How Psychology Reduces Recidivism | psychology today
Dr. Christian Conte is the creator of Yield Theory. An accomplished anger and emotion management specialist and public speaker, he is the author of numerous books, a TEDx talk, podcasts heard on over 300 stations (including Sirius XM) and a YouTube with over 100,000 subscribers. As a consultant to the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, he established a training program for all correctional officers as well as personal growth programs for all inmates. His influence on prison reform now extends beyond Pennsylvania to other states and countries.
Question: Dr. Conte, how did you come to anger management?
Answer: I entered the field after being undercover to observe how anger management groups were handled. I was quickly disillusioned after watching attendees forge their “Letters of Responsibility” by simply telling each other what to write (a ploy that allowed them to “succeed” in terminating the group). I was also discouraged to see the pejorative approach the instructors took, talking to band members and labeling them, rather than genuinely trying to teach them a new path.
So with my colleague, Lacey Weber, I did a study on Performance Theory versus traditional anger management groups, and we saw success with Performance Theory. Lacey and I then founded a center in South Lake Tahoe, California, to bring change to people classified as violent offenders and required to undergo 52 weeks of anger management as a condition of their parole. Our goal was to reduce violence and help people make real changes in behavior, not just appearance.
What we found was that by meeting our clients where they were, leading with compassion, and providing mindful education, we were able to help people make lasting change. In fact, we have often seen people graduating from these mandated groups and then returning voluntarily, which was unheard of before.
When I returned to my home state of Pennsylvania in 2012 to be closer to my family, I approached Department of Corrections Secretary John Wetzel with a plan for Commonwealth prison reform. He gave me the opportunity to test yield theory in a special management unit, a place that housed some of the most violent inmates in the state. To put the severity of the violence into perspective, there were only two such units in a state that at the time had 25 state prisons. The control group in the experiment received a traditional program of cognitive behavioral therapy. After six months, the data showed that the Performance Theory group had a statistically significant reduction in acts of violence.
After working several more years and demonstrating its success in different state prisons, the Pennsylvania DOC then committed to introducing the theory into all of its prisons and correctional officer training programs. Since that time, other states and even other countries have begun to incorporate its principles. Police departments, professional sports teams, organizations and businesses have also begun to enforce it.
What is your philosophy and approach?
For my entire career, I’ve operated on the lighthearted slogan that the world comes down to two types of people: people with problems and people who have died. So that means if you see that, you’re in trouble; but it doesn’t matter, because me too, and everyone else too. But I also strongly believe in the incredible innate capacity of human beings to surpass themselves, as well as to learn constantly as long as they are alive.
The approach or methodology that I use is one that I created in 1998, which I call Theory of Return.
The Theory of Achievement is rooted in Zen Buddhist philosophy, and it focuses on meeting people where they are, leading with compassion, humility, and genuine curiosity, and constantly striving to circumvent the defensiveness of others. to communicate in a way that can actually be heard.
I specialize in violence and have worked with people who have committed some of the most horrific crimes (rape, torture, murder, etc.) on the planet. And it’s not an easy job. But through it all, I also saw that profound changes can be brought to people, regardless of anything that happened in the past.
I have witnessed first hand the power of using radical compassion and striving to see things from other people’s perspectives, talking to people without judgment for the unchanging past and working fully with them on this what they can do from now on. What I’ve found is that the more non-judgmental we are with others, the more likely they are to let go of their defenses and be open to what we have to say.
I set unshakeable boundaries, then give my clients extreme empathy to help them understand why they made the choices they did. But to be clear: helping them understand why they did what they did is never condoning, justifying, rationalizing, minimizing, or excusing behavior in any way.
How are angry violent offenders motivated for your program?
Dr. Christian Conte, Ph.D.
Source: Christian Conte, used with permission
At first they are not. They are resistant. And that’s okay either, because coming face-to-face with an anger management specialist is usually an unwelcome time for people, and from their perspective, that’s certainly understandable.
Eventually, however, and often much more quickly than you might think, participants in my programs realize that they cannot fake peace, and more often than not, they learn to stop striving to control others. and the outside world and instead become fully committed to changing the only person they can control: themselves.
As I tell everyone: we master what we practice, and that includes peace.
How can people find you for help with anger management?
To learn more about yield theory, my latest book is walk through anger (also available as an audiobook), I have lots of videos on YouTube, and my emotional management podcast can be found anywhere you download podcasts.