October 20, 2010

Is Good Lives only for sex offenders?

A reader asked:
How applicable is the Good Lives Model (book review HERE) to working with people who have transgressed in ways other than sex offending?

The theory was not developed for sex offenders in particular. It is being adopted for use with sex offenders under the premise that their patterns of desistance from crime are similar to those of other criminal offenders. Many types of rehabilitation programs are turning to the Good Lives Model and other positive psychology approaches. By way of illustration, here is a testimonial from a Canadian psychologist who uses it with men who have engaged in family violence:
We have been using the Good Lives Model (GLM) in a family violence program for men who batter for the past year. The framework allows us to maintain all the traditional processes one might typically see in an offender program. It also supports the use of a variety of strategies pulled from narrative therapy, solution focused therapy, zen psychology, biofeedback, cognitive behavioural, learning theory, etc. while maintaining a cohesive theoretical perspective.

The GLM approach supports a stronger focus on offender engagement. We find that the men are more able to see what their role is in therapy. We have been conducting exit interview with clients as they complete the program. It is interesting to hear how the values embedded in the program are translated into their narratives. I rarely heard this kind of ownership of change from men when we were teaching a relapse prevention-style group.

I found that shifting to the GLM from a purely cognitive-behavioral, relapse prevention, risk-needs-responsivity approach allowed me to align my understanding of what constitutes good therapy from the effective counselling literature (i.e., the therapeutic engagement of the client). At times I have found the strict manualized approaches to treatment to be more "psycho-educational" than therapeutic.

Our population is largely non-convicted, self-referred men where drop out rates are typically very high. People are finishing this program. Our outcome measures suggest clients experience an increase in self-monitoring, emotional self-regulation, and cognitive flexibility, with reductions in perceived levels of anger and aggression.

I did relapse-prevention sex offender programming for many years and continue to integrate those materials and strategies into the current curriculum. We just get to add a lot more and have the theoretical underpinning to back up our efforts.
Thanks to Ann Marie Dewhurst, Ph.D. of Edmonton for giving me permission to post this example of the Good Lives Model in action.