Recently, on Quora, I responded to a question about whether there were any interventions actually proven through research to help offenders change their behavior for the better. Not only is the answer to that question a resounding yes, but there are a number of approaches that are very effective in that regard. One primary group of interventions along those lines is Cognitive Behavioral Therapies, or CBT, as they’re often called.
In a correctional context, the various forms of CBT generally involve changing the dysfunctional thought patterns that contribute to criminal behaviors by applying a structured intervention process, often in a group environment. CBT has been shown repeatedly to be effective in a wide variety of settings and with nearly all categories of offenders, including those at high risk to reoffend.
In one article published by the National Institute of Justice in 2010, Preventing Future Crime With Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, the authors wrote that:
programs based on cognitive behavioral therapy are effective with juvenile and adult criminal offenders in various criminal justice settings, including prison, residential, community probation and parole. [The authors] examined research studies published from 1965 through 2005 and found 58 that could be included in their review and analysis. The researchers found that cognitive behavioral therapy significantly reduced recidivism even among high-risk offenders.
In a separate study published by the National Institute of Corrections in 2007, Cognitive-Behavioral Treatment: A Review and Discussion for Corrections Professionals, the authors reached similar conclusions. Specifically regarding CBT’s affects on recidivism, they wrote that:
A meta-analysis of 69 studies covering both behavioral and cognitivebehavioral programs determined that the cognitive-behavioral programs were more effective in reducing recidivism than the behavioral programs (Pearson et al., 2002). The mean reduction in recidivism was about 30 percent for treated offenders. Other meta-analyses of correctional treatment concluded that cognitive-behavioral methods are critical aspects of effective correctional treatment (Andrews et al., 1990; Losel, 1995). Yet another study similarly determined that the most effective interventions are those that use cognitivebehavioral techniques to improve cognitive functioning (Gendreau and Andrews, 1990).
So, I would say there is significant scientific evidence that CBT provides positive therapeutic effects, including reductions in recidivism. Like any intervention, it is not appropriate for every offender or every situation, but it is still one of the most flexible and effective groupings of rehabilitative interventions available.
What are your thoughts about CBT?