This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
It is highly likely, if you have been the cause of domestic violence, assault, public fighting, road rage, or child abuse that you will receive a sentence from the judge requiring you to enroll in and take an "anger management" class.
It is time we admit taking these classes is a total waste of time for all concerned. They are designed to make the victims and the community believe the problems have now been addressed or solved.
Common sense (the world's most used oxymoron) will tell you this is not possible. Solving aggressive behavior with an anger management class just does not and cannot happen.
Why not? Here are the reasons:
First, people do not change their behavior because someone forces them to attend a class. If they follow through with the judge's order and do attend, they do so grudgingly. We have just made them more angry! They resent being in the class and it becomes an agitating experience, to say the least. I dare you to teach someone who does not want to learn!
Second, anger is a very complex emotion, because its expression is the result of a more basic emotion. For example, frustration causes anger, fear causes anger, embarrassment causes anger, loneliness causes anger, depression, mourning, loss, abuse all can cause anger in humans. Illness, sleeplessness, hunger can cause anger. So how can an instructor in an anger management class have the time and the training to determine what is fueling the individual's anger and causing him/her to act out? Focusing on anger does not get to the heart of the problem.
Again, anger management classes do nothing except make the individual more angry.
Third, nobody has the power to change another human being ... never has happened. The individual has to recognize what is fueling the anger and then decide if they want to do all the work involved in changing. And hard work it is! Have you ever tried to quit a bad habit? If so, you know of what I speak.
Fourth, change takes time, effort, patience and a healthy support system. I doubt these essential ingredients are part of anger management classes. There is not enough time. The individual is not willing to change yet. How could there be any patience involved in a two hour class? And, are there going to be many classes and a support system available? If so, who follows up?
Fifth, the individual does not yet see the need for any intervention. They usually do not see themselves as perpetrators. They blame the victim and the system and can hardly wait to get "even."
How do they change? Through a long process of learning who they are, admitting who they are, admitting what they do is wrong, and desiring a change from within. They change themselves!
So, I do not know whose idea it was to instigate anger management classes as the proper punishment for perpetrators, but it is an idea that holds no water and helps no one. It gives a false sense of security to those who are victims and who fear becoming the next victim. If we really want to rehabilitate the perpetrators of violence, we need to set up appropriate programs that give hope to the victims, community, law enforcement and the perpetrators and their families. We should not lie to them that we believe we are "fixing" the problem. Do we want to keep living in fear! Why don't we change this awful charade?
Mary K. Hammond, MSW, is a former parenting trainer for the Utah State Office of Education and a former lobbyist for Utah State PTA.