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“Mindfulness appears to meet the very clinical and criminogenic needs that have been identified in forensic populations, but for which therapeutic remedies are in short supply” (Howells, 2010).

Step-Up is a mindfulness-based self-instruction group program for violent offenders drawn from evidence-based, cognitive behavioural and third wave behavioural therapies. Program participants attended for three hours per week over a 10-week period, with each week split into two sessions of 1.5 hours each. The program covers:

  • Social Skills Training – teaches participants common social skills designed to improve interpersonal relationships through modelling and role-play.
  • Self-Instruction Training – teaches participants to identify anger cues through mindfulness, to reduce anger arousal and avoid aggressive/violent responses.
  • Mindfulness and Values – which helps participants to notice their thoughts and feelings, identify pro-social values, and consider these in relation to their offending behaviour, and consequently better understand the impact of their behaviour on others.

In a review of the theoretical application of mindfulness to anger-related disturbances among offender populations, Wright, Day and Howells (2009) outlined some of the mechanisms that might be associated with behaviour change in incorporating mindfulness into CBT treatment approaches with violent offenders. They suggested that the non-judgemental, self-observation of physiological cues, thoughts and feelings might serve to reduce emotional and behavioural reactivity usually associated with anger provoking situations. Wright et al. argue that this approach is consistent with standard CBT approaches to aggression treatment in which exposure and response prevention procedures are employed – “Non-judgemental awareness of distressing thoughts, emotions or sensations in the absence of any dire consequences and without escape or avoidance essentially constitutes non-reinforced exposure” (p.399). Indeed, self-monitoring procedures are an essential component of all anger-related treatment models (Novaco, 2003).

Learning Outcomes

  1. An introductory understanding of the cognitive-behavioural and social learning principles underpinning Step-Up
  2. Knowledge of the theory and experiential practice of the four programme modules (i.e.,
  3. Understanding the difference between group content and group process and strategies for working with both
  4. Managing challenging behaviours in a group setting
  5. An understanding of the principles of transfer and maintenance of treatment gains