How a psychologist can help you manage anger

Therapy can teach you easy strategies for controlling your temper.

Most people get angry at least a few times a week. That’s perfectly normal, say psychologists.

What’s not normal is intense anger that happens more frequently and lasts longer than the brief irritation most of us occasionally feel. Other warning signs include physical aggression, nasty responses and problems with your relationships, job or health as a result of your temper.

Therapy can help. Psychologists use three basic strategies to treat anger:

  • Relaxation. Psychologists train patients in a technique called “progressive relaxation” until they’re able to relax simply by thinking of a particular word or image.

    Psychologists then ask patients to spend a minute or two thinking intensely about a situation that makes them excessively angry, such as other drivers going too slow. Psychologists then help patients relax.

    Psychologists and patients practice this sequence over and over again. After about eight sessions, patients are typically able to relax on their own.

  • Cognitive therapy. Often the way people think when they’re angry makes situations worse. When another driver cuts you off, for instance, you might think, “You idiot! Everyone’s trying to make me late today!”

    In cognitive therapy, psychologists help patients find alternative ways of thinking about and reacting to anger. Instead of thinking bad thoughts about the other driver, for example, you could think instead, “Whoa! That was an accident waiting to happen.”

  • Skill development. Learning new behaviors can also help. Parents might need to find better ways of communicating with their children, for instance. Angry drivers might benefit from learning safe driving skills.

Combining all three approaches seems to work best, say researchers.