Anger management is a frequent presenting complaint to psychologists. Although sometimes a person volunteers for such assistance, the more usual route to therapy is for a spouse, employer or court to require anger management. Regardless the majority of clients have reason for their anger, often related to excessive stresses and sometimes due to abusive behaviours by others. In some cases anger management is required for safety reasons, particularly for repeated aggression or violence.
The expressed anger is often found in a relational context, sometimes specific to a relationship with underlying jealousy or humiliation or provocation creating a reactive anger. Some anger expression belongs properly in previous relationships and tends to indicate deeper relational traumas yet to be resolved. When a person’s anger is more generalised or across multiple relationships, unrealistic expectations may require modification.
A focus on stress identification and strategies for stress management is often a productive option for anger management. Modern life abounds with excessive stressors, ranging from excessive work pressures and understaffing, through financial and resource limitations, to the ubiquitous relationship conflicts of modern life. Broadly speaking, both active and passive stress management strategies need to be employed. Where current stressors cannot be eliminated or diminished passive strategies aimed at mastering emotional overwhelm are in order. Ideally, changing the stressor is the more productive longer term approach.
Where the focus of anger is directed toward certain people, those people are often invited into the therapeutic process, safety permitting. Multiple views on the problem and multiple solutions generated offer a more effective intervention than having one person struggling to simple manage existing anger. The mere fact that somebody has requested a person seek anger management suggests that person cares enough to wish to continue the relationship, but has not been able to assist on their own. Fear of the expressed anger is often also a limiting factor, as is an inability to accurately predict when the anger is actually dangerous.
Although anger is often a primary emotion, it is just as often secondary to other more powerful emotions or forces. Anger both predicts danger, and effectively distances others. Because of the potential for danger – aggression or violence – anger management is always considered a serious matter. When excessive hostility exists, or a history of serious aggression or ongoing violence, treatment may focus on individuals, deferring co-joint therapy until safety concerns are adequately addressed. Responsibility always lies with each person ensuring safety, physically and in the sense of threat or intimidation – only then can therapy progress effectively without further trauma.
B.Nursing, B.A. (Psych),
B.Soc.Sc (Psych Hons), MAPS
We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools...