Anger management

Cognitive behaviour treatment

  • Raymond Novaco suggests that cognitive factors trigger emotional arousal which generally procedes aggressive acts.
  • His arguement is that, in some people, anger is often quick to surface especially in situations that are percieved to be anxiety-inducing or threatening.
  • In behaviourists terms, becoming angry is reinforced by the individual's feeling of control in that situation.
  • Anger management programmes are a form of cognitive behaviour therapy - the individual is taught how to recognise when they are losing control, then encouraged to develop techniques which bring about conflict-resolution without the need to violence. 
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Three stages

  • Cognitive preparation - this phase requires offenders to reflect on past experience and consider the typical pattern of their anger. The offender learns to indentify those situations which act as triggers to anger
    • how the offender interprets the event is irrational, the therapist's role is to make this clear.
    • E.G. the offender may view someone looking at them as an act of confrontation. In redefining the situation as non-threatening, the therapist is attempting to break what may be an automatic response for the offender.
  • Skill acquisition - in this stage offenders are introduced to a range if techniques and skills to help them deal with anger-provoking situations more rationally and effectively.
    • Techniques may be cognitive: positive self-talk to encourage calmness
    • Behavioural: training in how to communicate more effectively
    • Physiological: methods of relaxation or meditation.
    • Promotes the idea that it is possilble for the offender to be in control of their emotions rather than ruled by them.
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Three stages

  • Application practice - in the final stage, offenders are given the opportunity to practise their skills within a carefully monitored environment
    • Role play is likely to involve the offender and the therapist re-enacting scenarios that may have escalated feelings of anger and acts of violence in the past.
    • This requires a certain amount of committment from the offender - they must see each scenario as real.
    • It requires certain amount of bravery from the therapist whose job is to wind up the offender in order to assess their progress.
    • Successful negotiation of the role play would be met with positive reinforcement from the therapist.
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An example

  • Julia Keen et al has studied the progress made with young offenders aged between 17 and 21 who took part in a nationally recognised anger management programme.
  • The course involves 8, 2 hours sessions, the first 7 over a three week period with the last session a month afterwards.
  • There was some issues with offenders not taking the course seriously, and offenders forgetting routines such as the requirement to bring their diary.
  • The final outcomes were generally positive
  • Offenders reported increased awareness of their anger management difficulties and an increased capacity to exercise self-control.
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  • Jane Ireland conducted a study to see if anger management really works
  • She compared the progress of two groups of offenders: one group which took part in an anger management programme and the other group, a non-treatment control.
  • After the treatment group had completed 12 sessons, outcomes were assessed using three measures: interviews, a behaviour checklist and a self-report questionnaire.
  • 92% of the experimental group showed an improvement on at least one measure
  • 48% showed an improvement on the checklist and the self-report.
  • There were no improvements made within the control group.
  • This shows that the programme does work but how reliable is the method they used in order to measure the effectiveness?
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Evaluation of anger management

  • Eclectic approach - anger management works on a number of different levels. It includes cognitive preparation in order to identify the precursors to anger in phase 1. It applies the behavioural perspective when developing techniques of self-management in phase 2. It includes a social approach in phase 3 when offenders are required to demonstrate what they have learnt during role play.
    • This multidisciplinary approach acknowledges that offending is a complex social and psychological activity, and any attempt to address it, should include these different elements, not just one like with behaviour modification.
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Evaluation of anger management

  • Unlike behaviour modification, anger management tries to tackle one of the causes of offending, rather focusing on superficial surface behaviour, it attempts to address the thought processes that underlie offending behaviour.
    • Experience of treatment programmes may give offenders new insight into the cause of their criminality enabling them to self-discover ways of managing themselves outside of the prison setting.
    • From this perspective, it is logical to assume that anger management is more likely than bheaviour modification to lead to permanent behavioural change and lower rates of recidivism.
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Evaluation of anger management

  • Studies of AM by Ronald Blackburn, points out that, whilst AM may have a noticeable effect on the conducts of offenders in the short term, there is little evidence that it reduces recidivism in the long term.
  • This may be due to the application stage of treatment which relies on artificial role play which might not properly reflect all the possible triggers that could be present in a real-life situation.
  • Even though many AM programmes are delievered outside of the prison environment, this environment is very different from other environments which cannot be applied to those situations which offenders may be in.
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Evaluation of anger management

  • Theories of anger often assume a causal relationship between anger and offending. This assumption can be false.
    • Wagdy Loza and Amel Loza-Fanous used a range of psychometric measures and found no differences in levels of anger between offenders classes as non-violent.
    • They suggested AM programmes may be misguided as they could provide offenders a justification for their behaviour.
    • Many crimes, including financial crimes such as fraud, are not motivated by anger.
  • AM programmes are expensive to run as they require highly trained specialists who are used to dealing with violent offenders.
    • Many prisons may not have the resources to fund such programmes, so whether an offender can access such support may come down to something of postcode lottery.
    • The success of AM is often based on the committment of those who participate, and this may be a problem if prisoners are uncooperative and apathetic.
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