Anger can be a difficult emotion to deal with and understand. At times anger can be a constructive and healthy response that alerts us that our rights are being violated and motivates us to take appropriate action, (“I am no long going to allow myself to be treated this way!”). However, often anger is too intense. At times, we might feel enraged and out of control, like we might explode. (“You S.O.B…..I’ll show you!”)
Cognitive Therapy Treatment of Anger
The first step with anger is to determine whether it is (1) an appropriate response to a situation and therefore needs to be allowed, accepted and, usually, expressed: (2) obscuring a more basic, threatening feeling (e.g. hurt), in which case anger needs to be understood as a defensive reaction and then bypassed to help the client face and deal with this more basic feeling; or (3) too intense and therefore needs to be regulated so the client can choose when to express himself in a more controlled and effective manner,
Change strategies need to be tailored to these different states of anger. With over control of anger, the therapist helps the client increase his awareness of the anger components, including physical sensations and thoughts. The client then often needs to challenge dysfunctional thoughts that inhibit the expression of anger (e.g. “I shouldn’t express these feeling – it wouldn’t be nice”.) Finally, the client may benefit from coaching on how to express the anger appropriately by developing an assertive style that can promote respect or even closeness with others.
With under control of anger, the client is coached to develop skills of emotional regulation. These include identifying and challenging the beliefs that can fuel anger; learning relaxation skills to help soothe the intense physiological sensations that accompany rage; and mindfulness skills. Mindfulness skills enable the client to get distance from intense, disorganizing feelings, yet also promote awareness and insight. This helps the client take appropriate action rather than be victimized by anger.