All the rage

Anger can lead to offending, child abuse and family break-up, so
can people be trained to control it? Anita Pati examines an
increasingly popular training method that deals with angry young
people and parents.

Anger management training is very popular in the United States
and has now hit the UK with a vengeance. As well as providing the
theme for the Hollywood film Anger Management, with Jack
Nicholson as a therapist, rapper Eminem’s latest UK tour was
named Anger Management.

Previously confined mainly to stressed-out business executives,
anger management training has now been adopted much more widely,
with programmes being offered by youth offending teams, schools and
the NHS. And, while there is money being made by those offering the
programmes, there is also evidence that the training courses can
offer real benefits to those taking part – and the people most
affected by their behaviour.

There is growing awareness of the impact of anger on the way
people behave towards others. Being able to harness and control it
is now being recognised as a valuable social skill.

“Anger management is the new yoga,” says Mike Fisher, director
of the British Association of Anger Management. The association
runs courses for parents, teachers, counsellors and mental health
professionals, among others. Schools will either identify
individuals who need help or invite facilitators to deliver a class

Fisher is clear about how the problem manifests itself:
“It’s when the young person gets disruptive in class and
starts bullying other students and teachers, or gets involved in
minor crime or drug-related offences. Or they start playing

But he is careful to point out that they are not a counselling
or psychotherapy service: “If they are too far gone, we can’t
work with them as all we would be doing is crisis management.
That’s not our gig, we’re into anger management.”

Baam is keen to promote the benefits of training, stressing that
organisations like Mind, Relate, the courts and social services
departments as well as private companies all regularly refer
clients. For Fisher, the attack on the World Trade Centre was a key
event: “After 11 September, Americans became extremely angry. But
they had nowhere to put their rage. A lot of my colleagues in the
US found they had quadrupled their business. They noticed a
changing trend.”

There is, as yet, no formal register of practitioners and anyone
can set himself or herself up as an anger management trainer in the
UK, but the British Association of Anger Management does train and
accredit its own facilitators, of which there are 46

One of these is Jo Killick. She is an anger management worker at
St John’s, a family assessment unit in Bristol. The centre is
one of six in the country providing dysfunctional families with
care and rehabilitation programmes, and takes schedule one
offenders. Most clients are referred by either social services or
the courts as a last attempt to avoid foster or care placements.
Parents often have a history of violence and have been in the
prison or care system. Issues experienced range from domestic
violence through physical and sexual abuse to neglect but clients
know that expressing unacceptable levels of anger in the unit may
result in the removal of their child.

“We do deal with some very extreme, angry people but we have a
no violence policy which they’re very, very clear about,”
says Killick.

She thinks that attitudes to anger have changed: “People are
more aware that anger is acceptable but that violence isn’t.
They are now being told ‘It’s OK to be angry’ and
are confused because they’ve never been taught how to be

Her anger management programme runs between six and eight weeks
beginning with one-to-one sessions with one parent and then later
introducing the partner. The programme concentrates on identifying
the source of anger and the triggers that spark it. Acceptance of
the need to change must follow. A five-stage model of anger
escalation, based on cognitive behavioural theory, helps the client
note rising levels of anger and be aware of the causes. A safety
action plan is drawn up detailing various coping strategies.

She says: “A lot of people say ‘I just blew, it just
happened, I can’t remember anything.’ So what I do is
unpick it and deconstruct an angry incident, try to work out how
they were feeling, what warning signs they got. We also look at the
legal consequences of anger – if you punched someone, what would
you face afterwards?”

St John’s takes a holistic approach to its training and
explores connected themes while dealing with anger in its clients.
Both the anger management and domestic abuse programmes run closely
together and are designed to complement one another. If there is
domestic abuse within the family, they will run the anger
management programme first as rage needs to be identified and
worked with before other problems can be explored.

Much of her clients’ anger stems from an inability to
change things: “A lot of it is because of their own history and the
patterns of abuse that have existed there,” says Killick.
“Frustrations about money can be big. Extended families can be a
difficulty. Local authorities can be a problem. There’s lots
of frustration with the police. Often it’s because they
don’t want to be here. Sometimes they feel like they’re
being restricted in the unit because we do have to observe them
almost constantly.”

Anger management courses are increasingly being used out in the
field, too. One London social worker working with children and
families reports a high success rate. She refers children and
parents to family centres, youth offending teams, child and family
psychiatry agencies as well as private outside agencies for anger
management training.

She finds herself referring an increasing number of young people
where once they would only concentrate on the parents’
issues: “It’s a new direction that we’re taking. We
know we’re not going to be able to solve many young
people’s problems but we can ultimately maybe equip them with
the skills to handle those problems.”

Her personal experience is that the young people who have taken
anger management courses have had positive outcomes but parents
must be involved. “I saw a parent the other day – one whom
I’d have never expected this from – saying ‘We’ve
tried playing relaxing music to him and burning candles’
which, coming from them, was revelatory,” she says.

The anger she sees in many of the young people she works with
forms a cycle: “Many have difficult home circumstances such as
financial and housing issues. What happens is that parents with
poor parenting skills often go on to have abusive relationships
because of the way they themselves were parented. This means the
children can grow up experiencing conflict as well as the stigma
this causes. This stress at home affects their schoolwork so they
may attend school less. The more their education suffers the less
confidence they will have. The less their self-esteem the more
anger there is because they feel out of control. That’s
generally the pattern we are seeing.”

Whether fad or fixture, it is clear that anger management is not
a panacea. But as part of a balanced, structured and monitored
programme, the consensus is that managing potentially destructive
emotions can only be a plus.

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