By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.
What is an anger management class and how does it help?
Anger and anger issues are factors in a majority of referrals to counseling despite the fact that anger, as such, is not a diagnosable mental illness. Lots of people have asked me how an anger management class works and what do people learn there.
There is a strong connection between anger, and difficulties managing anger, and substance use disorders. Not everyone who takes a drug, medication or drinks alcohol proceeds to lose control over their anger. So in that sense, we can’t for sure say that substance use or abuse causes anger issues.
However, problems with anger and controlling anger are so common among those that have a substance use disorder that most treatment facilities include an anger management class in their substance abuse rehabilitation program.
Most people who contact a counselor because of anger issues are doing so because others have told them their anger is out of control. Often this referral to anger management class is court ordered after an incident of domestic violence or an assault.
Because of the number of referrals that are court ordered, anger management classes and curriculum can vary widely depending on the requirements of the court, probation, child protective services or other agency.
An individual might see a therapist for any number of individual sessions to work on their or their family member’s anger. A few mandated classes run a minimum of 12 sessions, many more mandated, or court ordered, anger management and domestic violence programs are 26 or 52 weekly sessions.
If you have been ordered to attend an anger management program make sure that the program is approved by the agency that is requiring you to get the treatment. Not all anger management classes are equivalent.
Most anger management curriculum is skills based. This means that just learning the ideas in the classroom may not work in the outside the classroom world. There are exercises that need to be practiced and thought about between class sessions. Often there is written or verbal homework.
One saying in anger management books is that mad often hides sad. To learn to manage or eliminate your anger you may need to get in touch with other feelings, especially feelings of hurt, sadness, and shame.
Here are some of the topics an anger management curriculum may cover.
How to recognize when you are angry. Physical and emotional cues.
Many people think of feelings as something to be avoided. Substance users may have “numbed out” and lost touch with their feelings. Men often have only three feelings, good, bad and furious. Learning that this feeling you are feeling is anger and that those clenched fists are a sign of trouble is a first step in learning to manage anger.
You need to learn to measure your anger.
Anger and related emotions can come in a variety of intensities. Learn to recognize how strongly you are feeling this feeling. Recognizing that the angry feeling is on the rise can help interrupt the anger cycle.
Learn how to turn the thermostat down on your anger.
It is not healthy to be at the boiling point all the time. Think of anger as having a thermostat. If the room gets too hot you can turn the thermostat down. Learn how to defuse and reduce those angry feelings.
How to change your thinking to avoid getting angry in the first place.
The way we see the world, the things we believe about why things happen causes our feelings. Learning other ways to look at things can help reduce those angry feelings. Not angering yourself in the first place is a difficult skill to learn for some people and it takes practice to master. This advanced anger management skill is the most effective way to change an angry life into a happy one.
Developing more effective self-control.
Every feeling does not need to result in an action. There are techniques to channel feelings into productive actions rather than into actions that damage relationships and have negative consequences.
Some things make one person angry but not others. Learning to recognize what triggers your feelings and how to avoid being triggered are helpful skills.
Assertiveness training to get what you need without excessive anger.
Many people can’t tell the difference between being assertive and being aggressive. The only way they know to get their needs met is to get angry, become aggressive and hurt others. They can learn simple assertiveness training skills to get those needs met without creating wreckage.
Conflict resolution skills – how to solve disagreements without fights.
Like assertiveness training, conflict resolution skills can help defuse the consequences of disagreements. Most of us were conditioned to the win-lose paradigm. Turns out there are ways to create win-win solutions also. They take some effort to craft but using conflict resolution tools makes solutions possible.
How did you learn about anger? What was your family’s relationship with anger?
If you came from a family where anger was handled by hitting and yelling that may be all you know. Other families never expressed anger or disappointment directly and if you came from that style of family you never learned to express your feelings. People who stuff feelings are at extra risk to get full of anger and then explode. Check out a past post about Gunny Sacking for more on that response to anger.
How has anger affected your life?
One last way anger education can help is by taking a look at your life experiences with anger. Has it hurt you more than helped? What happened when others got angry? Did it destroy relationships? And most importantly how has your anger affected those around you?
Many people discover that when they got angry and acted on that anger they were the loser regardless of the outcome of their anger outburst.
For short anger management classes, SAMHSA publication SMA 05-4009 Anger Management for Substance Abuse and Mental Health Clients is an excellent resource. This curriculum can be covered in 12 sessions, though it is often expanded to more session to allow participants to talk about the lessons and to practice skills.
There are also a lot of self-help books on the topic of anger management. Look for those books based on CBT therapy particularly the ones by Aaron Beck or Albert Ellis.
For those who need a court ordered 26 or 52-week anger management or domestic violence classes, there are longer curriculums available. Check with the provider in your area or the agency that is ordering the treatment. One good resource for anger management classes are the local domestic violence shelters who often provide treatment at low-cost.
Stay tuned to this blog (counselorssoapbox.com) for more on this topic in the future. While I can’t do therapy via the internet if you have questions about this topic I will do my best to answer them as time permits.
For more on anger management see Anger Management Posts.
Till next time, David Joel Miller.
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