Thinking for a Change (T4C) is a cognitive–behavioral curriculum developed by the National Institute of Corrections that concentrates on changing the criminogenic thinking of offenders. T4C is a cognitive–behavioral therapy (CBT) program that includes cognitive restructuring, social skills development, and the development of problem-solving skills.
The program may be delivered to a variety of offenders, including adults and juveniles, probationers, prison and jail inmates, and offenders in aftercare or on parole (however, studies that have examined program effectiveness of T4C so far have included only samples of adult probationers).
T4C combines cognitive restructuring theory and cognitive skills theory to help individuals take control of their lives by taking control of their thinking (Bush, et al. 2011). The foundation of T4C is the utilization of CBT principles throughout the group sessions. There is an extensive body of research that shows cognitive–behavioral programming significantly reduces recidivism of offenders (Landenberger and Lipsey 2005).
T4C stresses interpersonal communication skills development and confronts thought patterns that can lead to problematic behaviors. The program has three components: cognitive self-change, social skills, and problem-solving skills. Lessons on cognitive self-change provide participants with a thorough process for self-reflection concentrated on uncovering antisocial thoughts, feelings, attitudes, and beliefs. Social skills lessons prepare participants to engage in prosocial interactions based on self-understanding and awareness of the impact that their actions may have on others. Finally, problem-solving skills integrate the two other components and provide participants with a step-by-step process to address challenges and stressful situations they may encounter.
The program is divided into 25 lessons (each lasting approximately 1 to 2 hours), with the capacity to extend the program indefinitely. The curriculum is designed to be implemented with small groups of 8 to 12 offenders. Each lesson teaches offenders important social skills (such as active listening and asking appropriate questions) as well as more complex restructuring techniques (such as recognizing the types of thinking that get them into trouble and understanding the feelings of others). Most sessions include didactic instruction, role-play illustrations of concepts, a review of previous lessons, and homework assignments in which participants practice the skills learned in the group lesson.
Examples of some of the lessons are Active Listening Skill; Thinking Controls Our Behavior; Paying Attention to Our Thinking; Recognize Risk; Use New Thinking; Understanding the Feelings of Others; Apologizing; Responding to Anger; Introduction to Problem Solving; Stop and Think; and State the Problem.
Lowenkamp and colleagues (2009) found that there was a statistically significant difference in the proportion of offenders who recidivated between the treatment group, who received the Thinking for a Change (T4C) curriculum, and the control group, who did not. Specifically, 23 percent of the treatment group recidivated (i.e., they were arrested for a new offense), compared with 36 percent of the control group. The difference indicates that the control group was 1.57 times as likely (or 57 percent more likely) to be arrested during the follow-up period.
Multivariate analysis showed that when controlling for confounding factors, the odds of the control group being arrested during the follow-up were almost double that of the treatment group. After adjusting for the net effects of risk, age, race, gender, and follow-up time, the recidivism rate of the treatment group was 15 percentage points lower than that of the control group (28 percent versus 42 percent, a significant difference). The multivariate model also showed that the significant predictors of recidivism were age, risk category, and group membership, meaning that younger offenders, higher-risk offenders, and offenders in the comparison group were more likely to be arrested for a new offense during the follow-up period.
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