The Good Lives Model (GLM) is a framework of offender rehabilitation which, given its holistic nature, addresses the limitations of the traditional risk management approach. The GLM has been adopted as a grounding theoretical framework by several sex offender treatment programmes internationally and is now being applied successfully in a case management setting for offenders. 

The GLM is a strengths-based approach to offender rehabilitation, and is therefore premised on the idea that we need to build capabilities and strengths in people, in order to reduce their risk of reoffending. According to the GLM, people offend because they are attempting to secure some kind of valued outcome in their life. As such, offending is essentially the product of a desire for something that is inherently human and normal. Unfortunately, the desire or goal manifests itself in harmful and antisocial behaviours, due to a range of deficits and weaknesses within the offender and his/her environment. Essentially, these deficits prevent the offender from securing his desired ends in pro-social and sustainable ways, thus requiring that s/he resort to inappropriate and damaging means, that is, offending behaviour.

Intervention should be viewed as an activity that should add to an individual’s repertoire of personal functioning, rather than an activity that simply removes a problem, or is devoted to managing problems, as if a lifetime of restricting one’s activity is the only way to avoid offending.

The following text provides a description of the GLM key theoretical components and conceptual underpinnings. For a detailed understanding of the model, please consult published references or contact the relevant person from the profiles page.

The GLM is a strength-based rehabilitation framework that is responsive to offenders’ particular interests, abilities, and aspirations. It also directs practitioners to explicitly construct intervention plans that help offenders acquire the capabilities to achieve things and outcomes that are personally meaningful to them.  It assumes that all individuals have similar aspirations and needs and that one of the primary responsibilities of parents, teachers, and the broader community is to help each of us acquire the tools required to make our own way in the world.  Criminal behaviour results when individuals lack the internal and external resources necessary to satisfy their values using pro-social means.  In other words, criminal behaviour represents a maladaptive attempt to meet life values (Ward and Stewart, 2003).  Rehabilitation endeavours should therefore equip offenders with the knowledge, skills, opportunities, and resources necessary to satisfy their life values in ways that don’t harm others.  Inherent in its focus on an offender’s life values, the GLM places a strong emphasis on offender agency.  That is, offenders, like the rest of us, actively seek to satisfy their life values through whatever means available to them.  The GLM’s dual attention to an offender’s internal values and life priorities and external factors such as resources and opportunities give it practical utility in desistance-oriented interventions.

The GLM is a theory of offender rehabilitation that contains three hierarchical sets of conceptual underpinnings: general ideas concerning the aims of rehabilitation, aetiological underpinnings that account for the onset and maintenance of offending, and practical implications arising from the rehabilitation aims and aetiological positioning.


The GLM is grounded in the ethical concept of human dignity (see Ward and Syversen, 2009) and universal human rights, and as such it has a strong emphasis on human agency.  That is, the GLM is concerned with individuals’ ability to formulate and select goals, construct plans, and to act freely in the implementation of these plans.  A closely related assumption is the basic premise that offenders, like all humans, value certain states of mind, personal characteristics, and experiences, which are defined in the GLM as primary goods.  Following an extensive review of psychological, social, biological, and anthropological research, Ward and colleagues (e.g., Ward and Brown 2004; Ward and Marshall 2004) first proposed nine classes of primary goods.  Empirical research performed by Purvis in 2006 (published in 2010) tested these aetiological assumptions and actually found that relatedness and community required separation, as did excellence in play and excellence in work, thus producing eleven classes of primary goods. These are now defined as:

  1. life (including healthy living and functioning)
  2. knowledge (how well informed one feels about things that are important to them)
  3. excellence in play (hobbies and recreational pursuits)
  4. excellence in work (including mastery experiences)
  5. excellence in agency (autonomy, power and self-directedness)
  6. inner peace (freedom from emotional turmoil and stress)
  7. relatedness (including intimate, romantic, and familial relationships)
  8. community (connection to wider social groups)
  9. spirituality (in the broad sense of finding meaning and purpose in life)
  10. pleasure (feeling good in the here and now)
  11. creativity (expressing oneself through alternative forms).


Whilst it is assumed that all humans seek out all the primary goods to some degree, the weightings or priorities given to specific primary goods reflect an offender’s values and life priorities.  Moreover, the existence of a number of practical identities, based on, for example, family roles (e.g., parent), work (e.g., psychologist), and leisure (e.g., rugby player) mean that an individual might draw on different value sources in different contexts, depending on the normative values underpinning each practical identity.

Instrumental goods, or secondary goods, provide concrete means of securing primary goods and take the form of approach goals (Ward, Vess et al. 2006).  For example, completing an apprenticeship might satisfy the primary goods of knowledge and excellence in work, whereas joining an adult sports team or cultural club might satisfy the primary good of community.  Such activities are incompatible with dynamic risk factors, meaning that avoidance goals are indirectly targeted through the GLM’s focus on approach goals.



Recent empirical research which tested the original aetiological assumptions of the GLM provided comprehensive support for the model’s aetiological underpinnings (see Purvis, 2010).  In testing these assumptions, this research also found that there are actually two primary routes that lead to the onset of offending: direct and indirect.  The direct pathway is implicated when an offender actively attempts (often implicitly) to satisfy primary goods through his or her offending behaviour.  For example, an individual lacking the competencies to satisfy the good of intimacy with an adult might instead attempt to meet this good through sexual offending against a child.  The indirect pathway is implicated when, through the pursuit of one or more goods, something goes awry which creates a ripple or cascading effect leading to the commission of a criminal offence.  For example, conflict between the goods of intimacy and autonomy might lead to the break up of a relationship, and subsequent feelings of loneliness and distress.  Maladaptive coping strategies such as the use of alcohol to alleviate distress might, in specific circumstances, lead to a loss of control and culminate in sexual offending (Ward, Mann et al., 2007).

The GLM argues that there are four types of difficulties or problems that people can have in the way they are currently living their life (i.e. lifestyle) or the life plan they have mentally constructed.  A ‘way of living’ refers to how a person is currently living their life in terms of daily activities, functioning, behaviours, and generally represents a lifestyle that reflects certain individual values and attitudes.  A ‘life plan’ refers to how a person plans (either implicitly or explicitly) to live their life, now and in the future.  Often, the way a person lives their life can be very different to the way in which they plan (or planned) to live their life.  According to Ward (2002a; 2002b; Ward and Fisher, 2005), there are four primary types of problems that can be evident in a person’s way of living or life plan: capacity, scope, means and coherence.



The first problem with ways of living and life plans concerns capacity.  There are two types of capacities to consider, internal capacity and external capacity.  Internal capacity refers to conditions internal to the individual, such as one’s skill level or ability to secure goods; problems with internal capacity are referred to as internal obstacles.  It may be that an individual lacks the internal conditions necessary to secure certain goods, and as such, the enhancement or acquiring of particular skills or internal conditions should be a focus of treatment.   For instance, an individual may wish to emphasise the good of excellence in work, however may lack the skills to gain the type of work that he believes will give him the sense of achievement and fulfilment he seeks.  Barriers to functioning at one’s full potential (capacity) can occur on several levels, cognitive (the individual lacks knowledge or mental ability), psychological (the individual lacks belief in himself and/or has motivational problems), and behavioural (cognitive or psychological issues result in behavioural problems that limit the individual’s abilities).

External capacity, on the other hand, relates to those conditions or contexts external to the individual (e.g. availability of social supports, employment opportunities, access to education) that are needed to achieve goals and secure goods. Therefore, problems with external capacity are referred to as external obstacles. For example, an individual may want to become an artist (this is the goal, but the good sought may be excellence in work, excellence in play or creativity), however because he lives in an isolated location (external obstacle) there are no courses nearby that he can enrol in.  Internal and external obstacles can therefore govern the means used to secure a good.  In the above example, the external obstacle of geographical isolation may direct the individual to buy an art book and teach himself. Alternatively, the individual may just resolve to give up and therefore allow the goal and associated goods to go unfulfilled, which may lead to problems in scope.

It should be noted that empirically identified criminogenic needs are conceptualised in the GLM as internal or external obstacles that interfere with the acquisition of primary goods (Ward & Maruna, 2007).  That is, internal and external conditions may be viewed as changeable factors that drive offending behaviour (referred to as dynamic risk factors).  This means that people who have many internal and external obstacles, and very few strengths, are at greater risk of engaging in problematic behaviours, such as offending.  This is because they are unable to utilise skills or strengths to seek out desired goods or outcomes in pro-social ways, thus forcing them to resort to anti-social or maladaptive behaviours.  Indeed, as outlined by Ward and Maruna (2007), each of the primary goods can be linked with one or more criminogenic needs.  Taking the primary good of agency as an example, impulsivity might obstruct good fulfilment or result in unstable or short-term attainment.  Similarly, poor emotional regulation might block the attainment of inner peace or lead the person to resort to less adaptive means, such as alcohol abuse.



The second problem with ways of living and life plans concerns their degree of scope.  When a person either fails to strive for or secure (at some level) each of the eleven basic human goods, their life or plan is considered to lack scope.  A lack of scope may lead to a neglect of one of the three clusters of goods, either the body, self, or social life.  A neglect of one such cluster could lead to either physiological dysfunction, psychological distress leading to mental health problems, or social maladjustment (Ward 2002), all of which will invariably lead to decrease one’s overall life happiness.  Problems in scope can simply be caused by a disinterest in some goods; however a lack of scope is usually caused by problems in capacity.  For example, a lack of interpersonal skills and a distrust of others are likely to cause problems in securing the good of relatedness and community, and may also create difficulties at work (excellence at work) and reduce engagement in leisure activities involving others (excellence in play), causing a neglect of a cluster of goods.  This person’s life would be said to lack scope, which can have negative impacts on psychological functioning and overall happiness.



The third problem concerns the appropriateness of means.  Goods can be sought in any number of ways and sometimes, goods can be sought in a way that hinders one’s chances of either securing the good successfully, or receiving the true benefit of the good.  For example, an offender may seek the good of relatedness through a sexual relationship with a child.  However children, due to their physical and mental immaturity, are unable to respond to adults in a deeply intimate way (Ward 2002). Therefore, due to the inappropriateness of the means by which the offender is seeking this good, it is unlikely that this good will be properly secured and the offender’s needs fulfilled.  Contrary to what he might have hoped for, the offender may experience decreased levels of happiness due to his frustrated efforts at achieving certain goods.



The final problem with ways of living and life plans may be the coherence of goods.  It is important that in each person’s life, goods are ordered and coherently related to each other.  Ward and Stewart (2003) argue that a life that lacks coherence is likely to lead to frustration and harm to the individual concerned, and may also lead to a life lacking in overall sense of purpose and meaning.  There are two types of coherence problems; horizontal coherence and vertical coherence.  Horizontal coherence refers to the extent to which goods are explicitly related to each other in a mutually consistent and enabling way. Essentially, goods need to complement each other or at least exist harmoniously along side one another, rather than being antagonistic or conflicting.  For instance, a person may be committed to securing the primary good of relatedness through a romantic relationship, however may also be committed to securing the good of excellence in agency. Though the two goods may be equally important, they may also conflict due to the type of means used; the individual wants to feel close and secure with someone, but may also behave oppressively and abusively so as to feel autonomous and in control. The problem is that the means used creates conflict between goods sought.  This type of conflict between goods is likely to cause relationship problems, the thwarting of the relatedness good, emotional distress, and ultimately, unhappiness. Obviously the problem lies in seeking certain goods in ways that ultimately harm other people, whilst also seeking to be close and connected to people.   Conflict between goods can also lead to a lack of scope, and research has found that goal conflict and failure to achieve important personal goals has negative effects on physical well-being (Emmons 1999).

The second form of coherence, vertical coherence, requires hierarchical clarity (i.e. ranking) among goods.  Whilst the GLM specifies that all goods should be sought in each person’s life, it does not specify the level of importance assigned to each good.  This is an entirely individual process, informed by each person’s preferences, skills, likes and dislikes, social norms, and cultural values.   Individuals need to have an understanding of which goods are most important to them and have the most priority in their life, as this should govern what activities the individual engages in on a daily basis.   Someone who weights the good of relatedness over excellence in work is going to be relatively unhappy if they actually live their life as a single person who works long hours, seven days per week.  It is plausible to argue that a lack of vertical coherence causes people to feel unfulfilled in how they live their life, and leads to a sense of meaninglessness and unhappiness, potentially making people focused on immediate gratification over the fulfilment of long-term life goals (Ward and Stewart 2003).

In sum, there are a variety of problems that may be evident in people’s ways of living and life plans.  It should be the aim of rehabilitation to identify what problems exist so that lifestyles and life plans can be altered to suit each offender’s preferences, capabilities, skills, temperament and opportunities.  This would then allow the offender to access goods in pro-social ways that are also intrinsically beneficial and meaningful.



To reiterate, the aim of correctional intervention according to the GLM is the promotion of primary goods, or human needs that, once met, enhance psychological well being (Ward and Brown, 2004).  In applying the GLM, assessment begins with mapping out an offender’s good lives conceptualisation by identifying the weightings given to the various primary goods.  This is achieved through (i) asking increasingly detailed questions about an offender’s core commitments in life and his or her valued day to day activities and experiences, and (ii) identifying the goals and underlying values that were evident in an offender’s offence related actions.

Once an offender’s conceptualisation of what constitutes a good life is understood, future oriented secondary goods aimed at satisfying an offender’s primary goods in socially acceptable ways are formulated collaboratively with the offender and translated into a good lives rehabilitation plan.  Treatment is individually tailored to assist an offender implement his or her good lives intervention plan and simultaneously address criminogenic needs that might be blocking goods fulfilment.  Accordingly intervention might include building internal capacity and skills and maximising external resources and social supports to satisfy primary human goods in socially acceptable ways. 

The GLM has been adopted as a grounding theoretical framework by several sex offender treatment programmes internationally (McGrath, Cumming, Burchard, Zeoli & Ellerby, 2010) and is now being applied successfully in a case management setting for offenders. 



The GLM offers a comprehensive, targeted and individually meaningful framework for rehabilitative work with offenders.   It should be noted that the GLM is ultimately a framework for healthy human functioning and as such, should be considered as a necessary approach for therapeutic work with any offender or client base.  If we are truly serious about not seeing offenders return to the criminal justice system time after time, then we must be holistic in our treatment and case management approach and be committed to equipping offenders to live better, pro-social and personally meaningful lives.


See the Relevant Publications page on this website for all references listed above, in addition to other important works.


  • The GLM Theory pages on this website have been translated into Puertuguese and kindly provided by Marcos Brunini from FUNDAÇÃO CASA, in São Paulo, Brazil. Click on Brazil's flag for this translation. 
  • Annina Vilkas offers a brief GLM review (updated February 2020) in Finnish language based on the handbook she developed, which has been accredited as good practice. Click Finland’s flag for this translation.

GLM in Portuguese GLM in Finnish, v2_c

We welcome more translations, please let us know if you translate material from this website.



If you (or someone you love) has committed an offence and are working on self improvement, you may be interested in what the GLM says about offending behaviour.  As such, this document has been prepared for you, in everyday language.  If you are attending a rehabilitation or treatment programme, your therapists may use the GLM in their work and therefore, we encourage you to talk about the GLM with your therapist and support persons.  Ultimately, the goal is that you will be able to live a more fulfilling life without hurting yourself or other people.

Description of the GLM

We acknowledge the contribution John Eno made to developing this document.

TRANSLATIONS: The GLM client handout has been translated into Portugese, German, and Finnish.

  • Portugese translation by Marcos Brunini from FUNDAÇÃO CASA, in São Paulo, Brazil.  Click on Brazil’s flag for this translation. 
  • German translation by Steven Feelgood and Joseas Helmes from Sozialtherapeutische Abteilung (Social Therapy Unit), Germany.  Click on Germany’s flag for this translation.

GLM Client Handout in Portuguese  GLM Client Handout in German

 We welcome more translations, please let us know if you translate material from this website.



There are a large number of programmes that have been developed and implemented based on the GLM framework.  These programmes provide rehabilitative services to a wide range of forensic populations, including:

  • Adult male sexual offenders
  • Adult female sexual offenders
  • Young people who sexually abuse
  • Violent offenders
  • Young offenders
  • Substance dependent offenders
  • Mentally disordered offenders
  • Intellectually disabled offenders
  • Indigenous offenders
  • Arsonists/Firesetters
  • Psychopathic offenders
  • Domestic Violence offenders

 It is almost impossible for us to know exactly how many programmes worldwide are using the GLM and as such we cannot provide an exhaustive list.  This is emphasised by a recent report by McGrath, Cumming, Burchard, Zeoli & Ellerby (2010) who found that a significant number of Canadian sex offender treatment programmes identified the GLM as one of their preferred theoretical frameworks.   Within the next five years, as more GLM programme evaluations are finalised, we hope to provide at least a list of those GLM programmes that have been meaningfully measured and tested for theoretical adherence and rehabilitative outcomes.

If you would like advice, consultancy or training with regard to particular offender programs, please contact us.


McGrath, R., Cumming, G., Burchard, B., Zeoli, S., & Ellerby, L. (2010). Current practices and emerging trends in sexual abuser management: The Safer Society 2009 North American survey. Brandon, Vermont: Safer Society Press.



An increasing number of offender rehabilitation programmes utilise the GLM as a guiding theoretical framework, a movement particularly evident in sex offender treatment programmes (McGrath, Cumming, Burchard, Zeoli, & Ellerby, 2010).  Empirical research into the effectiveness of GLM based rehabilitation programmes is underway, and preliminary findings have been published.  This page provides references to empirical studies and will be updated as additional publications become available.

Evaluation of treatment outcomes based on programming

Leigh Harkins is currently working on a multi-national research project looking at whether responses to treatment differ in terms of the treatment approaches used (e.g., GLM, Relapse Prevention).  Response to treatment will be measured in terms of ratings on group process variables, participants’ satisfaction with treatment, facilitator ratings of treatment progress, and recidivism.  The results of this study will allow for a comparison of treatment outcomes as a function of different approaches to treatment.

Development of Good Lives Approach evaluation tools and their use in measuring human good fulfilment for adolescents who sexually abuse.

Helen Griffin has published some preliminary results of a GLM evaluation study focused on the development of GLM evaluation tools and their application to therapeutic work with adolescents who sexually abuse.  These tools consist of pre/post-treatment scoring manuals and an additional considerations booklet that acts as a guide to clinicians and researchers should they require additional help in scoring the manuals. A description of the development of the evaluation tools and initial findings are to be published in October 2013 in B. Print (ed) (In Press) The Good Lives Model for Adolescents Who Sexually Harm,  Safer Society Society Press.


Gannon, T. A., King, T., Miles, H., Lockerbie, L., & Willis, G. M. (2011). Good lives sexual offender treatment for mentally disordered offenders. British Journal of Forensic Practice, 13, 153-168. doi:10.1108/14636641111157805

Harkins, L., Flak, V. E., Beech, A., & Woodhams, J. (2012). Evaluation of a community-based sex offender treatment program using a Good Lives Model approach. Sexual Abuse:  A Journal of Research and Treatment, 24, 519-543

Simons, D. A., McCullar, B., & Tyler, C. (2006, September). Evaluation of the Good Lives Model approach to treatment planning. Paper presented at the 25th Annual Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers Research and Treatment Conference, Chicago, Illinois.



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