Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Client Motivation and Anger Management

One of the most common questions asked of me when people sign up for anger management classes is "will taking an anger management class work?". The answer to that question is complex. Anger management is educational in nature and is aimed at teaching skills in changing thinking and behavior.

There are many ways to change behavior, and I do not want to attempt to explain behavior modificaton in this blog entry. Motivation to change is critical to learn almost any new skill. If ones motivation is low or even adverse to learning, the liklyhood of gaining that skill is severely limited, regardless of how good the information is or how it is presented.

When I was around 9 years old, my parents forced me to take violin lessons. When I say "forced", I simply mean, I wanted to take guitar lessons and violin was about as exciting to me and counting hay in a barn. My violin teacher had been trained at Julliard and was a concert violinist. After several months of lessons, and a failed violin recital, my parents were convinced that there must be a problem with the way I was being taught. I knew, deep down, that I just didn't want to learn and had no interest in playing violin. Years later, I did take up the guitar, and without lessons became a fairly accomplished guitar player on my own. Highly motivated, and passionate about becoming a great guitar player, I practiced, and gained new skills.

Learning skills in anger management is fairly similar. You must first be motivated to change. You must be able to recognize that there are things you are doing that aren't working well and have a desire to want to learn a new and hopefully improved way to approaching people and situations. Anger management is a skill. Attending classes will not, in of itself, create change. You must be motivated to change and practice what you are learning.

Anger management classes can help, if a couple of key elements exist. The is not an exclusive list, but some of the most important in my 4 years of experience teaching:

1. The content is quality, and the interventions are proven to be effective
2. The information is presented by a trained professional in anger management
3. There is a client workbook and a set curriculum and agenda for each class
4. The participant is coming because they want to learn and make positive changes in their life. An unmotivated client is less apt to change.
5. The client practices the skills being taught. Passive attendance and passive participation does not lend itself to change.
6. Client trust with the facilitator. While motivation to change is key, I have also found that participants who actually trust and enjoy who is teaching find themselves more apt to participate and change
7. Encouragement from loved ones, family members, co-workers and others who see the changes happening before their eyes. As change occurs, others will notice.

Anger management is not magic. Learning skills in anger management takes motivation, practice and patience. If you come with an open mind and a willingness to change, you will learn skills to improve you relationships.

Ari Novick, Ph.D., LMFT
Founder, AJ Novick Group- Anger Management