela Cathey

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 otherwise difficult 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. To some extent one would hope most treatments are experienced this way; however, the rate which participants report intense response to FAP is likely higher. 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 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 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 that 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 pictures 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 snapshots 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, our ‘self’, and our world.

Now, let’s work towards understanding the complexities of high impact Functional Analytic Psychotherapy relating.

Open this and listen while you Imagine.

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 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.

What are your thoughts on this and the complications of what we’re describing? Let us know in the comments. If you’re interested in more writing on clincial behavior analysis, RFT, principles, or the philosophy of science – let us know. Also, check out our selection on-line, on-demand, and live training on related topics!

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