Feasibility and acceptability of a brief Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) intervention for juvenile offenders.
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Martowski, Jules Christopher, 1988-
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Juvenile offenders are consistently found to have higher rates of mental illness than non-justice involved adolescents, yet the psychological services offered to these youth tend to be minimal, underutilized and are rarely supported by research. Furthermore, research suggests that keeping juveniles incarcerated for longer periods of time is not associated with reduced recidivism. The current evidence-based treatments for incarcerated adolescents predominantly involve a systems-based approach requiring multiple individual therapy sessions a week for several months at minimum, or are typically conducted in a group format. While these treatments have shown improved rates of recidivism over time, they are time and resource intensive, limited in treatment format, and lack applicability for briefly detained youth. A growing base of research supports the use of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) for adolescents, which utilizes a transdiagnostic approach to help individuals be more open to experience, stay present, and engage in value-oriented action. While flexible in format, session-length, and implementation, no study to date has evaluated the feasibility or acceptability of utilizing ACT for juvenile offenders. The current study aimed to investigate 1) the feasibility and 2) the acceptability of conducting a brief ACT intervention for incarcerated adolescents in a short-term juvenile justice center who were awaiting adjudication. Additionally, the study evaluated the intervention’s effect on quality of life after a short follow-up period. Thirty-five of 38 (92.1%) juvenile offenders completed the two-session treatment protocol and 21 of the 38 (55.3%) completed the full study through follow-up. Participant ratings and open responses widely supported the intervention as helpful and enjoyable. Ratings from facility staff also broadly supported the research as feasible to adopt as part of the facility’s psychological services. Additionally, participants reported a significant increase in quality of life between pre-treatment and follow-up (t(20) = 3.03, p = .007). While the results of this study provide preliminary support for the use of a brief ACT-informed intervention for juvenile offenders, a randomized controlled trial with a larger sample is needed to evaluate how brief ACT compares to other brief interventions for improving quality of life and rates of recidivism in juvenile offenders.