Anger management is the term given to teaching people how to deal with their emotions without experiencing a loss of control. It became popular in the late 20th century, particularly for tackling criminal behavior in habitual offenders.
Anger, which can manifest itself in different ways, is defined as a "fight" response which is experienced when under attack, whether the threat is real or perceived. It is a powerful tool in dealing with threat and makes the mind and body ready to react by arousing the nervous system. It also increases the heart rate, blood pressure, blood flow to muscles and blood sugar levels.
When angry, our senses are sharpened and adrenaline increases; in other words, we are ready for action. However, when anger is not released appropriately or leads to a loss of control, it can lead to harmful repercussions. When internalized, it can result in depression and anxiety. Anger management can help train people to channel anger in a positive way by behaving assertively, rather than aggressively or destructively.
Treatment programs are used across the world in the workplace, correctional facilities, in relationship therapies and sometimes in schools. This can involve one-to-one classes or take place in a group therapy setting. Different methods are employed, including relaxation techniques, which is used to reduce the physiological response to anger. Another method is social skills training, which involves learning to recognize and deal with potentially inflammatory social situations. A third method is cognitive restructuring, which can help to modify negative behavior.
Most anger management courses share the basic principles of psychology, which is to understand, identify and learn to control angry emotions. Classes are usually led by professionals in the fields of social work or counseling. The duration of a course varies but can last from 10 weeks to a year.
A study carried out in the 1990s revealed that over a three-year period, the risk of repeat offending was reduced for felons who undertook a sustained anger management program, with a course of 25 two-hour sessions. However, this positive result was shown only in high-risk offenders. The judicial system has turned to anger management programs to ease the problem of overcrowding in prisons. For relatively minor offences such as road rage, physical assaults or disturbing the peace, anger management courses were found to be more cost effective than locking up offenders for two to six months.
Critics of anger management as a rehabilitative treatment believe it could be exploited as an alternative to jail or used to avoid fines. Another criticism is the lack of regulation within the field. Wildly divergent methods of anger management teaching have led to concerns that its reputation could suffer. For example a session might entail ‘off-the-wall' techniques to enable the controlled release of anger; beating a pillow with your fists is likely to be ineffective in the long-term and may also send out the wrong message about the management of anger. Other critics argue that research in this area is sparse and have called for further studies of the general population.
It may be difficult to regulate the profession due to the fact that anger itself is not recognized as a condition as is, for example, clinical depression. It is merely seen as a symptom of more serious mental disorders. As a result, anger management has received less investment than other treatments. Regulating it may face an uphill battle and in the meantime practitioners of varying levels of knowledge and skill continue to use wide ranging methods for anger management courses.
Researchers believe that treatment should take into account the nature of the problem and whether the subject is truly motivated to change their behavior. Another factor found to affect the efficacy of anger management was the willingness of the participant to reveal emotions. For example, in offenders, treatment resistance and distrust saw negative results in treating anger issues.
Anger management is found to be more effective when goals are clearly identified. Some theorists argue that it is a ‘soft' treatment for those with anger issues. However, others in this field believe that further research may well find anger management programs to be effective as part of a treatment regime to combat negative behavior.