Rational Cognitive Therapy: A Model Program for Female Offenders

Article excerpt

Children increasingly are being raised in violent homes and communities. They are accepting violence as a way of life. A model therapy program using Rational Cognitive Therapy (RCT) was developed to stop this cycle of violence in the home and in society. The program is designed to help several different groups of offenders, but it is particularly applicable to female inmates and ex-offenders who are mothers (or who are planning to have children). The program's objectives aim to train offenders to do the following:

* understand the theory and application of RCT;

* deal rationally with their stress provocation and rejection;

* deal rationally with the stress and anger of their spouses (or other significant adults);

* deal rationally with the stress and anger of their children;

* use RCT for decision-making and problem-solving; and

* help others (spouses and children) use RCT for decision-making and problem-solving.

RCT has its foundation in other cognitive strategies. RCT makes it easier for clients to apply the basic cognitive premise to potentially upsetting life events.

The basis for the cognitive model is that individuals control their emotions by how they process life events through their thoughts. For example, some people who command or demand attitudes or qualities (such as respect or perfection) from other people or themselves and do not receive them may exaggerate this perceived lack of respect or imperfection and create for themselves an end-of-the-world disaster.

Through RCT, clients are taught to reevaluate life's events rationally, using rational self-analysis (RSA). RSA is practiced and rehearsed in private, giving clients the tools to deal with life's provocations and rejections. This teaching and self-help therapy is conducted in a classroom atmosphere. Parenting skills and therapy work together effectively. Parents, spouses and children are taught how to respond appropriately to inevitable annoyances, irritations and disappointments.

RCT emphasizes the preparation of female offenders for their roles as parents and spouses, and teaches them to deal with these types of events the next time they happen. Throughout therapy, many clients see how they could have managed past problems better. With a lot of practice using RSA - by writing RSA out and rehearsing it mentally many times - clients are able to react to life events with more appropriate emotions (for example, feeling annoyed or disappointed rather than angry and depressed), thus fostering safer and more nurturing homes.

Sara, an inmate in a local work release center, explains that after a four-hour block of RCT instruction, she was able to go home on a furlough and deal much better with her 4-year-old son, whom she considered "disruptive." She said that three months before RCT instruction, she had returned to the center from a home furlough "on the verge of a nervous breakdown" because she could not deal with her son. She says that RCT helped her see that everything will not always go the way she wants, and children (or others) may act out or refuse orders. She reports that she is using the techniques she learned in therapy at the work release center when conflicts arise with people there.

Barbara, a released offender from the center, tended to recklessly chase after anyone who cut her off in traffic and ride her bumper. She often would take that rage home with her and be abusive toward her two small children and husband for hours after the incident. Barbara revealed in therapy that she never thought about the potential danger to others or herself that may result from her behavior; all she wanted to do was get back at the person who cut her off. Through RCT intervention, she was able to put being cut off in traffic, and any other similar life event, into proper perspective. She still didn't like being cut off, but she was able to see that it did not have to be a big deal. …