Promoting Alternative Thinking Strategies (PATHS)

The PATHS® (Promoting Alternative Thinking Strategies) Curriculum is a comprehensive social-emotional learning program designed to reduce aggression and behavior problems and to increase emotional and social competencies in preschool and elementary school-aged children. The program is designed as a multiyear prevention model and is provided through 20-40-minute lessons occurring 2-3 times per week throughout an entire school year. Lesson plans include: (a) self-control, (b) emotional literacy, (c) social competence, (d) positive peer relationships, and (e) interpersonal problem-solving skills. This curriculum is intended to be used by educators and counselors in the classroom to simultaneously target prevention of future emotional and behavioral problems (all children), as well as intervention (e.g., students with poor classroom behavior and performance).

This program is approved for WV Expanded School Mental Health.

Last reviewed: 2023

Intended Outcomes:

  • Decreased internalizing symptoms (e.g., depression, anxiety, and withdrawal)
  • Decreased externalizing symptoms (e.g., aggression, bullying, deficits in attention, hyperactivity, disruptive behavior, delinquency)
  • Increased emotional understanding & self-awareness
  • Increased use of cognitive abilities and strategies (e.g., executive functions)
  • Increased self-control & emotion regulation
  • Increased use of effective conflict-resolution strategies & problem-solving skills
  • Increased prosocial behavior, social skills, & peer sociability
  • Improved relationships with teacher & classroom atmosphere
  • Increased engagement/attention in the classroom
  • Higher test scores in reading, writing, and math

Continuum of Care:
Indicated Prevention, Selective Prevention

Topic Areas:
Anxiety, Behavioral Health/Mental Health, Depression, Disruptive Behaviors

Childhood (4-12)

Geographic Locations:
Rural, Urban

Delivery Settings:
Community-Based, School-Based

Cultural Considerations:
A balanced amount of the research involved diverse populations

All children grades Pre-K through 5.

Classroom teacher, school counselor, Bachelor's or equivalent degree, trained paraprofessionals, or experience with children.


Is Training Required?
Yes, see developer info

Who can provide the required training?
The training is fully online, self-paced, interactive, and designed for teachers to complete where and when it’s most convenient. Registration for one teacher to online training is bundled with every PATHS® Classroom Implementation Package. Packages can be purchased on the program website.

Program Costs (materials, training, etc.):
Yes, refer to program website

Program/Practice Website:

Relevant Published, Peer-Reviewed Research:

Crean, H. F., & Johnson, D. B. (2013). Promoting Alternative Thinking Strategies (PATHS) and elementary school aged children’s aggression: Results from a cluster randomized trial. American Journal of Community Psychology, 52(1-2), 56-72.

Hennessey, A., & Humphrey, N. (2020). Can social and emotional learning improve children’s academic progress? Findings from a randomised controlled trial of the Promoting Alternative Thinking Strategies (PATHS) curriculum. European Journal of Psychology of Education, 35(4), 751-774.

Bierman, K. L., Coie, J. D., Dodge, K. A., Greenberg, M. T., Lochman, J. E., McMahon, R. J., & Pinderhughes, E. (2010). The effects of a multiyear universal social–emotional learning program: The role of student and school characteristics. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 78(2), 156-168.

Humphrey, N., Barlow, A., Wigelsworth, M., Lendrum, A., Pert, K., Joyce, C., Stephens, E., Wo, L., Squires, G., Woods, K., Calam, R., & Turner, A. (2016). A cluster randomized controlled trial of the Promoting Alternative Thinking Strategies (PATHS) curriculum. Journal of School Psychology, 58, 73-89.

Panayiotou, M., Humphrey, N., & Hennessey, A. (2020). Implementation matters: Using complier average causal effect estimation to determine the impact of the Promoting Alternative Thinking Strategies (PATHS) curriculum on children’s quality of life. Journal of Educational Psychology, 112(2), 236-253.

Additional Sources:

Promising rating

WV Rating:
»WV Ratings Info

Rationale for Rating:

The West Virginia Clearinghouse has rated PATHS slightly lower than other state clearinghouses primarily due to variable outcomes among the reviewed studies. More specifically, while some studies found positive outcomes, others found limited or no significant positive change as based upon the protocols. Additionally issues with the reviewed literature included, but were not necessarily limited to, a lack of assessment and/or control for pathology or other interventions that may influence the student behaviors, and some studies eliminating students with more challenging behaviors. It should be noted that the provided rating that contrasts with other clearinghouses is not to suggest that the program has no merit, as some work has suggested positive outcomes. Rather, it is to indicate that additional research yielding more consistent findings of positive improvement across a variety of settings and factors is required prior to a higher rating being provided.

PATHS has been studied by RCT designs (e.g., Bierman et al., 2010; Crean & Johnson, 2013; Hennessey & Humphrey, 2020; Panayiotou et al., 2020)., and has included a range of racial and ethnicity populations throughout the United States and England. While demonstrated to hold promise, outcomes were variable. For example, while some (e.g., Panayiotou et al., 2020; Crean & Johnson, 2013) found positive outcomes for some factors (e.g., aggression), outcomes were strongly connected to teacher intervention compliance, which has been suggested as variable. Further, some studies that found positive outcomes (e.g., Bierman et al., 2010) yielded mild to moderate effective sizes for social competence and reducing aggression. Contrastingly, findings by Hennessey and Humphrey (2020) did not find any academic progress differences between PATHS and usual practice.

Limitations of current work include:

  • While some studies (e.g., Crean & Johnson, 2013) had multiple sources of information, other studies used student self-reported or peer-reported outcomes as a primary measure or improvement. Additional collateral measurement would help solidify findings (e.g., teacher report or observations to validate student report, which could be influenced by a variety of factors including mood-related challenges).
  • Pathology or other treatments were not thoroughly detailed as influencing factors.
  • Some studies eliminated children with more challenging behavioral issues (e.g., Bierman et al., 2010).

Findings were inconsistent across papers and reviews. For example, difficulties with teachers following protocols in some studies limited findings, some Clearinghouses suggested “well-established;” while others suggested lower; and the US Department of Education ( suggested that the program has “no discernible effects” for academic achievement, student social interactions, observed individual behavior, and student emotional status as based upon their criteria.

Contraindications or Concerns:
None identified.

Other Registries/Ratings

The California Evidence-Based Clearinghouse for Child Welfare:
Well-Supported by Research Evidence

Blueprints for Healthy Youth Development:

Clearinghouse for Military Family Readiness:
Effective RCT

Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Model Programs Guide:
Not On Registry

Washington State Institute for Public Policy:
Found on the registry. See link for more information.

Washington State Institute for Public Policy Registry Link: