I have to confess: anger management therapy groups aren’t my thing. Why not? I’m in full agreement with most professionals and ordinary people alike, that anger can get you into a lot of trouble. It’s just that I don’t think managing that anger is the way to go. I don’t think anger is something that can be managed (or something that’s separate from you–managing it seems to imply that it is!).
What can we do with anger if not manage it?
Build with the anger. Give the anger to others so they can make use of it (and help you make use of it). There’s lots of good reasons to be angry–difficult circumstances from our past, the state of the world. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a man of great love but also a very angry man; he had good reason to be angry. Did he need to manage his anger? No, of course not. He found wonderful ways to give it to others–to inspire them, to bring them together to create change.
When we relate to anger as something that needs to be managed, whether in a therapy group or elsewhere, we diminish its value. We cut ourselves off from the ways that anger can be put to good use.
What do therapy groups for anger look like?
As with other sources of struggle (diagnoses, problems) you can typically find a group where members are working on the very same things (an anger management therapy group, in this case), but there are also groups available where there’s no one issue defining what brings people together.
As you can guess, I have a bias towards the later. Why wouldn’t it be best to seek out a therapy group specifically designed to help with anger? For one, it’s a missed opportunity. A therapy group with all sorts of patients provides a terrific opportunity to learn to build with people who are different, which is a pretty good skill to learn if you’re interested in finding more productive things to do with your anger.
Having a diversity of people in your therapy group also means there are a host of people to learn from. If everyone in the therapy group is struggling with how they express their anger, there’s less of an opportunity to learn from those who are good at building with their anger, or who have overcome various struggles with anger (after all, an anger management group would seem to imply that once someone has learned to manage their anger they’d move on).
Your anger doesn’t exist in a vacuum
Which brings me to my final point in favor of working on anger outside of a strict, anger management group: Your anger doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It’s impossible to grow in how you use your anger without seeing the ways it fits into the rest of your life and growing the rest of your life. How are your relationships going? What’s your experience with sadness, frustration and irritability (all often friends of anger)? Confining your work on anger to an anger management therapy group is relating to your anger as small and relating to your life as small.
I don’t mean to glorify anger
Struggling with anger can be painful–for you and for others in your life. It can leave you isolated, and keep people distant. At its worst, anger comes with violence, physical or otherwise. If you’re seeking therapy to help address your anger, you need to work in a context where the therapist and the group see the ways your anger can be hurtful and are willing to take on the task of helping you do something new.
Therapy groups as a context for getting help with anger are a great way to go, but consider forgoing the anger management group in favor of a development group where you can work to create your life.