Anger management refers to the process by which a person learns how to identify stressors, take necessary steps to remain calm, and handle tense situations in a constructive, positive manner.
The purpose of anger management is to help a person decrease the heightened emotional and physiological arousal often associated with anger. It is generally impossible to avoid all the people, things, and settings that incite anger, but a person may learn how to control reactions and respond in a socially appropriate manner. The support of a mental health professional may be helpful in this process.
Many different events can result in an individual's becoming angry. These may include:
- Internal events such as perceived failures, injustices, or frustrations
- External events such as loss of property or privileges, teasing, or humiliation
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Inappropriate displays of anger may indicate the existence of a more serious mental health or emotional issue. People who receive anger management therapy are given the tools needed to slow their reaction to anger in order to identify the reason for their feelings. Though the roots of anger may be buried in emotional trauma, addiction, grief, or other issues, a natural inclination may be to find temporary relief in lashing out while ignoring the true cause of the anger felt. It is under these circumstances that seeking the help of a therapist might be most beneficial for an individual experiencing anger issues.
Anger management dates back thousands of years in human history, with prominent individuals such as Roman philosopher Lucius Annaeus Seneca (4 B.C.-65 A.D.), Greek physician and philosopher Aelius Galenus (129-216), and Francis of Assisi (1181-1226) highlighting the importance of adjusting one’s perspective of events and avoiding situations which may incite rage.
In modern times, trained psychologists have developed programs to help individuals experiencing anger issues better control their emotions. Some of anger management’s major modern-day contributors include Peter Stearns, Raymond Novaco, Howard Kassinove, Raymond Chip Tafrate, Louis Dundin, Brad Bushman, and Michael Hoyt.
Anger management therapy provides a clear and distinct set of guidelines for recovery. It gives the person seeking treatment a controlled platform for the release of his or her emotions while aiming to achieve positive and constructive responses, rather than negative and destructive ones . People in therapy are encouraged to examine the circumstances that trigger their anger and to become aware of their emotional state at each level of arousal. Affected people are taught how to use those psychological signs as a road map to control their anger. By identifying the emotional reaction to a specific situation, individuals in therapy may gain awareness and insight into the way their body responds to past and future circumstances. In addition, therapists work with people in therapy to identify anger responses that may actually be defense mechanisms for other concerns such as depression or anxiety.
Anger management therapy may help not only those individuals experiencing anger issues, but also the people who make up their social network. Uncontrollable anger may lead to harmful psychological and physical conditions. By reducing and controlling anger, an individual can reduce stress and significantly lower the risk for serious health problems, including heart disease and high blood pressure. The goal of anger management therapy is to teach people how to accurately examine their triggers, adjust their perception of situations, and develop healthy, constructive ways in which to express anger and frustrations. Some of the techniques which are used in anger management therapy include:
- Impulse control
- Frustration management (sometimes by writing in an anger diary)
- Breathing techniques
- Relaxation strategies
Anger management therapy may be delivered in individual or group settings. Classes are designed to address specific types of anger issues, including relationship, parenting, adolescent, and work-related anger or rage. Individuals may be court-ordered to attend an anger management class as a result of a domestic or legal issue. Therapy is offered on a continuing basis, but people interested in anger management may also enroll in a retreat or online session, where offered. Most anger management therapies include homework assignments and exercises that strengthen the techniques learned and allow the person in therapy to practice them in real-life situations.
The judicial system may mandate the completion of anger management courses by people convicted of criminal offenses. These offenses may include, but are certainly not limited to, such acts as disturbing the peace, damaging or destroying another person’s property, assault, battery, and intimate partner violence. Anger management programs are offered by many court-approved agencies. People convicted may also take court-approved anger management classes online where they are available.
The National Anger Management Association (NAMA) provides certification for anger management specialists in the United States. The organization provides training for psychiatrists, psychologists, counselors, religious leaders, social workers, life coaches, and educators in order to help address the growing need for anger management services in organizations, agencies, hospitals, schools, and communities. NAMA offers five distinct certifications.
University students may earn a student certification from NAMA and offer educational services in their community under the oversight of an authorized NAMA supervisor. After graduation from their program, students with a recommendation from a NAMA supervisor may have their certification upgraded.
Anger management courses are beneficial for healthcare professionals, business professionals, court-referred individuals, and self-referred individuals who are seeking to improve their relationships with other people. However, this form of treatment may be particularly effective in certain social groups, such as:
- Violent offenders
- Persons who display bullying behaviors
- People affected by behavioral changes associated with traumatic brain injury (TBI)
- People who experience behavioral changes associated with posttraumatic stress (PTSD)
- People experiencing substance dependency or undergoing recovery
- People with cognitive or mental health issues that make it difficult to control anger
Anger management therapy may not be effective with people who do not recognize that they have an issue with expressions of anger. Additionally, people with severe learning disabilities may have some difficulty responding to anger treatments, which are sometimes based on principles of cognitive behavioral therapy. Individuals who are experiencing other mental health issues may need to have these underlying problems addressed first in order for anger management to be effective.
- American Psychological Association. (n.d.). Controlling anger before it controls you. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/topics/anger/control.aspx
- Awalt, A. M., Reilly, P. M., & Shopshire, M. S. (1997). The angry patient: an intervention for managing anger in substance abuse treatment. Journal of Psychoactive Drugs [Abstract], 29(4), 353-358. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9460029
- Baguley, I. J., Doyle, M., McCarthy, K., Nott, M. T., Onus, M., & Walker, A. J. (2010). Effectiveness of a group anger management programme after severe traumatic brain injury. Brain Injury, 24(3), 517-524.
- Borsay, C. (2012). Anger management interventions for adults with learning disabilities living in the community: a review of recent (2000-2010) evidence. British Journal of Learning Disabilities, 41, 38-44.
- Creech, S. K., Kachadourian, L., & Taft, C. T. (2012). Assessment and treatment of posttraumatic anger and aggression: A review. JRRD, 49(5), 777-788.
- Davis, R., King, N., Lancaster, N., Nettleton, N., & Wynne, G. (1999). Cognitive-behavioral anger management training for adults with mild intellectual disability. Scandinavian Journal of Behaviour Therapy, 28(1), 19-22.
- Dudley, A., Gandolfi, S., Moore, E., Tapp, J., Thomas, B., & Wilson, C. (2013). Evaluation of anger management groups in a high-security hospital. Criminal Behavior and Mental Health, 23, 356-371.
- Hall, K. R., Owens, R. B., & Rushing, J. L. (2009). Anger in middle school: The solving problems together model. Retrieved from http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ886155.pdf
- Lay, J., Lishman, E., & Steward, J. (2008). Evaluation of anger management groups in learning disability populations. Learning Disability Practice, 11(10), 18-23. Retrieved from http://journals.rcni.com/doi/pdfplus/10.7748/ldp2008.12.11.10.18.c6796
- Learnet. (2006). Anger and anger management. Retrieved from http://www.projectlearnet.org/tutorials/anger_management.html
- Mayo Clinic. (2014). Anger management. Retrieved from http://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/anger-management/basics/definition/prc-20014603
- National Anger Management Association. (n.d.). Anger management certification. Retrieved from http://namass.org/CertifcationTrainings.htm
Last updated: 07-18-2016
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