What Is Anger Management Therapy?

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What Is Anger Management Therapy? 

Anger is a normal human emotion that most people experience every now and then. However, if you find yourself feeling angry very often or very intensely, it may start to become a problem. 

“Rage, persistent anger, or angry outbursts can have detrimental consequences for physical health, quality of life, and relationships,” says Erin Engle, PsyD, a psychologist at Columbia University Medical Center.

“Anger management is an approach designed to help you manage the emotional and physiological arousal that accompanies anger. As it's often not possible to change the circumstances or people that elicit anger, anger management can help you recognize your triggers for anger and learn to cope with them more effectively,” explains Engle.

The aim of anger management therapy is to help minimize stressful or anger-evoking situations, improve self-control, and help you express your feelings in a healthy manner, according to Engle.

Types of Anger Management Therapy

These are some of the different approaches to anger management therapy:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): CBT is often the treatment of choice for anger management, according to Engle. She says it can help you understand your triggers for anger, develop and practice coping skills, and think, feel, and behave differently in response to anger, so you are calmer and more in control.
  • Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT): According to Engle, DBT is a form of CBT that can help individuals with intense or frequent anger regain emotional control through developing emotional regulation and distress tolerance skills, mindfulness, and effective communication in relationships.
  • Family Therapy: This form of therapy can be helpful in situations where anger is often directed at family members. It can help you work together to improve communication and resolve issues.
  • Psychodynamic Therapy: Psychodynamic therapy can help you examine the psychological roots of your anger and your response to it, so that you can identify and correct unhealthy patterns.

Your mental healthcare provider will evaluate your circumstances and specific behaviors to determine the overall approach to treatment and whether you require medication in addition to therapy, says Engle. 

Techniques

Anger management therapy techniques can involve understanding your triggers and responses to anger, learning strategies to manage or diffuse it, and changing thoughts and attitudes related to anger. Engle outlines some of these techniques below.

Identifying Triggers and Responses

Therapy can help you develop a better understanding of the factors that contribute to expressions of anger; current and past triggers for anger; your responses to it; and the consequences or aftereffects to yourself and your relationships. 

For instance, you may realize that yelling at your spouse is related to observing your parents yell, or the belief that you'll only get what you want if you yell.

Learning Strategies to Diffuse Anger

Anger management therapy can equip you with strategies to disrupt your anger or manage your response to it through avoidance or distraction. 

Your therapist can help you problem-solve how to respond when you’re angry. Role-plays offer opportunities to practice skills such as assertiveness and direct communication that can enhance control.

Therapy can also teach you coping strategies and relaxation techniques, such as slow deep breathing, leaving the room and returning when you're collected, or using a relaxing image to alleviate the intensity of anger.

Changing Attitude and Thought Patterns

Therapy can also involve restructuring thinking and changing attitudes related to anger, particularly if your therapist is taking a CBT approach.

Your therapist will help you examine your attitudes and ways of thinking and help identify patterns such as ruminating, catastrophizing, judging, fortune-telling, or magnifying that might exacerbate anger. 

Your therapist will also work with you to help you practice changing your response patterns. They can encourage forgiveness and compassion, offer ways to let go of hurt and disappointment, and help you repair and accept ruptured relationships.

What Anger Management Therapy Can Help With

While anger management is a form of treatment designed to help you manage anger, anger is not officially a condition that is diagnosed or defined, like depression or anxiety, for instance. However, intense, destructive, or uncontrollable anger may cause significant distress and impairment and impact safety, says Engle.

Anger management therapy can help anyone who experiences rage or has angry outbursts. Anger management therapy can help improve your:

  • Mental health: Anger can consume your focus, cloud your judgment, and deplete your energy. It can also lead to other mental health conditions such as depression and substance abuse.
  • Physical health: Anger manifests physically in the body with a surge of adrenaline, a rapid rise in heartbeat, higher blood pressure, and increased muscle tension in the form of a clenched jaw or fisted hands, says Engle. Over time, this can take a toll on your health and lead to physical health conditions.
  • Career: Anger can make it hard for you to focus on school or work and affect your performance. It can also harm your relationships with your peers. While creative differences, constructive criticism, and healthy debates can be productive, lashing out or having angry outbursts can alienate your peers and lead to negative consequences.
  • Relationships: Anger often harms loved ones the most and can take a toll on your relationships with them. It can make it difficult for them to be comfortable around you, erode their trust and respect, and be especially damaging to children.

Anger management therapy is sometimes court-ordered in case a person has committed criminal offenses, such as:

Benefits of Anger Management Therapy

These are some of the benefits anger management therapy can offer:

  • Identify triggers: Knowing what situations trigger your anger can help you avoid them or manage your reaction to them.
  • Change your thinking: Anger management can help you identify and change unhealthy thought patterns that fuel your anger.
  • Develop coping skills: Therapy can help you regulate your emotions, control your actions, and develop skills to help you cope with situations that trigger your anger.
  • Learn relaxation techniques: Your therapist may teach you relaxation techniques that can help you calm yourself down and relax your body and mind.
  • Solve problems: If certain situations trigger your anger repeatedly, your therapist may encourage you to look for solutions or alternatives. 
  • Improve communication: Anger management therapy can help you express your feelings in a healthy, respectful, or assertive manner, without being aggressive.

Effectiveness

According to Engle, CBT, which is often used to treat anger, is a very effective approach. CBT is an empirically-supported treatment that takes a skills-based approach to anger management, with emphasis placed on awareness of thoughts, behavioral patterns, and skill development with respect to physical and emotional reactions to anger, says Engle.

A 2017 study found that CBT was helpful to table tennis players with anger management issues. Even one year after completing treatment, participants were less likely to negatively express anger or react angrily.

A 2020 study found that anger management therapy was beneficial to patients with HIV.

Things to Consider

“As with any form of treatment, it can be beneficial to seek out the support and experience of a trained mental health professional. Professional evaluation and consultation can help identify any co-occurring mental health issues like trauma or substance use,” says Engle.

If you have a co-occurring mental health issue, it may be beneficial for you and your mental healthcare provider to determine if those disorders play a predominant role or how they can best be addressed in combination with anger management, according to Engle. 

Depending on your co-occurring issues, your mental healthcare provider will determine an appropriate treatment plan and whether or not you require medication, explains Engle.

How to Get Started

If you find yourself arguing often, becoming violent or breaking things, threatening others, or getting arrested because of incidents related to your anger, you may need to seek anger management therapy.

Look for a trained mental health professional who specializes in this form of treatment.

Depending on your preferences, you can choose to opt for individual treatment or group therapy. Individual therapy sessions offer more privacy and one-on-one interaction whereas group therapy sessions can help you feel like you’re not going through this alone.

A Word From Verywell

Anger is a universal emotion that often arises in response to threat, loss of power, or injustice, says Engle. She explains that anger is not necessarily negative, though it can be detrimental at uncontrollable levels, given the behaviors likely to follow anger such as throwing things, walking out, attacking others, saying things you later regret, or acting passive-aggressively.

Anger can take a toll on your health, relationships, and career. Anger management therapy can help you regulate your emotions, maintain self-control, develop coping strategies, and communicate effectively.

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2 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Steffgen G. Anger management: evaluation of a cognitive-behavioral training program for table tennis players. J Hum Kinet. 2017;55:65-73. doi:10.1515/hukin-2017-0006

  2. Lotfalizadeh M, Miri S, Foroughameri G, Farokhzadian J. The effect of anger management skills training on anger status of the people with HIV. Perspect Psychiatr Care. 2020;56(3):605-613. doi:10.1111/ppc.12475

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