Most individuals feel angry about 3-4 times per week. In a 1997 study by Howard Kasinove, Ph.D., 58% of anger episodes involve shouting or yelling. In more than 50% of anger episodes, the recipient of the anger was either a loved one or a friend. Ten percent of anger episodes include physical aggression, such as hitting, shoving or throwing things. Even within this 10%, the aggression is relatively mild – throwing small objects such as pens or pencils. Anger remains one of the most pressing issues facing us today. With the rapidly accelerating pace of life, and a continuously growing population living in close proximity, there is increasing potential for anger to lead to destruction and terror on a massive scale. Learning to manage anger is vital to ensure the peaceful and productive continuation of the human race.
People with problematic anger have anger episodes that more frequently, with more intensity and which last longer than normal. Individuals with anger issues report more frequent and intense physical aggression, more negative verbal responses, more drug use and negative consequences of their anger (e.g., high blood pressure, damaging relationships and interfering with work performance). To sum up, those with anger problems have anger that adversely impacts their personal relationships, their health, and their work.
Evidence-Based Approaches to Reduce Anger
Despite problems at the diagnostic level, therapists are faced daily with the issue of teaching patients how to reduce the frequency, intensity and duration of their anger. So what treatments have been shown in research to have a positive effect on anger?
There are 4 types of treatments which have been shown in studies to be effective in reducing anger – relaxation training, skills training, cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) and some combination of these (multicomponent therapy).
Relaxation training involves teaching clients skills to relax on command. This might involve skills such as progressive-muscle relaxation, deep breathing, mindfulness and/or guided imagery. The new relaxation skills are then paired with a single word, such as ‘breathe’ or ‘calm’, which is repeated to activate the relaxed feeling during moments of stress.
Skills training involves teaching clients the needed skills to be successful in specific situations in order to reduce stress. For instance, new parents would be taught parenting skills – what to look for, how to read an infant’s nonverbal coos, and how to respond appropriately to each basic need (e.g., hunger, sleepiness, pain, discomfort, desire to play). People who get angry at work might be taught appropriate assertiveness to get their needs met at the office and interrupt the anger cycle there.
Cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) revolves around teaching clients that thoughts and feelings can be untrue. A central skill in CBT is learning to recognize thoughts and feelings which are untrue, challenging them and replacing them with constructive ones.
Multicomponent therapy is a combination of the above. For example, combining relaxation therapy with CBT and social skills training, to ensure clients absorb the best from each treatment method.