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Patients with difficulty managing anger first must understand it is a natural human emotion. Anger is usually healthy and adaptive. By the time they seek help, however, patient's tempers are often out of control. Clients often report feeling as if they are at the mercy of an unpredictable force. Clinician and patient must next discuss realistic therapeutic goals. Feelings of anger never go away. No one can avoid each person and situation that triggers rage, nor can he change all frustrating circumstances. The American Psychological Association therefore suggests teaching patients how to control their reactions to triggering events. Objectives are to reduce emotional intensity and, in turn, to decrease the level of biological arousal. Education about managing anger should include attention to multiple aspects of the patient’s experience. Patients should know how anger affects the body, the mind, and the individual’s relationships. Each of these factors can be targeted with specific interventions so that the patient develops a variety of coping skills. Physiological changes including accelerated heart rate, increased blood pressure, and higher hormone and adrenaline production accompany the experience of anger, according to Dr. Charles Spielberger, a specialist on the study of anger.Relaxation techniques such as deep, diaphragmatic breathing, the repetition of a calming word (“relax”), the use of soothing imagery (a beach at sunset), or the practice of gentle exercise (yoga) can counteract the physical effects of intense anger.Patients struggling to handle anger are also subject to distorted thinking. They might believe they should be exempt from the daily annoyances everyone encounters. Or they could be prone to interpreting a random event or comment as a personal insult.Use of cognitive therapy techniques outlined by psychologist Dr. Aaron Beck in the late 1960’s can therefore benefit the anger management patient. Beck suggests anger can be assuaged by identifying and challenging the irrational thoughts that ignite rage. Patients can learn for instance to avoid exaggerating the significance of everyday frustrations. Ineffectively managed anger inevitably damages the patient’s relationships. Verbal outbursts and even violence can wreak havoc upon work life, friendships, and family. Intervention on the interpersonal level is essential. Anger management patients often have difficulty listening and understanding others. Psychologist Dr. Eva L. Feindler suggests that developing the capacity for empathy is critical to effectively handling anger. While she concedes it is extremely difficult to understand the point of view of an “alleged perpetrator,” this is a skill patients can acquire with practice. Other teachable communication skills include slowing down the pace of an interaction, identifying exactly what the other person wants, and resisting the impulse to argue, insult, or become defensive. Patients should be encouraged to use problem-solving skills to minimizing the impact of situations that predictably trigger their anger. But it should be emphasized that feeling and expressing anger cannot be avoided. With a new understanding of the challenges and benefits of anger management, patients can independently build upon the basic skills learned in therapy. The most critical lesson to convey is that anger management is not a finite set of skills to be mastered during the course of therapy. It is instead a life skill to be practiced.
This article is made possible by Argosy University. Drawing upon a more than 30-year history of granting degrees in professional psychology, Argosy University has developed a curriculum that focuses on interpersonal skills and practical experience alongside academic learning. Because getting a degree is one thing. Succeeding, quite another.
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