Does anger management class help anger issues?

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

Angry person

Anger.
Picture courtesy of Pixabay.

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.

Triggers.

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 sessions 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.

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Seven David Joel Miller Books are available now!

My newest book is now available. It was my opportunity to try on a new genre. I’ve been working on this book for several years, but now seem like the right time to publish it.

Story Bureau.

Story Bureau is a thrilling Dystopian Post-Apocalyptic adventure in the Surviving the Apocalypse series.

Baldwin struggles to survive life in a post-apocalyptic world where the government controls everything.

As society collapses and his family gets plunged into poverty, Baldwin takes a job in the capital city, working for a government agency called the Story Bureau. He discovers the Story Bureau is not a benign news outlet but a sinister government plot to manipulate society.

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Dark Family Secrets: Doris wants to get her life back, but small-town prejudice could shatter her dreams.

Casino Robbery Arthur Mitchell escapes the trauma of watching his girlfriend die. But the killers know he’s a witness and want him dead.

Planned Accidents  The second Arthur Mitchell and Plutus mystery.

Letters from the Dead: The third in the Arthur Mitchell mystery series.

What would you do if you found a letter to a detective describing a crime and you knew the writer and detective were dead, and you could be next?

Sasquatch. Three things about us, you should know. One, we have seen the past. Two, we’re trapped there. Three, I don’t know if we’ll ever get back to our own time.

For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Author Page – David Joel Miller

Want the latest blog posts as they publish? Subscribe to this blog.

For videos, see: Counselorssoapbox YouTube Video Channel

Millions about to catch a mental illness – The DSM-5

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

Medical record

Diagnosis.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

UPDATE – changes in the DSM-5

You can erase some of this post from your memory. Non-suicidal self-injury, Cutting did not make it and is stuck in the back – maybe section. During the process of updating the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) from the DSM-IV to the DSM-5 a lot of things were proposed. Some of those suggested changes were instituted and others were left out. This post includes mostly ideas that did make it to the final DSM-5. Because these ideas were included in a lot of research articles and other blog posts I have left the post up but need to tell you that some of this information is now out of date.

Will you be cured or struck with a new mental illness next year?

The way we understand mental illness is about to change. When the DSM-5 is published about May of 2013, millions of people will find their mental health diagnosis suddenly shuffled. Several conditions that bring clients to therapy every day, that didn’t used to be disorders, will suddenly appear. Some old disorders will disappear or become merged with others. This happened before when Manic Depressive Disorder disappeared and the Bipolar Disorders in all their shades took its place.

We Counselors don’t write the book so we don’t get much say on these changes but in order to get our clients the help they need we have to play along with the changes the Psychiatrists make in the rule book. These new rules include the latest research and hopefully refine and improve the system we use to figure out what mental, emotional or behavior problems the client has.

The new book, DSM-5 is still under review but from the version on-line we can see a lot of the directions the new version will take. There is still time for some revisions to the new DSM, but most of these changes look pretty certain.  I have been reading the new version on-line trying to get myself mentally prepared for the changes. Here are some trends I see.

Anger becomes a Disease – sort of

We know that anger and the loss of control that comes with excess anger is a serious problem. There is a huge group of people who have been required to take an anger management class. So far anger has not been a diagnosis. We have tried to force the angry client into other existing diagnoses. Some people with anger are depressed, some are anxious some are just bad people, and so on.

Cognitive therapists have been saying for years, and I agree with this, that most anger management classes fail because they seek to teach clients how to control their anger after they are already angry. Having the person who is furious count to ten only delays the explosion. The time to intervene is teaching the client not to “anger themselves” in the first place. You read that right. Others do not “make us angry” we “anger ourselves” when they don’t do what we want them to.

So we need a specific diagnosis for people who anger themselves too much and then lose control.  With kids we were calling this “Disruptive Behavior Disorder” or “Oppositional Defiant Disorder” sometimes this means blaming them as in “bad kid” diagnoses. We need to try to find ways to help kids learn new approaches. With adults, they became “depressed or anti-social, or worse.

The new label for this problem will become “Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder”

Cutting and Self Mutilation becomes a disorder.

Cutting and all the other self-mutilating behaviors are a huge problem. Parents call or bring their kids in because of this all the time. There are hundreds of books on the subject and lots of research that says this is a distinct, separate disorder. But up till the DSM-5 we had to shoehorn this into something else.

The confounding issue here is that most self mutilators do not want to die. This is most often not a suicide attempt. It is also most often, though not always, not an attention-seeking behavior. Self mutilators do it repeatedly and in places where others can’t see. They use this behavior to regulate emotions.

The confounding problem, self mutilators feel bad and sometimes they do decide to commit suicide.

This problem seems destined to soon become a disorder all on its own called “Non-suicidal Self Injury.”

In the future, you won’t outgrow your diagnosis

We have had separate names for the problems that children get. Sometimes the problem stays the same but every few years we change the diagnosis. We have had a whole chapter of problems that get first diagnosed in infancy, childhood, and adolescence.  This will go away. Yes, kids can be depressed. I have seen video footage of a new-born in the hospital who showed significant sadness when mom and dad stopped paying attention to him. So if parents were to neglect a child, could the child become depressed? Sure they could. The more the parents neglect the more depressed the child becomes.

So rather than separating childhood depression and anxiety, we can think of them as the same as grown-up mental illnesses only in children the symptoms may look a little different. When they are sad the child cries and dad drinks, two different behaviors but the same emotion.

Asperger’s is about to be cured.

Suddenly in one day, everyone with Asperger’s will stop having Asperger’s. The same thing will happen to Pervasive Developmental Disorder NOS. Don’t get too excited. Within minutes they will all have caught Autism.

Why this change? Researchers have come to doubt this pigeonhole approach. The characteristics of lots of the mental illnesses we think of as separate conditions are in fact just varying degrees of symptoms of the same disorder. So rather than splitting hairs on which name we call this, we are going to think of this as a continuum and say all these people have more or less similar symptoms just some are more serious and profound than others.

So in the future, all these people will have one diagnosis but we will look at the way the symptoms affect the individual. We hope this is progress. One problem though. In the past, the treatment, especially who would pay for treatment, depended on the label. Schools, insurance companies, and regulators may need to figure this one out. How will they decide how severe your autism needs to be before someone will pay to get you treated? We think we know that the sooner this condition gets treated, even mild cases, the better the child will do throughout their whole life.

That’s enough of this for one post, more about the DSM-5 to come in the future.

Bottom line, the DSM-5 in mid-2013 will make some changes to the way we think about mental illnesses and possible the way they get treated.

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Seven David Joel Miller Books are available now!

My newest book is now available. It was my opportunity to try on a new genre. I’ve been working on this book for several years, but now seem like the right time to publish it.

Story Bureau.

Story Bureau is a thrilling Dystopian Post-Apocalyptic adventure in the Surviving the Apocalypse series.

Baldwin struggles to survive life in a post-apocalyptic world where the government controls everything.

As society collapses and his family gets plunged into poverty, Baldwin takes a job in the capital city, working for a government agency called the Story Bureau. He discovers the Story Bureau is not a benign news outlet but a sinister government plot to manipulate society.

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Dark Family Secrets: Doris wants to get her life back, but small-town prejudice could shatter her dreams.

Casino Robbery Arthur Mitchell escapes the trauma of watching his girlfriend die. But the killers know he’s a witness and want him dead.

Planned Accidents  The second Arthur Mitchell and Plutus mystery.

Letters from the Dead: The third in the Arthur Mitchell mystery series.

What would you do if you found a letter to a detective describing a crime and you knew the writer and detective were dead, and you could be next?

Sasquatch. Three things about us, you should know. One, we have seen the past. Two, we’re trapped there. Three, I don’t know if we’ll ever get back to our own time.

For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Author Page – David Joel Miller

Want the latest blog posts as they publish? Subscribe to this blog.

For videos, see: Counselorssoapbox YouTube Video Channel