Why Most Anger Management Courses Don't Work

By Joe James, Ph.D.

Most anger management courses don't work and there are two reasons for this. One is because of the course itself. Most workbooks I have seen or courses I've attended tend to approach the problem from only one angle - you've heard of them - you need to count to ten, you need to take a step back and think about things, you should try to see things from the other person's point of view. These are all very important anger management techniques and in fact you will see that I incorporate some of them in my anger management course. The problem is that they are only one angle of the problem. What separates my course from others you may have taken is that I cover anger from all angles - what I call the "Four Horsemen of Anger" – biology, triggers, mental shortcuts and communication (e.g. how to offer criticism, how to deal with difficult people, etc...

As I said earlier, there are two reasons that most people do not successfully complete anger management courses. The first had to do with the comprehensiveness of the course, and as you can see, my anger management course covers all the bases. The second reason is you. Change, real lasting change, requires effort. If you go to any gym in the middle of January it will be so packed that you will be lucky to find an available treadmill. Go back to that same gym in the middle of March and it will be half empty.

I've seen the same thing happen with anger management courses. Most people approach a course like this like gangbusters - "I'm gonna lick this thing once and for all" and they go all out for five or six weeks. I can't tell you how many times I've heard people about a month into the program say to me "Doc, I really think I've got this anger management thing l beat - I haven't gotten pissed off in weeks". That's usually my first sign that a big blowout is just around the corner. Its just human nature - just like the gym, quitting smoking or going on a diet, we all get excited , we are all super aware and super diligent about our behavior and things seem to come so easily. But enthusiasm can only carry most of us so far and then reality starts to creep back in.

The sad part is that when people have a bad day, be it skipping a workout or two, having a couple of cigarettes or getting angry they take that as a sign of defeat - that they just can't overcome their problem. Pardon my technical jargon, but HORSEHOCKEY!! All of these things, anger management problems in particular, are habits that you have had for years and years. Its very rare that someone is able to stop like flicking a switch. It was a gradual process that took years for you to develop a habit and its going to be a gradual process for you to be able to overcome it completely. It takes the average person something like 7 real tries to quit smoking for it to actually stick. You wouldn't read a book on skiing and expect to go out the next day and be the perfect skier. You would expect to fall down a lot and learn from each fall. And, slowly but surely, you would find yourself getting better at it each day.

Anger management courses are no different. I can almost guarantee that you can watch all the anger management videos, complete all the exercises, and you are still going to get mad. The trick is to use these as learning experiences - to review the material we are going to cover in this course, ask yourself where things went wrong and what you can do differently in the future. Knowledge gets you half way there, practice makes perfect! You can find all sorts of other ways to conquer anger by checking out our free anger management introductory class.

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