How to Choose an Anger Management Program

angry man
Although the scientific study of anger has received less attention than other emotional problems (e.g., anxiety or depression), there is evidence that some anger management programs are effective in reducing unhealthy anger and improving adaptive coping skills. Unfortunately, the quality of anger management programs is variable. Some are based on solid scientific research; others have not been subjected to study and may rely on unproven or even potentially harmful methods.

Anger Management

The best anger management programs are based on a cognitive-behavioral framework. Briefly, cognitive-behavioral theories tell us that our emotional reactions are often influenced by how we interpret events, rather than the events themselves. For example, when I become angry because the car in front of me is going too slow, the anger I experience is more closely tied to my beliefs about how others should drive (i.e., as quickly as I want them to) than it is to the situation itself.

Cognitive-behavioral anger management programs tend to focus on teaching individuals how to reduce their emotional and physiological arousal, think in less anger-provoking ways, and/or express their anger in more productive ways. Such programs often emphasize the development of self-control strategies.

Tips for Selecting an Anger Management Program

When selecting an anger management program, here are some things to consider:
  • Cognitive-behavioral programs tend to have the most research support and are both brief and cost effective. Many of these programs can be completed in as few as 8-12 counseling sessions.
  • Some practitioners still use methods that have been discredited and may cause harm. Programs that involve the uncontrolled, aggressive expression of anger (e.g., punching pillows or using foam bats to strike objects) may provide short-term relief but tend to increase the likelihood of future problems, including aggressive behavior.
  • Just because some anger management programs have research support does not mean that all practitioners will use them skillfully. It is important to be comfortable with the treatment provider you select.
  • Anger management is not designed to eliminate one's angry feelings or control others' behavior. Instead, it is aimed at helping the client reduce the intensity and frequency of their angry feelings and learn to express anger in more positive ways.
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