Assertion training has been most closely associated with behaviour therapy (Salter, 1949; Wolpe, 1958; Wolpe and Lazarus, 1966). In the 1970s, assertion training developed cognitive components because ‘(1) changing people’s ideas influences their assertive behavior, and (2) changing people’s behavior leads to changes in their ideas’ (Grieger and Boyd, 1980:187). Outside of therapy, learning to be assertive has become a popular form of self-development, having been launched into the public realm in 1970 by Alberti and Emmons with their book Your Perfect Right. Since then, a large self-help literature has been spawned (e.g. Alberti and Emmons, 1975; Dickson, 1982; Dryden, 1994a; Dryden and Gordon, 1994; Ellis, 1977; Forward, 1997; Hauck, 1981b; Lazarus and Fay, 1975; Mansfield, 1994; Smith, 1975).
Assertion training is an important element in tackling, among other problems, anger (Dryden, 1990), anxiety (Blackburn and Davidson, 1995), depression (Beck et al., 1979), and substance abuse (Beck et al., 1993), as well as being employed in couple and group counselling (respectively, Ellis et al., 1989; Palmer and Dryden, 1995).
Assertion training ‘has been addressed particularly to women who have internalised social expectations of meekness and self-denial’ (Feltham and Dryden, 1993:12) and who are traditionally over-represented in therapy. Wolfe states that assertion training ‘constitutes a major remediation for female’s passive and dependent behaviors…’ by replacing ‘…their habits of learned helplessness with those designed to increase personal effectiveness’ (1985:107). Politically, assertiveness can be seen as a form of advocacy that