Relational Frame Theory Part V: An Introduction to Rules

Past RFT installments:

So far we have learned the following:

  • When we learn unidirectional relationships (e.g., “Adam is younger than Gary”), then we are able to automatically derive or infer new ones without having to be taught them (e.g., “Therefore, Gary must be older than Adam”).
  • The way we sense the outside world has a direct connection to internal experiences (perceptions, memories, thoughts, feelings, etc.) and vice versa. So when we see a needle/syringe in the environment, we think “that’s a needle,” and we may have certain fears or feelings or memories which occur when we see that needle in the environment.
  • Further, when we simply think of a stimulus, our mind has the ability to create an internal reaction as though the stimulus is present. So if an individual with a phobia of needles simply thinks about needles, then his/her mind may initiate a cognitive/physiological cascade of events where he/she responds with nervousness, worry, panic-esque physiological symptoms, and even possible fainting; even though there is NO needle present, our mind “brings” the needle into the room where that individual is.
  • Finally, the function of a stimulus can change directly (e.g., through classical conditioning, such as pairing an electric shock with a stimulus so it now produces fear when it previously produced a happy or neutral response), or indirectly (e.g., through derived learning, such as relating stimulus A to stimulus B, then pairing stimulus B with an electric shock so it elicits fear, then stimulus A will also elicit fear solely because it is related to stimulus B despite having never been paired with an electric shock).

Today we begin our discussion of rules, which we will have to cover in a few installments. Let me quick describe rules, and then I want you to see how they work for yourself. Rules are often conceived as “If, then” statements, where the consequence of the rule is specified in the statement itself, often rooted in something that is supposedly going to take place, rather than what is currently taking place. For example:

"If I don’t hurry, then I will miss the bus." - the individual isn’t necessarily missing the bus, but he/she states this rule, and it guides his/her behavior even though the consequence is not happening now and may not happen, well, at all.

So try some of your own. Don’t think about the answer to these, just let your mind produce an answer for you automatically. So I’ll give you the “if” portion of the rule by stating a situation, and leave the “then” portion blank. See what your mind tells you in response to these situations.

  • If I don’t study tonight, then ___________.
  • If I see smoke come from under the door, then ___________.
  • If I see a bear while walking in the forest, then ___________.
  • If the zombie apocalypse starts today, then ___________.
  • If I am sent back to the year 1820, then ___________.

Did your mind come up with any answers?

Let’s consider some past rules we have seen thus far just in this little series. Remember this image from the last installment?

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Consider the following possible rules:

  • If I see “Chair,” then I will be shocked.
  • If I see “Silla,” then I will be shocked.
  • If I see “Stol,” then I will be shocked.

Note that one of these events did happen numerous times (saw the word “Chair,” received an electric shock). Yet the second two rules never happened and yet our minds give us the prediction they will happen. Our minds are foretelling events that have not happened, but “make sense” to our minds based on patterns of learning.

How about this one?

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Maybe, “if I say Milk, then I will receive that beverage I enjoy.”

Why do rules matter?

Like many of the other things discussed thus far, they are very adaptive! We can force ourselves to study even if we find it quite dull (e.g., “If I don’t study, then I will fail this exam”). We can do lots of things based on the future promise of fulfillment or avoidance of pain. So these rules can guide our behavior in very adaptive ways.

However, they do have the potential to cause serious harm, and that is what we will discuss next time!

EMDR Therapy for Families of Children with Autism, Part III

cbtinterventions:

See on Scoop.it - Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing EMDR
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Janeen Herskovitz, MA, LMHC - How a child on the autism spectrum processes disturbing memories, and the perceptions that come with them, is key to EMDR therapy.

Virtually nothing in that article is even remotely substantiated by science. It’s like 99% opinion. Opinion not rooted in anything tangible.

Remember when I said EMDR is dangerous because it opens the possibility for practitioners to place greater emphasis on the eye movement exercises (which literally do nothing) and less emphasis on the exposure therapy (which literally is the only effective part of EMDR)?

Because that’s literally what is happening here. Bogus mechanisms are considered active and they are now being misapplied without sufficient evidence to even suggest its efficacy.

See:

http://cognitivedefusion.tumblr.com/post/81235431519/emdr-vs-exposure-therapy-a-preview-of-the-research

http://cognitivedefusion.tumblr.com/post/80518083409/i-cant-say-whether-they-know-more-than-i-do-and-i

Relational Frame Theory Part IV: Transformation of Stimulus Functions

Past RFT installments:

Okay, so far we’ve learned the following:

  • When we learn unidirectional relationships (e.g., “Adam is younger than Gary”), then we are able to automatically derive or infer new ones without having to be taught them (e.g., “Therefore, Gary must be older than Adam”).
  • The way we sense the outside world has a direct connection to internal experiences (perceptions, memories, thoughts, feelings, etc.) and vice versa. So when we see a needle/syringe in the environment, we think “that’s a needle,” and we may have certain fears or feelings or memories which occur when we see that needle in the environment.
  • Further, when we simply think of a stimulus, our mind has the ability to create an internal reaction as though the stimulus is present. So if an individual with a phobia of needles simply thinks about needles, then his/her mind may initiate a cognitive/physiological cascade of events where he/she responds with nervousness, worry, panic-esque physiological symptoms, and even possible fainting; even though there is NO needle present, our mind “brings” the needle into the room where that individual is.

Today we start with the process called transformation of stimulus functions. This sounds daunting, but let’s run through an example now.

Let’s say an individual is playing with a cat. This makes the individual happy, and so the function of this cat stimulus is to elicit happiness or joy. However, let’s pretend this cat suddenly scratches this individual. Now this individual is probably a bit wary of this cat, maybe a little fearful. Now the cat has a new function: it elicits fear. So the cat is the stimulus, and the initial function was to bring happiness, but that function transformed when the cat scratched the individual as now the cat elicits fear. That’s a transformation of stimulus function, and any stimulus in the entire world has the potential to change its function entirely (e.g., our happiest memories can bring pain, and our deepest pain can bring fulfillment).

But this process gets sticky real quick. Let’s return to this example from previous lessons:

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This is our relational frame for Chair/Silla/Stol, right? I tell you that Silla means Chair, and Chair means Stol, and suddenly you recognize that all these words mean the same thing. When you see “Stol,” you realize that means “Chair,” and same for Silla.

Now let’s pretend I’m doing an evil psychology experiment. I sit you down in front of a computer screen, and for the first phase of our study, I create this relational frame in you after, say, 30 minutes of conditioning. No harm here.

For the second phase, however, let’s say I keep you in front of that computer screen and I flash 20 words up on the screen in random order over the course of 30 minutes. Further, every time the word “Chair” comes up, I am going to shock you.

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It won’t take long before you catch on to what I’m doing, right? You recognize that every time I show you this word “Chair,” you get shocked. Naturally after doing this enough times, you show a fear response every time you see the word “Chair” because you assume it will be followed by a shock. This is normal classical conditioning, similar to the process Ivan Pavlov did, right?

But here’s the million dollar question: what happens when I show you the words Silla or Stol on the screen? I’ve never shocked you when these words are shown, but they do remind you of the word “Chair.” Does that mean anything happens? See below:

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Hell yes. You would show a similar fear response to these words even though I never shocked you when I show them on the screen. Your mind suggests, “Hey that Silla word is related to that Chair word and we keep getting shocked when that Chair word comes up…so we might be shocked here, too…I have a bad feeling about it.”

Do we understand the significance here? Your mind will create a prediction of fear even when the feared event (i.e., getting shocked when seeing the word Silla or Stol on the screen) has never, ever happened. Not once.

So the stimulus function of the word “Chair,” initially, was that it reminded us of chairs. After this experiment was over, however, it was something that we became afraid of because it reminded us of being shocked. The stimulus functions for the words “Silla” and “Stol” were initially neutral (assuming you did not know what these words meant) - they were just meaningless sounds. Then they assumed the function of reminding us of the word “Chair.” Then, after the electric shocks being paired with the word “Chair,” they assumed the function of eliciting fear.

All these stimuli changed their function rather quickly, and without “reason” (i.e., for Silla and Stol, there was no learning history of being shocked when they were on the computer screen).

What’s also interesting is if we extinguish the fear response for one of these stimuli, all of them will be extinguished (at least temporarily - extinction should occur in multiple contexts for long-term results, of course!) So if one link in the chain changes, the rest follow.

Does this make sense? One stimulus can be equated to another stimulus, and if that initial stimulus changes, so will the second one. Our minds are not just recording the past and making predictions based off what has happened, they are also making predictions of things which have never happened.

Next installment will focus on rule formation, and how these rules guide our behaviors (and sometimes our lives, if we let them!) This next few will be some of the most important lessons in all of clinical psychology, I would argue.

Relational Frame Theory Part III: Derived Learning and Internal Experiences

Past RFT installments:

So last time we covered: if we learn a unidirectional relationship between two+ stimuli (e.g., “Adam is younger than Gary”), then we can automatically derive new relationships without having to be taught those relationships (e.g., “Therefore, Gary must be older than Adam”).

Today we will branch from that by expanding this concept. I want to revisit this image:

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So in this example, I tell you that Chair means Silla which means Stol, and you can then tell me that, based on these relationships, all these words must mean Chair. Even if you had never heard these terms Silla or Stol (Spanish and Swedish for the word Chair, respectively), you now can understand that both of these words mean Chair.

But what’s important is this: when we do this sort of “thought experiment,” we are not just relating these three words together based on their semantic meaning; we also relate them to our internal experiences, our thoughts, our feelings, our memories, etc. Here is where we begin for this lesson.

Let’s start with this word, “Chair,” which I assume is familiar to most all of us. When we see this word on the screen, as you are reading it, you might be reminded of thoughts of chairs, memories of chairs, perceptions of chairs, feelings about chairs, etc. So, drawn out, it might look like this:

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Simple, right? You read or hear this “Chair” word, and suddenly you are imagining what a chair is (signified by that leather recliner in the picture above - just pretend that is what you think of when you see this “Chair” word for this post). If you see a chair in the environment, you might think to yourself, “that’s a chair.” These are immediately connected: what you sense in the environment is directly connected to your internal perceptions, and vice versa. I can say strawberry or snakes or penguins on skateboards and suddenly you form an image or internal experience.

So, what happens when we relate new words to “Chair”? Let’s re-introduce Silla and Stol…

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Okay, so let’s build this frame. I tell you that Silla means Chair which means Stol, and suddenly these all mean the same thing and hold equivalent meaning. When you see “Silla,” you think “well that means Chair,” and same for when you see “Stol.” Illustrated below:

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Awesome, so these words all share the same semantic meaning.

But what about that chair sitting out there awkwardly? What does that have to do with this? Well, recall that “Chair” reminds us of internal images of chairs, as shown in the previous photos. But now Silla and Stol remind us of this “Chair” word…which reminds us of images and memories and thoughts of chairs…so what do Silla and Stol do now?

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If we condition this enough, then whenever you see Silla or Stol, you’ll have the same reaction as you do when you see Chair. Meaning, everything you think about when you see the word “Chair” on the screen is what you will think about when you see or hear “Silla” or “Stol.”

So before the start of this experiment, Silla and Stol meant nothing to you (assuming, again, that you did not know what these words meant prior). But then all we had to do is say “Silla means Chair,” and now whenever you see “Silla” you don’t only think “Hey that means chair,” but you also think all the things you do when you think about chairs (thoughts, memories, feelings, perceptions, etc.)

Why does this matter?

Glad you asked! Pretend that “Chair” was a frightening, bad, evil word. Suddenly whenever we see it, we are reminded of frightening, bad, evil things. And now Silla and Stol will remind us of those things, too! Even though Silla and Stol may have nothing to do with anything frightening, bad, or evil!

So let’s consider needles. They’re scary, right? For individuals with a phobia of blood/injections, all you really have to do is talk about needles for them to become incredibly fearful, and even pass out! No needle in the room necessary: simply talking about needles, or reading about needles, is enough to make someone with an injection phobia to faint.

So consider animals, who as you may remember, are not able to do any of the things discussed thus far. How would they react when talking about their fears, which we’ll assume are needles?

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I found this image from a website, and it works perfectly. Lots of animals are kind of afraid of needles. If you have a needle in the room, they will have a panic attack-esque response. But here’s the catch: if you cue them to be reminded of a needle, they show no fear. You can remind them “hey, you’re afraid of needles, remember?!” and they just don’t care so long as there is no needle in sight. For them, thinking about needles is insufficient to cause fear.

But what about humans?

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In humans, just thinking of a needle elicits fear. In essence, our minds are capable of “bringing” a needle into the room. So we see a needle and have an internal experience of a needle, right? Similarly when we just think of a needle, we have a response similar to the needle being in the room. So if you see a needle in the room, then you are thinking of needles, which results in fear. Similarly if you think of needles, then your mind interprets it almost as though a needle were right in front of you, which results in fear.

So talking about needles, seeing the word needle, etc. reminds us of our internal experiences of needles, which elicits a fearful response.

What does this mean?

We carry our fears with us wherever we go; other animals do not. If something in the environment reminds us of a needle, even if a needle isn’t around, we’ll become fearful. Even if there’s nothing in the environment which reminds us of a needle, just thinking of a needle will result in us becoming fearful.

For individuals with specific fears, this is why they will feel discomfort or distress just talking about that which makes them afraid. This is also how we can carry our happiness, our anxiety, and our love around, too.

Next time we’ll talk about the way in which we respond to stimuli, and how the way we perceive them can change really quickly, and then how that has implications for our behavior.