Integrating Leadership Skills into Anger Management Groups to Reduce Aggressive Behaviors: The LIT Model

Article excerpt

Mental health counselors encounter numerous complex situations when working with children and adolescents in anger management groups. This study promotes the use of Social Cognitive Theory to reduce cognitive distortions and aggressive behavior in youth. Specifically, it highlights Leadership Implementation Training (LIT), a youth-oriented model that integrates leadership skills into school-based anger management groups with the intent of reducing aggression in angry youth. Initial data suggest that doing so is an effective tool for mental health counselors who facilitate groups in schools.

As aggression has increased in schools over the last decade, there has been a call for mental health counselors to find ways to reduce aggressive student behavior (Burt, Lewis, & Patel, 2010). In fact, it is common for schools to implement anger management groups as components of violence prevention programs (McCarthy, Van Home, Caifa, Lambert, & Guzman, 2010). For years the assumption was that such groups were useful in reducing aggressive behaviors (Fleckenstein & Home, 2004). Recent research, however, indicates traditional anger management groups by themselves do not sufficiently prevent aggressive behavior (Burt et al., 2010). For example, according to Orpinas and Home (2004), traditional anger management focused on aggressors, ignoring the environment in which aggressive behavior occurred. Furthermore, anger management groups have neglected the development of prosocial abilities and emphasized negative behaviors (Serin, Gobeil, & Peterson, 2009). Thus, it can be contended that traditional anger management groups may not effectively reduce aggressive behaviors.

Finn and Willert (2006) proposed several adjustments to improve anger management groups: (a) Groups should incorporate into the curriculum environmental considerations (e.g., peers, teachers, and family members), (b) Anger management groups need to avoid a rigid focus on affective tactics and strategies to control behavior, (c) Anger management curricula must include prosocial skill-building activities. They concluded that anger management groups need to focus on building a repertoire of prosocial skills, rather than teaching how to control undesired behaviors. As a means for building prosocial skills, this article introduces Leadership Implementation Training (LIT). This counseling model integrates the recommendations of Finn and Willert (2006) into a leadership development/anger management group.

THE NEED FOR LEADERSHIP

According to Kellner, Bry, and Salvador (2008), emphasizing leadership development is crucial for counselors facilitating anger management groups. First, students in these groups are socially maladaptive and easily frustrated (Burt & Butler, 2011). Because their social skills are inadequate, adults and peers may presume negative characteristics about them (Kellner et al., 2008). For instance, they might categorize aggressive students as hostile or violent, or use other socially derogatory terms. Negative categorizing may brand the youth as substandard (Sullivan, 2000). Consequently, the young person, feeling ostracized, may continue the angry conduct, which then supports the pessimistic expectations of others (Rosenthal, 1985).

Once categorization and stereotyping occur, negative terms articulate a very important social message to youths: Do not expect much from your efforts (Bandura, 2008). Therefore, building the leadership skills of these students has the potential to counteract negative social images as a new social role manifests--that of a leader. Additionally, developing leadership skills helps to reduce aggressive behaviors and increase scholastic self-efficacy (Bandura, 1997). For example, Dwivedi and Gupta (2000) found adolescent males who had been trained in leadership skills demonstrated fewer aggressive behaviors, were less depressed, and became more social.

Another factor related to aggression concerns the social environment in which it occurs. …