A word of caution is important here. Research shows again and again that it is hard to change habitual behavior, and that it is easier to make and sustain real changes in behavior when you have a good support group. For this reason, if you are really serious about changing the way you handle anger, you are likely to be better off participating in a formal anger management program than taking the self study approach. A formal program provides structure to guide your change process, helps motivate you to continue to work when you might otherwise want to quit, and helps you recognize and be proud of the progress you make.
The following is a brief overview of the types of anger management programs and resources available.
Individual and Group Therapy for Anger Management
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For some people, the easiest way to change the way they handle anger is to work with a psychologist or other licensed mental health professional in an individual or group therapy setting. A therapist, who can observe and analyze your behavior from an impartial perspective, can help you with your reality testing. If you participate in an anger management group, the other group members can help you do this too. An anger management therapist will also be expert in all manner of effective anger management strategies, and will be able to help you develop a personalized set of strategies for changing both your thinking and behavior that will work best for you.
If you go the therapy route, make sure that you select the right kind of therapist! There are multiple schools of therapy out there. Therapists who subscribe to dynamic, psychodynamic, humanistic, or psychospiritual schools of thought may lead clients to get better in touch with their feelings. While this approach is helpful for some emotionally over-controlled people, it is not helpful for people whose main difficulty revolves around not being able to control their emotions (e.g., angry clients)! Instead of exploring your feelings, you want to be learning to control them. A cognitive-behavioral therapist will generally be in the best position to help you do this.
There are a few other qualities you'll want to select for in a therapist. Any therapist you select should be licensed by their state. Additionally, they will ideally have been trained in anger management techniques and therapies and/or have specialized their practice for anger management problems.
A typical course of therapy for anger management unfolds more like a class than a traditional therapy session. Participants are helped to become conscious of their emotional, cognitive and physical responses to anger and the different ways they respond to conflict. Depending on your needs, your therapist may work with you on breathing or meditation exercises to reduce anger arousal, safe and appropriate emotional and physical techniques to release anger, communication skills, or 'cognitive restructuring' (a method for disputing and changing the thoughts that shape your emotions).
Therapy can take several months to have an effect. On average progress may be visible after 8 or 10 sessions. How much progress you make will in part be determined by how dedicated you are to the process: how regularly you attend, how much you take the lessons to heart, and how often you practice your homework.
Anger Management Classes
Anger management classes may be available through your employer, or through a variety of organizations serving your community. Anger management classes vary in length and quality. While some stretch across multiple weeks and begin to approximate the therapy approach described above, others span a single weekend only. It is better to select a longer class than a shorter one if you have a choice, as longer classes will provide you with more sustained support for your change process. Regardless of their length, anger management classes will often assign you homework projects to complete, and will use quizzes to track your progress through the course.
Think carefully about your specific needs when choosing to participate in an anger management class. Do you need help dealing with your anger in general, or would you benefit more from a class geared toward couples? If most of your issues occur in the workplace, would a seminar about anger management in the workplace be more helpful? Perhaps you have been asked by your employer or mandated by the courts to attend classes. In either of these cases, you will need to make sure you select an approved class that will keep track your progress and provide you with formal proof of your participation and completion.
You can learn to deal with your anger issues on your own in a number of different ways. Video and audio recordings and online classes allow you to complete programs in your spare time and work at your own speed. Some of these programs offer email or phone support, and online message boards or chat groups.
If you are looking for a more specialized approach to anger management, such as strategies specifically tailored for women or for corporate executives, your local library or book store might be your best resource. There are a great number of books available today that address anger and anger management from a variety of perspectives. Several of these books are listed at the end of this article. Perhaps the best way to learn about and understand your problems with anger may be to do some more research.