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Does Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Work in Criminal Justice? A New Analysis From CrimeSolutions

NCJ Number
NIJ Journal Issue: 277 Dated: September 2016
Date Published
May 2016
8 pages
Publication Series

This article reports on the results of a meta-analysis of evaluations of programs and practices that have used cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).


CBT is a class of therapeutic interventions based on a common theory about the connection between our thoughts, attitudes, and beliefs (cognitions) and our behavior. The core premise of CBT is that the way we think about situations shapes our choices, behavior, and actions. Thus, changing maladaptive thoughts, attitudes, and beliefs that lead to inappropriate and even destructive behavior can produce behavioral changes in a positive direction. This article reports on a meta-analysis of evaluations of programs and practices that used cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) as a central part of their intervention. Individual CBT programs that have been rigorously evaluated are effective at deterring crime, assisting victims, and preventing recidivism; however, comparisons across CBT programs shows variation in CBT's success, depending on the variables associated with the program's implementation. CBT is apparently more effective with juveniles, possibly because adults have developed more deeply rooted maladaptive cognitive processes that may be more difficult to change. CBT also seems to be consistently effective in helping crime victims deal with trauma, and there is evidence the CBT in the controlled setting of a prison therapeutic community can reduce the risk of re-offending. Practices offer mixed evidence on the use of CBT for treating sex offenders, and no effects were found for its use in preventing domestic violence reoffending. 4 tables

Date Published: May 1, 2016