An Introduction to Relational Frame Theory

Eric J. Fox


Learn the key concepts, terms, and approach of Relational Frame Theory (RFT), a behavioral account of human language and cognition. RFT provides the theoretical basis for promising new interventions in applied behavior analysis (e.g., PEAK Relational Training System) and clinical psychology (e.g., Acceptance and Commitment Therapy).

6 CEUs
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Relational Frame Theory (RFT) is a behavioral account of human language and cognition that emerged primarily from converging lines of research on rule-governed behavior and derived stimulus relations. It is an extension of B.F. Skinner’s analysis of verbal behavior in some respects, but also directly challenges some of the basic tenets of that analysis. More importantly, it has drastic implications for how we conduct a science of human behavior, as it explains how stimulus functions can be altered in ways that are not directly predictable from a traditional contingency analysis. RFT provides a framework for an analysis of complex human behavior, and serves as the basis of promising new interventions in applied behavior analysis (e.g., PEAK Relational Training System) and clinical psychology (e.g., Acceptance and Commitment Therapy). This tutorial, first published in 2004, helps the learner master the key concepts, terms, and approach of RFT.

About the Author

Eric J. Fox, Ph.D.

An Introduction to Relational Frame Theory was written and developed by Dr. Eric J. Fox (Doc Fox), the founder and director of Foxylearning. Doc Fox was a contributing author to the first book-length treatment of Relational Frame Theory (RFT), developed the original Association for Contextual Behavioral Science (ACBS) website (and the RFT and ACT websites that preceded it), was a founding member of the ACBS Board of Directors, and has presented and published on RFT numerous times. He holds a doctorate in Learning & Instructional Technology from Arizona State University and a master’s degree in behavior analysis from the University of Nevada, Reno. He has two decades of experience in instructional design and previously served as a faculty member in the psychology department of Western Michigan University, Dean of Instruction at Saybrook University, Director of Instructional Design for Altius Education, Senior Content Developer at Cengage Learning, and Director of Educational Technology for The Ohio State University College of Medicine. His love of learning, technology, and behavioral science is coupled with an unhealthy affinity for Batman.

Learning Objectives
Upon completing the tutorial, the learner should be able to:

  1. Identify two of the distinguishing characteristics of human language and how they are accounted for by Relational Frame Theory (RFT)
  2. Identify definitions and examples of key theoretical concepts in RFT (including derived stimulus relation, functional contextual theory, relational responding, generalized operant, multiple exemplar training, mutual entailment, combinatorial entailment, transformation of stimulus functions, and contextual cues)
  3. Specify the process by which relational responding leads to derived stimulus relations
  4. Analyze samples of natural language using the terms and concepts of RFT
Technical Requirements
The tutorial requires only an active internet connection and a relatively modern web browser with JavaScript enabled.
Accuracy, Utility, and Risks
The content of this tutorial should be considered quite accurate, as it was written by an expert in the field and reviewed for accuracy by Dr. Steven C. Hayes, who led the development of RFT and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), and Dr. Dermot Barnes-Holmes, who is one of the most prolific RFT researchers and scholars in the world. This tutorial should benefit any psychologist, behavior analyst, student, or behavioral science professional who would like to have a conceptual framework for analyzing human language and cognition that is more functional and pragmatic than the structural analyses of traditional linguistics or cognitive psychology. It will be particularly beneficial to those wishing to understand the theoretical basis of ACT or those working to establish verbal repertoires with children or adults who have language delays. This tutorial will not provide you with training in specific interventions or methods based on RFT, but it will provide you with a conceptual understanding of the theoretical basis of such interventions and methods. There is little to no risk associated with completing this tutorial, aside from the physical risks associated with any computer work (e.g., repetitive stress injuries and eyestrain) and possibly severe boredom.
This tutorial was initially developed as part of the author’s dissertation research at Arizona State University. The topic was selected to introduce the complex concepts of Relational Frame Theory (RFT) to a broad audience. A beta version was introduced in 2003, with the first full release in 2004. The tutorial earned the author the Nova Southeastern Award for Outstanding Practice by a Graduate Student in Instructional Design from the Design & Development division of the Association for Educational Communications & Technology. With an award name that long, you know it’s got to be good. The first commercial version (developed in Adobe Flash) was launched on Foxylearning in January 2010 and the first HTML5 version was launched in May 2012. Significant updates were also released in June 2013, June 2019, and January 2020.

You can launch the lessons of the open-access version of this module using the links below. The open-access version does not include the final quiz or our personal notes tool, but the rest of the content is the same. Please note that your progress on open-access modules is not tracked or recorded.

Customer Reviews

Based on 450 reviews







Amanda Nicolson (Fresno, US)

An Intro to RFT

Fantastic presentation and content. Liked the frequent learning checks to be sure we could understand what was being taught. Nice format too. Very easy to use. I loved this course and look forward to more!


Jane P. (Elk Grove, US)

Great and introductory course on RFT

Very comprehensive in an easy to understand language. Great examples and visuals to explain concepts.

I think this course should be more than 6 CEUs though.

Highly recommend.


Neal Shipley MS, BCBA

The introduction to RFT module was an excellent resource. The material was appropriately paced, and presented well. Follow-up activities helped reinforce the material presented. Overall an excellent learning tool!


Nick Ostosh (Denver, US)

Great instructional design and fun!

Super enjoyable module that is well structured, fun, fast-paced, informative, and clear! This module is laced with humor that I think most BCBAs would enjoy. Everything is broken up into small chunks with tons of active student responding incorporated within to keep the pace fast and engaging. I was actually a little sad when it was over!


Daniel Granados-Salazar (Mexico City, MX)


It gives you an easy understanding of RFT with so many examples. Highly recommended.