Though there is a wealth of evidence supporting the value of therapy in addressing problematic anger, recent research in Behaviour Research and Therapy suggests that the brief-term therapy model often used in criminal justice settings may not work with violent offenders. The intervention under study consisted of 20 total hours (10 sessions, 2 hours each) with three modules defined in the article as understanding anger, understanding thinking, feeling, and doing, and managing and expressing anger. The results of the study indicated that while participants did better understand anger and its impact, they did not see a meaningful decrease in the experience of anger.
One of the study’s three authors, Dr. Andrew Day, identified two important points to take from this work. “The first is that not all violent offences and violent offenders are the same and that it is important to conduct an individual assessment of the causes and consequences of violence before recommending anger management.” He points out that “some violent offences such as armed robbery are often unrelated to anger regulation problems and as such the routine referral of violent offenders to anger management programs is unlikely to be a particularly effective strategy”. The second point, he says, is that “violent offenders may not respond well to this particular type of treatment. They may for example require longer in treatment given the multiple needs that offenders often experience (e.g., co-occurring mental health and substance use issues), and may have beliefs about themselves, others and the world that have developed since childhood and are, therefore, difficult to change.”
Dr. Day is quick to point out, however, that anger management programs work for most people. Likewise, he believes we should not give up on the notion of rehabilitation. “In my view it is possible to work constructively with these individuals to help them understand the causes of their behavior and to resolve conflict in ways that do not involve violence.” He says “there is a real need to develop better rehabilitation programs for offenders given that criminal justice responses that are based on punishment and deterrence are unlikely by themselves to lead to behavior change.”
If you have any questions for Dr. Day, he can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Ryan C. Martin