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Anger Management Classes: What To Look For When You’re Looking for Help

Feeling pissed off all the time? You're not alone. But trying to handle those feelings by yourself is a bad idea.

Anger is a perfectly natural emotion, and a primitive one as well. It’s a fight or flight response — something that our minds and bodies need in order to tell us when we’re unsafe. One of the biggest mistakes anyone can make is to treat anger as something unnatural. Blowing up is a normal human reaction to stressful circumstances and being a parent is, to put it mildly, a stressful circumstance. Understandable as that may be, issues arise when anger gets becomes overwhelming or constant. And unchecked anger shouldn’t go unchecked, as a pattern of anger responses can send someone into a debilitating spiral that hurts themselves and those around them. In such circumstances, anger management can be an essential tool. It teaches one to gain a perspective on their anger as well as ways to stay calm in situations that might otherwise trigger. But what takes place in anger management class, and what should someone look for in a class? Here’s what to know. 

How Do I Know If My Anger Is a Problem?

A common misconception is that one’s anger is only a problem if it explicitly manifests itself in every area of their life. This can make it harder for one to recognize whether or not they have a problem. “Even when an individual is able to behave appropriately at work, anger issues are often problematic in key personal relationships,” says Dr. Carla Marie, author of Joy From Fear.

That should be the first clue that someone’s anger might be an issue. “A key sign of problematic anger is when a partner, friends, or family members express that they feel disrespected, threatened, unsafe, or anxious due to an individual’s angry words, tone of voice, or behavior,” says Marie. A distinguishing element of unhealthy anger — as opposed to healthy anger — is that it is reactive. If you find yourself blowing up at more stimuli than you fully understand yourself, that should be an indicator.

Another indicator: If the people around you aren’t expressing their worries directly, see if they are giving you a wide berth or treating you with an unusual degree of caution, especially if that begins to damage the longevity of your connection with those people.

“You recognize your anger is a problem when it is challenging for you to have lasting relationships,” says licensed professional counselor Lakeisha Russell. “If others seem to always be walking on eggshells around you or if others try to avoid you completely.”

What is Anger Management Class?

Anger management is a process through which people can gain a perspective on their anger and find out ways to stay calm in situations that would otherwise trigger it. As it’s impossible to avoid people and places that trigger anger, anger management aims to reduce the emotional and physical arousal that anger causes. Anger management doesn’t ask people to hold in their anger, which is dangerous. Rather, it teaches them how to regulate it and release it in an appropriate way. In short, it’s about identifying and controlling one’s reaction to anger and learning how to respond in a healthier way.

Anger management can be done in either group or one-on-one sessions. Its led by a therapist or certified anger management counselor and can last anywhere from a few weeks to a few months.

What Should I Look for In An Anger Management Class?

The first thing to do in looking for the right anger management class for you is to verify the credentials of the group leader, and to make sure that the group ensures full confidentiality. “Without confidentiality,” says Dr. Marie, “clients simply do not feel safe and secure. When safety is lacking, a client will not be willing to share important personal information.”

It also creates what Dr. Marie calls a “sense of ‘we,’” something essential to building vital trust between members of the group. She recommends the following criteria be met in order to get the most out of a class experience:

  1. Education that is clear and comprehensive
  2. Face-to-face contact
  3. The sharing of personal experiences
  4. An opportunity for practice within the group setting
  5. Opportunity for feedback
  6. Training that offers positive skills and tools
  7. Homework for practical skill-building
  8. Access to support between groups.

Above all else, at the end of the day, it’s important to look for a course that allows one to look at their anger from a positive angle. “Many people take such courses from a negative, punitive stance,” says Dr. Marie. “It’s important for the attendee to reframe the issue and realize that purpose of the course is to optimize well-being and improve relationships.”

What Happens In Anger Management Classes?

It’s called a class for a reason: There’s a lot of work to be done. And like in any other workshop, anger management classes will break down the root causes of anger so that one can fully understand the source of their pain before getting to work on processing it responsibly.

“In the anger management classes you can expect to be taught what emotions are being covered up by anger,” says Russell. “It’s so easy for us to display anger, but it may be challenging for us to say that we feel disappointed, hurt, frustrated, etc.”

A big part of anger management classes is also unpacking how anger affects your physical health in addition to your mental health. Through such exercises as role play and journaling, attendees engage in reflective exercises that help them find a perspective on their anger.

“You’ll be taught how to develop coping skills and how to ‘fight fair’ with others in your life,” says Russell. “You’ll learn what triggers are and how to recognize which level you’re at so you can implement a coping skill, you’ll share ways you saw your parents handle conflict or respond in anger.”

The approaches in an anger management classes and other forms of group therapy are varied and designed to specialize — it’s all about taking what seems to work for you and doubling down on that.

Where Can I Find Anger Management Classes?

As anger management becomes less stigmatized, classes, groups, and workshops are becoming more available. “Many communities offer anger management through local hospitals, low-cost clinicals, and the court system,” says Dr. Marie. “Anger management classes are increasingly found through physician and healthcare referrals.”

Outside of one-on-one counseling through a private therapist, the YWCA domestic violence hotline is also set up to refer callers to anger management resources. To get started, notes Russell, you can simply check Psychology Today, or call 211.