Cognitive Self Change

Cognitive Self Change (CSC) is a program designed to teach offenders how to change their own thinking. It is used in a range of jurisdictions across North America, Europe and Australia. It is described in the book above, which will be available in June 2016. Cognitive Self Change was created by Dr Jack Bush in 1989.

This website aims to provide additional resources for jurisdictions interested in implementing CSC, facilitators who run the program, and the offenders who participate in the program.

Cognitive Self Change takes offenders’ ways of experiencing their circumstances at the time they offend as the starting point for change. More specifically, we start by focusing our attention, and theirs, on the internal experience that gives rise to their acts of offending: the thoughts and feelings, beliefs and attitudes, the ‘life principles’ and ‘personal rules’ that shape the meaning of their experience and their motivation to offend.

We teach offenders to be objective observers of their own internal experience. We teach them to recognise the connection between their internal experience and their offending behaviour. We teach them how to think of new ways to think that don’t lead them to offend, while still providing an experience of self-worth and self-efficacy. And we challenge them to practice using this new kind thinking in real-life situations until they get good at it.

That, in a nutshell, is Cognitive Self Change.

Cognitive Self Change and Motivation
We don’t require, expect, or try to instil motivation as a precursor or pre-condition of treatment. Our general assumption is that offenders who enter our program don’t want to change, don’t want to be in treatment, and most especially don’t want us or anyone else to try to make them change. We address their determination not to change by framing CSC as a set of skills:
The program will not try to make you change. We teach skills you can use to change yourself. Whether or not you use these skills to change your life is up to you.
We teach skills for steering away from offending and being able to feel good about yourself when you do it. After you learn these skills you will have a real choice to make: to stay as you are or to use these skills to change your life. 
If you don’t learn these skills you are not really making decisions at all—your important decisions will have already been made. Your decisions will be made in advance by the attitudes and habits of thinking you perform in your mind automatically, “without thinking”.

Cognitive Self Change References:

Bush, J., Harris, D. M., & Parker, R. J. (2016). Cognitive Self Change: How offenders experience the world and what we can do about it. Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell.

Bush, J. (1995). Teaching self-risk management to violent offenders. In McGuire, J. (Ed.), What works: Effective methods to reduce re-offending (pp. 139-154). Sussex, UK: Wiley.

Bush, J. (2006). The Cognitive Self Change program. In Glick, B. Cognitive behavioral interventions for at-risk youth (pp. 7-1 - 7-27). Kingston, NJ: Civic Research Institute.

Baro, A. L. (1999). Effects of a cognitive restructuring program on inmate institutional behavior. Criminal Justice and Behavior, 26(4), 466-484.

Henning, K. R., & Frueh, B. C. (1996). Cognitive-behavioral treatment  of incarcerated offenders. An evaluation of the Vermont Department of Corrections’ Cognitive Self-Change program. Criminal Justice and Behavior, 23(4), 523-541.

Jordan, R., & O’Hare, G. (2007). The Probation Board for Northern Ireland’s Cognitive Self-Change Programme: An overview of the pilot programme in the community. Irish Probation Journal, 4(1), 125-136.

Brief Notes on Program Delivery: group size, duration and intensity, facilitator qualifications and training

Cognitive Self Change is suitable for delivery in custodial, residential and community settings. It can be used in conjunction with other interventions (so long as that doesn’t undermine the core message of CSC), or as a stand-alone program. Delivery formats can be quite flexible, as long as the core principles are followed. It is possible to start CSC in one location and complete it in another, as long as the two locations keep good records and share the participant’s work.

Group Size

Groups are conducted by teams of two trained facilitators, and include from five to eight participants. There is no economy of scale in running groups larger than eight, as that would limit the quality and quantity of each member’s participation, or group members would end up staying in the program for a longer period in order to complete their treatment assignments.

It is possible to conduct CSC on a 1:1 basis, however we recommend that only highly experienced CSC facilitators should attempt this. 1:1 work to supplement the group work is very beneficial and should be utilised as needed.

Facilitator Qualifications

We have found a wide range of people who are capable of running CSC, some of whom have no formal qualifications at all. Many offenders participating in CSC can and do take a facilitation role, with good results. We have spoken of the need for facilitators to suspend clinical, logical, and moral judgments in their delivery of CSC. This is more easily accomplished by some than by others.

Duration and Intensity

Groups generally meet once or twice per week for between 1-2 hours. This allows time for every participant to present a brief “check-in report” at every meeting and an extended thinking report at least every week.

CSC is delivered as an open group, meaning participants can leave or enter the group at any time without disrupting the process. The program is designed for each member to participate for a period of between 6 months and 2 years. Briefer delivery is possible, and the authors are currently designing for delivery as short as 3 months.

CSC is not a quick fix, and we don’t expect quite brief versions of the program, acting alone, to effect enduring change for significant numbers of offenders. We suggest though that even brief exposure to CSC in environments supportive of change can have meaningful results. (See chapter 6 on “the system as the intervention,” and “extended applications of supportive authority.”)


Facilitators of CSC will require training and ongoing supervision and support. An initial training program of 1 week will prepare facilitators to co-facilitate with an experienced facilitator. When a program is starting from scratch, we recommend 2 weeks of initial training.


About the Cognitive Self Change Program

The Four Skills of Cognitive Self Change

  1) Learn how to pay attention to your thoughts and feelings.

  2) Learn to recognize when your thoughts and feelings are       leading you toward violence or crime.

  3) Find new thinking that leads you away from crime and       violence.

  4) Practice using it until you can do it when it counts.

Comments by Andrews and Bonta (2010) from their book The Psychology of Criminal Conduct:

“Jack Bush’s distillation of cognitive restructuring into four steps also appears to be a core set of skills” (p. 413)

“Many programs are still operating on the basis of weakly formulated principles of group dynamics, often infused with a mishmash of Rogerian and existential notions of the underlying goodness of humankind ... which would become evident if only the person or group could experience trust, openness and noncontingent valuing. The work of Jack Bush (1995) ... has made great strides in managing this problem. Candor must be encouraged when antisocial cognitions are being explored. In their Cognitive Self Change program, absolute candor without judgement and without ‘counseling’ or ‘correction’ is the practice when a ‘thinking report’ is being prepared” (p. 388)

The book Cognitive Self Change: How offenders experience the world and what we can do about it is now available in hardcover, paperback and Kindle: