Rational Behavioral Training Program

Overview of Program

The Rational Behavioral Training (RBT) program at the Washtenaw County Juvenile Detention is based on both Cognitive Behavioral and Behavior Modification Interventions. Our goal is to assist young people to make positive changes in their thinking and behavior, so that the result is a youth who has a belief system that is pro-social and behaviors that are positive and goal directed.

RBT is a program we utilize in our detention program.  RBT focuses on modifying behavior by encouraging youth to examine their beliefs and thinking patterns that precede problem behavior. Youth process their behaviors by using a cognitive model (situation, thinking, feelings, behavior, and consequences) focused on identifying self-talk that results in improved behavioral outcomes. Program staff help the youth to recognize and examine their core beliefs that get them into trouble with parents, teachers and the communities they live in. The main tool utilized for examining their problem thinking and actions is called a Thinking Report (PDF).

Thinking Report

Youth typically complete a Thinking Report after a situation has taken place where they could have made a better choice. The Thinking Report allows the youth to do a rational self analysis which requires analyzing the inappropriate thinking / behavior and make changes in a similar situation in the future. The goal of RBT is to help youth learn to control their thinking in order to exhibit more appropriate behavior. View a short PowerPoint video on RBT (PPT).

Teaching Tools

One aspect of RBT focuses on Target Behaviors. The 5 Target Behavior categories included in RBT are: 

  • Area
  • Cooperation / Participation
  • Gesture
  • Ignore
  • Talk

Learn more about the 5 Target Behavior Categories (PDF)

Teaching Areas

In addition, program staff facilitate daily educational RBT groups that focus on the following RBT teaching areas:

  • Stop-Look-Listen (PDF): Skills to help youth with being aware of situations and listening to irrational thinking.
  • Safer (PDF): Distinguishing between "needs" and "wants."
  • AFROG (PDF): Learning to challenge self-talk- "Is my thinking helping me?"
  • ABCDE (PDF): Examining beliefs, the resulting feelings, and behavior and consequences.

Behavior Modification

Our RBT program is made up of both Cognitive Behavioral and Behavior modification interventions. The educational programming discussed above focuses on the cognitive aspects of the RBT programming we use. Our Behavior modification interventions focus on Timeouts, Coupons, Goal Contracts, and Points.

Time Out

Time outs are not intended as a punishment but rather given as a period where the youth can think about an inappropriate behavior and refocus. Staff will issue a time out whenever the youth is demonstrating inappropriate behavior (breaking rules, cursing, being uncooperative). Typically, a Time Out will last for 5 minutes. Once the time out is completed by the youth, he or she will identify the behavior that earned them a Time Out. A student can be issued as many Time Outs as he or she earns during the day. Learn more about Time Outs (PDF).


Our RBT program utilizes the practice of issuing coupons to youth for demonstrating positive behavior in the 5 target behavior categories (talk, gesture, ignore, area, participation / cooperation) to increase desired behaviors. The coupons the youth earn can later be exchanged for a number of items for use within our detention center. Examples of such items include clothing, soda, snacks, and toiletries. The goal of issuing the coupons is to reinforce positive behaviors identified as "target behaviors." This will increase the probability of the behavior occurring again and decrease those deemed as "inappropriate." Before issuing the youth a coupon, the detention staff write the target behavior onto the coupon for the youth to see how it was earned. Learn more about coupons (PDF).

Goal Contract

Detention staff work with the youth to develop a weekly goal that focuses on improving a specific behavior. An example is "I will not get any time outs for cursing." The goal that has been developed will be assessed by the staff and reviewed two times a day. The youth earn either a (-) or a (+) for their effort towards their goal. If the youth is successful with reaching their goal (this depends on a percentage and level of the youth), they will be given a privilege and will thereafter develop another goal with the detention staff. View more information on Goals (PDF).


Youth work to earn Points that ultimately determine level privileges while in programming. The point are kept on a point sheet that outlines the five main areas of point card skills they are measured on (Ignore, Gestures, Cooperation / Participation, Area, and Talk). View an example of a point sheet (PDF).