Is there a best anger management counseling method?

Dr. Robert Fraum, Ph.D

Robert M. Fraum, Ph. D. offers individual anger management treatment in Westchester and NYC, NY. His goal oriented counseling approach combines anger control modalities to meet his client's particular therapeutic needs. These include cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), humanistic psychotherapy, emotional self-regulation coaching, and anger control training.


There is no single, best anger control therapy or counseling method for everyone. Likewise, there is no one, best anger management technique or set of interventions. It is important to understand the nature and cause of a person's particular problems in order to plan an effective anger therapy. I find psychotherapy, marital counseling, and family therapy for anger problems require a variety of useful psychological techniques for treatment to be effective.

In the next web pages I discuss anger management counseling for individuals and couples separately. However, the basic concepts introduced in each section generally apply across treatment modalities. For example, individual techniques can also be useful in the course of marriage counseling, and couple and family therapy. Likewise, I often coach clients in individual therapy on how to deal with anger management problems inherent in relationships and families.

Here, I will briefly review some the best anger management counseling techniques for individuals. These include cognitive-behavioral treatment (CBT), insight oriented psychotherapy methods and psycho-educational counseling for resolving issues with anger. I also discuss emotional self-regulation coaching (ER) and anger control training.


Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) techniques for anger management

Cognitive psychologists study the learned thought patterns that control behavior and create symptoms. CBT is useful for understanding how dysfunctional anger responses get acquired, maintained and changed. I use a treatment model adapted from Beck's Cognitive Therapy and Ellis's Rational Emotive Therapy.

Automatic negative thoughts are our untested hypotheses about external reality or about us. They are habitual, irrational, statements that we say to ourselves. We may not always be fully aware of them, but our body responds as if the negative thought indicates a real threat, loss, etc. Automatic, negative thoughts may lead us to respond as though people are deliberately hurting, demeaning or threatening us. This can lower the threshold (increase the likelihood) of an anger response.

Initially, negative thoughts help us to explain our negative feelings. Unchallenged, they heighten and entrench unwarranted negative feelings. If they become numerous and frequent, they can negatively impact our, self concept, world view, stress level, well being and threshold for fear, depression and anger.

Automatic negative thoughts are enabled by patterns of dysfunctional thinking. These habitual errors in thinking include negative hyper-focusing, forecasting, and projecting. Also included are negative pigeonholing, always/never thinking, should/must thinking, blame eating, and blame casting.

Negative hyper-focus is a strong bias towards seeing the bad in a situation. Similarly, negative forecasting refers to a pessimistic or catastrophic attitude about how things will turn out in the future. Negative projecting means believing that you know what people are thinking about you. Typically, we merely ascribe our own fears or motives to them.

Negative pigeonholing entails ascribing an emotionally charged negative label to one self, another person or a group of people and then reacting to the mental characterization rather than responding to the reality.

Always/never thinking occurs when negative emotions hijack the thinking process. We erroneously believe, in absolute terms, that we are being subjected to a continual and unavoidable negative event. This is reflected in statements like "I can never get a break," "You never appreciate me," and "People will screw me if they can."

Should/must thinking require us to compulsively do what we "ought to do". If we fail to comply with these arbitrary rules, we tend to suffer anxiety, guilt, and possibly, anger. When people whom we care about do not comply with the non-negotiable "shoulds" that we would place on them, it can be very disappointing. Their presumed disregard may lead to resentment or anger.

Blame eating and blame casting are habitual, dysfunctional patterns of thinking in response to an immediate problem. Blaming oneself or another person is a dysfunctional cognitive strategy for dealing with disappointment, conflict, and worries about the future.

Assigning blame makes one a victim of one's own or another person's lack of diligence, stupidity, selfishness, etc. Identifying and resenting the person "at fault" (even if it is oneself) becomes the priority mental activity. Blame eating and blame casting enable us avoid the psychological stress of taking responsibility They distract us from the more challenging task of actually trying to solve the problem.

Blame eaters are vulnerable to anger turned against the self (shame), repressed anger, self pity, and very low self worth. They are susceptible to clinical depression. Blame casters are vulnerable to states of indignant victimization. They tend to overtly express righteous anger, seething resentment and explosive rage. This puts them at risk for anger management in the workplace incidents as well as other types of anger control issues.

I use cognitive therapy to challenge the dysfunctional thinking that creates anger management problems. Cognitive therapy techniques for anger management teach a client to identify and challenge unhelpful, negative thinking patterns. This permits us to get better cognitive control of anger.

Behavior therapy strategies for anger management first focus on defining and targeting unwanted reactions and behaviors for anger control intervention. We identify anger triggers and learn productive, alternative responses. In the clinical practice of anger management, most clinicians use a combination of cognitive and behavioral techniques. I often find Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, psycho educational counseling and or problem-solving coaching techniques to be the treatment of choice when used in combination and with good clinical judgment.


Psychotherapeutic counseling for resolving issues with anger

In some instances, a particular type of anger response is ingrained in one's personality. An anger style may be deeply tied into the way we handle feelings, or deal with people or situations. Thus, an anger response may feel natural, and we may not recognized that it is inappropriate in many situations.

The underlying cause of anger may go unquestioned by an angry person. Since anger can distort cognitive functioning, a more adaptive response may lie beyond the reach of a person caught up in their anger.

Cognitive behavioral psychology tends to focus of the mechanics of how we maintain a maladaptive behavioral pattern and how to get rid of it. This is a useful approach, especially when dealing with anger symptoms or aggressive behaviors that are especially troubling or upsetting.

However, psychodynamic and interpersonal psychotherapy for anger provides an added depth of insight and perspective. They allow us to identify and address the fundamental emotional and interpersonal issues that drive an individual's anger.

The humanistic, insight oriented psychotherapy approach permits an anger management counselor to "get" the problem and discuss solutions in the client's own terms. Anger management clients speak about their problems in the language of relationships and feelings rather than in cognitive-behavioral or stimulus-response terms. For some clients, humanistic psychology terms like self-worth have more traction. This is because such language captures the felt experience of their issues with anger.

For these and other reasons, I find cognitive behavioral counseling, in combination with humanistic, insight-oriented approaches, offers the best anger management treatment strategy for many individuals. Additionally, cognitive behavioral psychotherapy and counseling techniques offer an anger management psychologist the ability to translate meaningful insights into practical actions.


Emotional self-regulation (ER) and anger control training

Sometimes anger or rage is stubbornly rooted in an involuntary fight or flight reaction related to trauma. Aggressive behavior may become wired-in through a long-standing behavioral addiction. When anger is reflexive, conventional insight oriented psychotherapies are likely to produce marginal symptomatic improvement.

I include emotional self regulation training (ER) techniques to enable my clients to head off automatic, runaway psychological states. This kind of anger control training can also help to prevent emotional upset, to control automatic, negative thoughts and reactions, and to enable reconnection with a partner or others.

We develop an individualized program to counter and prevent angry responses before they get going. Emotional self-regulation (ER) exercises are designed to rewire the mind's anger response pathways. Anger control training techniques include counter-conditioning, desensitization and relaxation exercises. Repeated practice of emotional self regulation techniques produces automatic control over dysfunctional anger as well as the negative thoughts and feelings that trigger unwanted aggressive behavior. Stress reduction and anger management activities, like exercise, are also suggested.


An anger psychologist's goal-focused treatment strategy

My results-focused anger treatment strategy draws upon these and other useful psychotherapy methods, coaching interventions, and cognitive behavioral tools. I select counseling methods to suit the particular treatment needs of each client.

My first priority in any anger management treatment plan is to empower clients to gain behavioral control over anger as soon as possible. The second step is to provide concepts, tools and individual skills that allow an individual to continue to master the problem and respond effectively over time.

Anger management interventions are tailored to an individual's needs. For example, when irritation, annoyance, and disappointment usually trigger a client's anger, frustration-management coaching may be employed for more effective anger management. Problem solving coaching may be helpful as well.

When the chief cause of anger is acute anxiety, anger management counseling needs to focus on reducing severe anxiety as well as anger. When severe stress is part of the reason coming for anger management, stress management coaching and crisis counseling may become part of the anger control treatment plan.

In general, I find the best anger management strategy is to immediately address anger symptoms and then treat the underlying condition or situation, if that is still necessary.


How to choose and locate the best therapist for anger management

Decide if there are signs that you need professional anger management help.

Then, select a licensed or certified mental health therapist. Pick a clinical psychologist or other professional therapist who is broadly trained.

Additionally, choose an anger management specialist if one is available. Locate therapists who are well experienced in treating individual clients for a variety of problems with anger.

For additional details on how to find the best therapist for your needs, please go to www.visitdrbob.com


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