We have certain unquestioned societal responses to problems people encounter that lead them into trouble -- like anger management training and Alcoholics Anonymous. Wait a sec -- aren't those two things at opposite ends of the therapy spectrum?


The Stanton Peele Addiction Website, May 27, 2011. This blog post also appeared on Stanton's Addiction in Society blog at PsychologyToday.com.

"I Am Powerless Over My Anger"

What do you think the title of my blogpost refers to? It sounds like a note from a mass murderer in a Fritz Lang film, or like an entry in the secret diary of Jack the Ripper.

In any case, most of us would recoil upon hearing those words -- we certainly wouldn't let the person babysit our grandchildren!

But it's just a rumination I had thinking about using 12-step groups for anger management:

  • We admitted we were powerless over our anger.
  • Came to believe that only a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
  • Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.

A good plan? Maybe -- but our society has gone a totally different way for anger management -- it went CBT.

I Googled "anger management program," and the first non-commercial entry was this:

_______________'s anger management programs teach highly effective anger management skills and techniques for adolescents and adults [in which they learn]:

  • when their anger is harmful versus when it is beneficial
  • what triggers their anger
  • the five components of their personal anger sequence
  • how they typically respond when angry and the resulting consequences
  • alternate ways for expressing their anger more appropriately
  • strategies for managing their anger including self-talk, personal time-outs, problem solving, and relaxation techniques

Why it's CBT's and REBT's ABCs et al.  And EVERYONE knows a bit about these -- that you need to recognize the consequences of your customary angry reactions, to distinguish reasonable anger from excessive and dangerous outbursts, to identify situations and sequences ("triggers") that result in negative anger episodes, to avoid the former and reframe the latter, to insert space in anger-type situations so that you can develop better responses to them, and to visualize and practice these improved responses.

It ain't magic -- it's the applied psychology of the 21st Century. You know, all that we have learned and perfected around managing psychological-behavioral problems over the decades.

But not for substance abuse. ("They're singing songs of CBT, but not for addiction. . .")

If a substance is involved, throw that CBT baby -- and its bathwater -- out the window! We've got the 12 steps -- which were delivered by God to Moses, or Jesus, on that mountain (sorry, I'm a little weak in the religion department -- will I suffer a fate like Kanazawa if I repeat that joke: "Jesus saves; Moses invests"?).

Like with Mark Kerrigan, brother of Olympic skater Nancy Kerrigan, who was recently sentenced to two years for assault and battery of his 70-year-old father Daniel Kerrigan, who died as a result of the incident.

Judge S. Jane Haggerty also ordered Mark Kerrigan to take an anger management course and to attend Alcoholics Anonymous.

And, you see, this combination of CBT and Neolithic thinking strikes no one as strange (except for the folks at Stinkin' Thinkin' , who brought this case to my attention). Why, of course you learn cognitive-behavioral techniques for managing anger and go to AA for your powerlessness over alcohol. You don't know that?

I turn my anger over to the power of God - for only he can heal me.


P.S. Oh, there is that small Constitutional problem -- that the government isn't allowed to make people do God things -- that perhaps Judge Haggerty isn't aware of. Just like she apparently never heard of CBT -- or my Life Process Program -- for addiction. Here is the resolution for that which every state supreme court and federal appeals court that has ruled has come up with -- give the person a choice between AA and a CBT program. What will they think of next!  This resolution (a) makes ideal sense not only legally, but psychologically, (b) it is offered virtually nowhere in the country.

P.P.S. Which AA devotee opposes the choice route -- please write and let us know!  Judges, too, (this includes you Judge Haggerty) send in your objections.