Anger is a perfectly normal emotion to feel and express. There are plenty of frustrating, challenging, and downright offensive events and experiences that trigger that familiar burning sensation bubbling up inside. But sometimes those feelings supersede what is considered to be normal. The burning sensation doesn’t fade away and can, unfortunately, become escalated or potentially violent.
When this is the case, anger management therapy or counseling can be an effective solution. Treatment for anger management isn’t about how to repress those feelings of anger, but rather how to learn to express those emotions in a constructive way.
Many people with high stress careers like physicians and lawyers often find themselves in anger management therapy, but anyone can find themselves overwhelmed with negative feelings or behaviors and want to proactively seek help. However, it’s not necessarily a choice for others. The judicial system may mandate some people to complete an anger management course –– typically those convicted of criminal offenses like disturbing the peace, destroying another person’s property, battery, or assault.
Anger is a familiar and natural human emotion, often a companion to other feelings like hurt, injustice, fear, and frustration. Anger is typically easy to distinguish due to its powerful physical response in the body, such as a rush of adrenaline, increased blood pressure, heart rate and fast breathing. Anger actually has an effect on our brain chemistry and body, causing it to release stress hormones, adrenaline, and noradrenaline. This physical response can lead to aggressive behavior. In situations of danger, this response would be appropriate and potentially life-saving as a means to defend ourselves if attacked.
The feeling of anger is not a problem, in and of itself. On a physiological level, it is our body’s natural way of defending itself. However, it is how we react to the anger, in non-life-threatening situations that can become problematic.
You could be reading this and thinking to yourself, “Do I need anger management therapy?” It’s easy to feel confused because anger is very common. However, if you find yourself having trouble managing your anger and reactivity to the point where it becomes destructive in many areas of your life, like at work or in close relationships, it might be time to consider anger management counseling. More specifically, here are some feelings or experiences that may indicate that you may be suffering from an anger disorder and anger management therapy could be beneficial.
Anger management therapy helps recognize frustrations early to avoid future angry outbursts or events, while teaching you to express your needs calmly and in control. Learning behavioral skills is an essential part of anger management. It’s possible to gain this insight through books and online resources, but, if learning skills on your own isn't enough to help you stay calm and in control, you may benefit from seeing a mental health professional or by taking an anger management class.
Anger management therapy is the process of learning to recognize signs that you're becoming angry, and taking action to calm down and deal with the situation in a productive way. Ultimately, the goal is to be able to employ these skills away from therapy, on your own, and in the moment of anger. The point of anger management therapy isn’t to prevent you from feeling negatively. Anger is a normal, healthy emotion when you know how to express it appropriately, and in therapy, you’ll learn to do just that.
Anger management therapy isn’t like general talk therapy in that it’s more structured, providing a clear set of recovery guidelines. It gives the person in treatment a controlled platform for the release of their emotions. At the same time, it aims to achieve new constructive responses, rather than the destructive ones a patient is currently experiencing. People in anger management therapy are encouraged to examine what triggers their anger and learn to become aware of their emotions at each level of arousal. They will then use those signs as a map to control their anger in the future, out in the world.
In therapy, patients can gain insight into how their body responds to past and future events by identifying the emotional reaction to a certain circumstance. A therapist will also help notice anger responses that may be defense mechanisms for other concerns like depression, anxiety, or other mental health disorders.
The goal of anger management therapy is to teach people how to examine their triggers and adjust how they look at situations accordingly. Successful anger management therapy develops healthy ways for people to express anger and frustration using techniques like impulse control, self-awareness, meditation, journaling, and breath work.
Anger management therapy can be one-on-one or group settings. Where individual therapy will address the patient’s specific needs, classes tend to focus on broader relationships and experiences like parenting, teens, and work-related anger or rage. The setting, length and number of sessions vary, depending on the program or counselor and your specific needs. Anger management therapy can be brief or last for weeks or months.
When you start working on anger management, you’ll be asked to identify your triggers and the physical and emotional behaviors that accompany this emotion. Recognizing and managing these warning signs early is an important step in controlling your anger. Your anger management therapist may ask you to pay attention to and make a list of stressors that commonly trigger or worsen your anger, such as frustration with a child or partner, financial stress, traffic issues, or problems with a coworker.
They’ll also ask for you to notice what physical signs you experience when you get angry, such as, sleeping poorly, clenching your jaw, a racing heart or driving too fast. They can be more difficult to detect but, emotional signs that your anger is on the rise could be feeling you want to yell at someone or that you're holding in what you really want to say.
After you’ve become accustomed to spotting your triggers, anger management therapy will take a focus on learning specific behavioral skills and ways of thinking so you can cope with anger when it does arise. If you have any other mental health conditions, such as anxiety, depression or addiction, you may need to also work on these issues for anger management methods to be effective.
Overall, anger management therapy helps a patient by addressing management to prevent anger from reaching an uncontrollable point, in addition to learning to course correct thinking in the heat of the moment to be more focused on problem-solving.
Anger management courses are beneficial for anyone who is feeling out of control of their emotions, exhibiting violent behavior, or experiencing a degradation of quality of life due to unresolved anger. Most notably, many people in the fields of business or health care find a great amount of value in anger management therapy.
Anger management will also benefit anyone seeking to improve their relationships with others. But, this treatment may be particularly helpful for certain social groups including violent offenders, people with substance dependency, individuals with cognitive or mental health issues that make it difficult to control anger, and those affected by behavioral changes associated with traumatic brain injury (TBI) or posttraumatic stress (PTSD).
While anger management therapy aims to help people with their anger issues, it has the potential to also positively impact the people who make up the patient’s social network. Uncontrollable anger can lead to toxic psychological and physical conditions. Anger management is also a tool that helps control anger, which in turn reduces stress. Ultimately, anger management therapy can lower the risk for serious health problems like heart disease and high blood pressure.
Anger management therapy is only as effective as the patient makes it. For instance, anger management therapy may not be effective with people who refuse to recognize they even have anger issues. People with severe learning disabilities may have some difficulty responding to anger treatments as well. Treatments are sometimes based on principles of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which makes it difficult for it to be effective without other mental health issues being addressed first.
That said, once you’re ready to commit to treatment, improving your ability to manage anger has several benefits to both yourself and the people in your life. You'll feel as if you have more control when life's challenges increase, which will improve reactions and ability to problem solve. Knowing how to express yourself assertively means you won't feel the frustration of holding in your anger to avoid offending someone.
Anger management can help you communicate your needs and learn how to recognize and talk through frustrations, rather than letting your anger flare up. Knowing how to express yourself can help you avoid impulsive and hurtful words or actions, resolve conflicts, and thus maintain positive relationships. Therapy will also alleviate the stress caused by ongoing angry feelings and risk of health problems, such as headaches, difficulty sleeping, digestive issues, heart problems and high blood pressure.
Skills learned in anger management therapy can help you channel your frustration into productivity. Anger expressed inappropriately can make it difficult for you to think clearly, and may result in poor judgment. You'll learn to use feelings of frustration and anger as motivators to work harder and take positive action.
It can take a little work to find an anger management program, a counselor specializing in anger management or other resources. Start by asking your primary care doctor or mental health professional for a referral to a program or counselor. Use a trust therapist matching service like Advekit, or ask someone who completed an anger management program or took other steps to manage anger. Once you find the right anger management therapist or counselor, you’ll start feeling the benefits immediately.
Alison LaSov, LMFT
Alison LaSov is a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist with experience treating clients struggling with anxiety and depression. She predominantly focuses on mental health intervention for children and adolescents, particularly those who are in crisis. She has worked within the Los Angeles education system treating students with Individualized Education Plans (IEPs), as well as supervised a non-profit Teen Crisis Hotline out of Cedars-Sinai Hospital. Alison earned her B.A. from UCLA and M.A. from Pepperdine University. She is a native to Los Angeles and co-founder at Advekit.