Moral Reconation Therapy

Incompatible with Council on Social Work Education Competencies?




evidence-based practice, social work field education, ethics, EPAS, Moral Reconation Therapy


Moral Reconation Therapy (MRT) is a manualized treatment commonly used in correctional settings to address perceived moral failing and associated problematic behaviors (e.g., substance use and criminal conduct). Many social work students are introduced to MRT as a treatment modality during field placements in correctional contexts. As a group modality that draws from cognitive-behavioral interventions and 12-step recovery programs, MRT has been touted as a cost-effective and evidence-based intervention. However, there are substantial reasons to question MRT’s appropriateness as an intervention taught to social work practicum students. Using several of the CSWE EPAS standards as guideposts, this paper addresses several key areas of concern with regard to the role of MRT in the training of social work students. Through our analysis of MRT’s curriculum, we identify areas of concern with regard to MRT’s ability to teach social work students how to ethically practice, engage diversity and difference in practice, or utilize research to inform practice. Despite the widespread use of MRT in correctional counseling contexts, we conclude that MRT is unsuitable for use in accredited social work field placements. Educators and accreditation agencies should critically evaluate the treatment models social work students learn and practice in field placements.

Author Biographies

Sam Harrell, Portland State University, School of Social Work

Sam Harrell (they/them) is a social work instructor and doctoral student with experience across many fields, including violence prevention, prison and jail re-entry, emergency housing, LGBTQ+ youth services, and child welfare. Their research interests include social welfare history, penal abolition, field education, mandatory reporting, and LGBTQ+ youth wellness.

Brianna Suslovic, Chicago, Crown Family School of Social Work, Policy, and Practice

Brianna Suslovic (she/her) is a social work practitioner, researcher, and doctoral student who studies the intersections of social work and carcerality. Current research projects include historical research on social work-police collaboration, program evaluation of mental health diversion programs, mental health crisis response in municipal 911 dispatches, and critical/theoretical work on resilience and abolition.

Constance Johnson, Indiana University School of Social Work

Constance Johnson is an advanced year MSW student at the Indiana University School of Social Work. Their research focuses on social justice through policy, advocacy, harm reduction, and mutual aid. In their clinical work, they are specializing in work with LGBTQ+ individuals and people diagnosed with PTSD due to childhood trauma.

Chandler Boys, Independent Researcher

Chandler Boys (he/him) is a social worker with experience providing direct services to clients in community mental health and university settings. He also has experience studying implementation science. Specifically, the outcomes and sustainability of tailored intervention programs. His research interests include harm reduction, restorative justice, program implementation, and power-based violence.

Ben Anderson-Nathe, Portland State University | Child, Youth, & Family Studies | School of Social Work

Ben Anderson-Nath​​e (he/him) has worked with youth in therapeutic foster and group care, community mental health, juvenile corrections, homeless and street settings, community education, sexuality education, and recreation/camping. His teaching and scholarship focus on youth and youth work; critical, queer, and post-structural epistemologies; and gender, sexuality, and queerness.

Kassandra Botts, Independent Researcher

Kassandra Botts (they/them) is a Harm Reductionist working in drug user health equity in viral hepatitis elimination initiatives, with experience in community-based organizational leadership, public and community health, clinical psychological sciences, and coalition and capacity building. Their interests include harm reduction, substance use and recovery discourses, and community-driven research.


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