Anger Management Therapy
There are steps and actions that you can take to help you to manage your anger. Our page on Anger Management provides information about these. For many people, taking these steps will be enough to get their anger under control. However, for some people and at some times, it may be appropriate to use the services of a professional counsellor or psychotherapist to help with anger issues.
This page explains and discusses the main types of therapy that are available for anger management, and what is involved in each form. These therapies include talking therapies such as counselling, and anger management programmes.
The Aims of Anger Management Therapy
Anger management therapy has a number of aims. These include:
To help you recognise what makes you angry (triggers or catalysts for anger) and to get you to ask yourself questions about your anger such as “What type of people or situations make me angry?”, “What do I do when I am angry?”, and “How does my anger affect others around me?”. Understanding an emotion is the first step to being able to manage it effectively.
To teach you how to best respond to these triggers without being aggressive (see our page on Dealing with Aggression).
To enable you to learn specific skills to help you manage triggers for anger effectively.
To help you identify times when your thoughts do not lead to logical or rational conclusions. Your counsellor or therapist will work with you to change how you think and react to certain situations.
To help you learn how to be assertive. By being able to express yourself assertively you will feel more in control of situations, and therefore less likely to become angry and aggressive (see our pages on Assertiveness for more).
To help you learn some problem-solving techniques. Solving problems can make you feel empowered and will reduce the risk of triggering anger or frustration (see our pages on Problem Solving for more).
Anger management therapy is also designed to help you to see that anger and calmness are not black-or-white emotions.
As with all emotions, there are varying degrees of anger: we can be mildly irritated or in a full-blown rage. People who have been experiencing anger for a long time may have lost the ability to see that there are different levels of anger and a professional will help you readdress this imbalance and recognise the difference between, for example, irritation and fury.
It is useful to be able to rate anger on some sort of scale (therapists typically use 1–10).
It is likely that you will have different signs and symptoms with different levels of anger. Being aware of which symptoms occur and when makes it easier to rate your anger on a scale. It may also make it easier to recognise when anger is building and to take some action to calm down.
Anger is not a jump from calm to fury. There are different levels and, by being aware of these, it is can be easier to remain in control, to relax and remain calm.
Talking Therapies and Counselling
Counselling can be used for a wide variety of problems and issues, including anger management.
Both counselling and talking therapies involve talking through your problems with a professional, such as a counsellor or psychotherapist. The aim of anger management counselling is to help you to explore the reasons for your anger, and find ways to control it.
There are a number of different approaches that may be used for counselling, including psychodynamic, humanistic and behavioural (and see our page Approaches to Counselling for more about this). Different professionals may use different techniques to help overcome anger issues and their prices may also vary considerably.
When looking for a counsellor, it is important to find someone that you think you will be comfortable with. Bear in mind the gender, age, location and, of course, expertise of potential counsellors before making a decision.
Don’t Let Your Anger Get In the Way of Help
There is often a waiting list for anger management therapy, as there is for many other mental health treatments. This can be frustrating, and you may be tempted to take out your frustration on those providing the service.
Try to avoid the temptation. It will not help.
Mental health professionals have a right to feel safe at work, just like everyone else. If you are aggressive or angry, this may prevent you from accessing treatment, and make the situation worse.
If you are in employment, then your employer may offer counselling sessions, either internally or with a local, approved counsellor.
Your psychotherapist or counsellor should be aware of any current and historical medical conditions, including mental health and any addictions, so that the potential causes of anger may be identified and that sessions are tailored to complement any other therapy that you may be having.
Anger Management Programmes
Anger management therapy may be run as a programme, either in groups or one-to-one sessions.
Typically, anger management therapy programmes last between four and six weeks, although they may take longer.
Anger management programmes often use a combination of counselling techniques and cognitive behavioural therapy. They may be run by healthcare providers, mental health charities and voluntary organisations, or individual counsellors or therapists. Some courses are also available online.
Therapy for Violent or Abusive Behaviour
Anger is not usually the main problem in abusive behaviour. More often, abuse is about control.
Anger management therapy is therefore unlikely to be the answer. Instead, specific therapy may be recommended.
For example, in the UK, the charity Respect runs programmes to help people to change abusive behaviour. It also provides a telephone helpline for people who want to stop hurting someone they love (0808 8024040).
Outcomes of Anger Management Therapy
Having an Anger Plan
Recognising where your current anger level is on a scale is an important first step to understanding and dealing with your anger. It also enables you to devise an anger plan.
Anger plans are unique and personal to the individual. They often relate to specific circumstances or people that have caused anger. There are some generic components to an anger plan, which may include:
Removing yourself from the situation that is triggering the anger so that you have space to gather your thoughts and calm down.
Changing the subject of a conversation – sometimes particular topics of discussion can include anger triggers so steering the conversation in another direction can help minimise this.
Slowing down. Counting to ten or using some other strategy to slow down the pace of a conversation can sometimes help you regain some logical thought processes.
Keeping an Anger Journal
Keeping a record of when you became angry, and why, can help you understand your anger.
Keeping a journal can be a very powerful method of anger management. The act of writing down the emotions and feelings associated with anger before, during and after an angry episode can focus the mind. Re-reading an anger journal helps to identify techniques for anger management that worked well and also those that didn't help in various circumstances.
Knowledge is Power
Anger management therapy is often based around the belief that knowledge is power. Arming yourself with knowledge about your anger (and understanding it more fully) can give you the power to recognise and control how you feel in any given situation.