What is CBT?
Cognitive behavioral therapy is a treatment that focuses on patterns of thinking and the beliefs, attitudes and values that
underlie thinking. CBT has only recently come into prominence as one of the few approaches to psychotherapy that has been
broadly validated with research, although it has been used in psychological therapy for more than 40 years. It is reliably
effective with a wide variety of personal problems and behaviors, including those important to criminal justice, such as substance
abuse and anti-social, aggressive, delinquent and criminal behavior.
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Unlike other approaches to psychotherapy, CBT places responsibility in the hands of clients while supplying them with the
tools to solve their problems, focusing on the present rather than the past. People taking part in CBT learn specific skills
that can be used to solve the problems they confront all the time as well as skills they can use to achieve legitimate goals
and objectives. CBT first concentrates on developing skills to recognize distorted or unrealistic thinking when it happens,
and then to changing that thinking or belief to mollify or eliminate problematic behavior.
The programs, often offered in small group settings, incorporate lessons and exercises involving role play, modeling or demonstrations.
Individual counseling sessions are often part of CBT. Clients are given homework and conduct experiments between sessions.
These components are used to gauge the individual's readiness for change and foster engagement in that change. A willingness
to change is necessary for CBT or any other treatment to be effective in reducing further criminal behavior.
Brand name programs often limit clients to 20-30 sessions, lasting over a period of up to 20 weeks. The more treatment provided
or the more sessions participants attend over time, the greater the impact on and decrease in recidivism.
The typical CBT program is provided by trained professionals or paraprofessionals. Training for non-therapist group facilitators
often involves 40 hours or more of specialized lessons and skill building. Licensed and certified therapists are often part
of cognitive programs, especially those involving individual counseling.
Characteristics of the counselor are important to a program's effectiveness. Counselor honesty, empathy and sensitivity are
helpful traits. Support and encouragement, partnership or alliance, and acceptance are necessary in establishing effective
rapport, which is especially important in CBT because counselors often take on the role of coach. It is important that counselors
be consistent in modeling and expressing the pro-social attitudes and behaviors, moral values and reasoning that are often
part of CBT with criminal offenders.
Positive findings from research on CBT are common. Over the years, studies have shown the therapy is effective with various
problems, including mood disorders, anxiety and personality and behavioral disorders. Unlike other traditional and popular
therapies, CBT has been the subject of more than 400 clinical trials involving a broad range of conditions and populations.
It has successfully addressed many issues experienced by children, including disruptive or noncompliant behavior, aggressiveness,
oppositional defiant disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. For adults, CBT has been shown to help with marital
problems, sexual dysfunction, depression, mood disorders and substance abuse. It has also been shown to be as useful as antidepressant
medication for individuals with depression and appears to be superior to medication in preventing relapses.
Date Created: April 15, 2010