What is FAP?

Functional Analytic Psychotherapy (FAP) was developed by Robert Kohlenberg and Mavis Tsai at the University of Washington. FAP is based on the behavior analytic, or functional contextualistic, approach to human behavior first described by B.F. Skinner. The treatment, however, is not mechanistic.  In fact, FAP results in psychotherapy relationships that are more intense and personal than are typically found in cognitive-behavioral treatments.

The quotes below capture aspects of the FAP experience from the viewpoints of a client, a graduate student, non-FAP therapists, and FAP trainers:

A client note to her FAP therapist:

“You’ve always asked for free association, and this morning I awakened at 6:30 just full of it.  So, here goes. Why, I kept asking myself, are you being so persistent about this “perverse” path of whistling in the dark, in which you are at once encouraging my attachment to you (ostensibly), while talking about the end of our therapy and presumably other endings as well? In what kind of uneasy truce, I also wondered, would Freud and the Behaviorists sit at the same table and drink tea?  Well, it occurred to me that you are using therapeutic attachment/transference for desensitization/exposure therapy.  You are asking me to be, again and again, at the edge of my comfort zone, in the space in which one is ‘knowingly’ attached, trusting you, myself really, to cushion the end, even delight in it.  ‘Transference-based Exposure Therapy,’ huh?”

A graduate student:

“FAP pushes me to stretch and to grow and to be theoretically and values-consistent in all aspects of my life. FAP challenges me to see therapy through the client’s eyes, to engage in self-introspection and to more accurately analyze myself in my interactions.”

A Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) therapist:

“Learning how to ‘be’ in a therapeutic relationship has been one of the most valuable ‘take home’ ideas FAP has given me.  I now find that much of the time that I am working with a client I am mindful of how ‘I am’ and focus on the intention to be fully present–and it has been a powerful process, even when it is uncomfortable.  I have been impacted in a very profound way, both professionally and personally. I am much more aware of my avoidance patterns. I have become more in touch with my desire to link my personal self and my professional self that is more real, more human and more present. Learning FAP has been a healing and broadening force in my life, has enriched my life so much. This has been a life-changing experience.”

A Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) therapist:

“FAP is about living fully by experiencing emotion, risking as much as our patients, wanting to change the world, wanting to relieve suffering and moving towards love and the capability for love. I just love the blend of creativity, pushing borders, intensity, existential meetings and potent therapeutic technique.”

FAP trainers:

“FAP is an interpersonally-oriented psychotherapy designed to help alleviate client problems that are fundamentally about human relationships. Client suffering may occur in the presence or absence of people. Yet the emotional pain clients feel is about their lack of meaningful connection.  What makes FAP unique is the use of basic behavioral assumptions about contingent shaping and the application of reinforcement during a therapy session. At the core of FAP is its hypothesized mechanism of clinical change, through contingent responding by the therapist to client problems live, in-session, while they occur.”

“FAP uses behavioral principles to create a sacred space of awareness, courage and love where the therapeutic relationship is the primary vehicle for client healing and transformation.  FAP shapes interpersonal effectiveness by nurturing clients’ abilities to speak and act compassionately on their truths and gifts, to engage in intimacy and to fully give and receive love.”