Moral reconation therapy, also referred to as MRT, is a substance abuse treatment program that uses treatment modalities based on the cognitive reasoning of cognitive behavioral therapy. Cognitive behavioral therapy is a psycho therapeutic approach to treatment that helps clients learn how their thoughts and feelings influence their choice of behavior.

These modalities, or methods of treatment, help those suffering from substance abuse to change from choosing hedonistic, pleasure seeking behavior to thinking about a concern for how the decisions they make affect social rules and the lives of others. MRT and its modalities are what you expect out of a rehab.

What is MRT?

According to the web page devoted solely to moral reconation therapy1, MRT was officially finalized in 1987 by Dr. Greg Little and Dr. Ken Robinson, based on Little’s research from 1979 through 1983. The term “moral” refers to Kohlberg’s six levels of cognitive reasoning, as listed on education.com2:

  • Punishment avoidance/obedience
  • Exchange of favors
  • Pleasing others for praise
  • Follow rules and laws
  • Social contract
  • Universal ethical principle

These levels of reasoning/moral values are learned beginning in early childhood, and as people grow into adulthood, they master the levels and move on the next. It is important to note that all people reach different levels on this continuum, and that very few people ever reach level 6.

“Reconation” comes from the word “conation” which refers to the process of conscious decision making. Thus “reconation” means having the ability to re-evaluate decisions. The word “therapy” refers to treatment. Moral reconation therapy thereby uses treatment modalities that:

  • Enhance moral reasoning
  • Develop the decision making process
  • Improve attitudes and behaviors based on increased morality to make the conscious decision to do so

How Does Moral Reconation Therapy Work?

MRT is generally a 6 to 12 month program that follows from 12 to 16 units, or steps, depending on the population being treated. There are both group and individual sessions, with the first 12 units being delivered in group setting for approximately thirty sessions. In order to advance to the next unit, clients need to master the previous unit and so forth until completion of the program. The first twelve steps are summarized as follows3, the client must:

  • Take personal responsibility for the problems in life
  • Have faith and trust in self to overcome problems
  • Adapt and learn to follow rules
  • Develop an awareness of the present
  • Assess and repair relationships
  • Help others with no expectations of reward
  • Make and work toward goals
  • Release the belief that he or she is always right
  • Admit and learn from mistakes but never give up.
  • Recognize unhealthy attitudes in self and work to get rid of them
  • Use ethical behavior to reach goals and help others reach theirs
  • Develop a sense of purpose to be the best he or she can be

By reshaping the entire thought processes, moral reconation therapy improves a client’s social, moral, and behavioral development to:

  • Reinforce self image
  • Develop a positive and productive identity
  • Enhance a higher moral reasoning process
  • Set appropriate goals
  • Increase motivation
  • Improve values

Issues of Treatment Focus Using MRT

The focus of treatment in regards to moral reconation therapy is to help the client to move his or her reasoning from levels of self-centered ways of thinking and their ensuing behaviors to a focus on the rules and norms of society and the welfare of others. This is accomplished in 12 to 16 steps that focus on eight guiding principals. The client must:

  • Confront his or her own beliefs and behaviors
  • Assess current relationships
  • Reinforce positive behavior
  • Work on positive formation of his or her self identity
  • Enhance his or her concept of self
  • Decrease hedonistic attitudes and behaviors
  • Develop a frustration tolerance to learn delayed gratification
  • Move on to higher stages of moral thought processes and reasoning

Validation of the Effectiveness of Moral Reconation Therapy

MRT is considered to be one of the most researched and validated intervention programs of its type with a focus on cognitive behavioral theories. In fact, no less than 130 empirical studies have proven the effectiveness of moral reconation theory. In 2008, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, also referred to as SAMHSA, registered the program and its modalities as an evidence-based therapy program for substance abuse that is recommended for successful treatment of both juvenile and adult clients.

This treatment program is open-ended, meaning clients can enter the program no matter what stage of treatment or recovery they are in. MRT has the flexibility to be used in conjunction with existing treatment modalities to increase a program’s effectiveness. Moral reconation therapy is now available for other options, such as for use in:

  • Parenting
  • Domestic violence
  • Education
  • Relapse prevention
  • Anger management
  • Codependency
  • Job readiness and more

Recidivism rates were significantly lower for those completing moral reconation therapy than for those who did not receive this treatment. Typical rearrest rates run from 57 percent to 67 percent, while for those who attended MRT, recidivism was at 46 percent. Statistics were improved for non-violent drug offenders, who showed a recidivism rate of 20 percent for any offense4.


1. Moral Reconation Therapy; Home Page

2. T. M McDevitt|J. E. Ormrod; Kohlberg’s Three Levels and Six Stages of Moral Reasoning;

3. LaCrosse Tribune; A look at the steps used in moral reconation therapy

4. SAMHSA’s National Registry of Evidence-based Programs and Practices; Moral Reconation Therapy