Manage Anger with Cognition

By ACS Distance Education on September 29, 2014 in Psychology | comments

Cognitive behavioural therapy may be described as a form of psychotherapy based upon behavioural therapy. It involves behavioural therapy techniques such as re-learning and modification of behaviours which have been extended to target cognitive processes. It is argued that what a person believes about the things they do and their reasons for doing them are just as important as actually doing them. CBT focuses on current events rather than past ones. For example, the CBT counsellor is more interested in why a person continues to think and believe in a certain way which causes anger problems than they are in what happened earlier in the person's life that may have produced anger. That said, early experiences can be explored to some extent to put problems in a historical context. 

The relationship between the CBT counsellor and the client is also very important. Indeed, many emotional problems might be expressed through this relationship and so the CBT counsellor needs to carefully monitor their relationship with the client. The counsellor does not seek to instruct the client so as to change their beliefs for them, but tries to help the client to identify and modify their own self-destructive beliefs. The counsellor is directive and actively involved, but the client is also expected to be involved in a collaborative therapeutic alliance.  

It should be noted that CBT can take years to master but this lesson outlines principles involved in the use of CBT both generally and as applied to anger problems. CBT employs basic counselling skills and so some understanding or experience of them is beneficial. 
Most people who seek counselling for anger problems, or any other emotional problem, because they have decided that there is a problem in the way they think. Nevertheless, self-destructive beliefs are often a main reason for their problems. Examples of self-destructive beliefs are thoughts such as 'I must be perfect' or 'If I stuff something up it shows I'm useless'. CBT involves cognitive restructuring. Irrational (maladaptive or self-destructive) beliefs are modified into rational (adaptive or constructive) beliefs. CBT seeks to change the way a person evaluates or interprets an event. It is assumed that if a person's negative beliefs are persistent or extreme then this can lead to an emotional disorder. CBT works on the premise that events (antecedents: A) such as a certain situation lead to consequences (C) which may be behavioural or emotional. An individual's beliefs (B) determine their emotional consequences.  This is often summarised as the ABC model.

A (Antecedents)  Environment/Event
affected by ,,,
B (Beliefs)   Inferences/Evaluations
leading to ...
C (Consequences) Emotions/Behaviours

Antecedents can also include memories, thoughts about future events, or even the emotion itself. 

The early proponents of CBC were Aaron Beck (1976) and Albert Ellis (1963). Beck suggested that we have 'automatic thoughts' which drift into consciousness. If these were unrealistic and negative then they can result in an emotional disorder. The type of thoughts determine the disorder e.g. angry thoughts would result in anger problems. Ellis called faulty thoughts 'irrational beliefs'. These are in the form of demands, musts, oughts, and shoulds which prevent a person from attaining their goals. Ellis (1977) named three types of major irrational beliefs as follows:

  • I 'must' do well and be approved of by others otherwise I am useless/worthless.
  • Others 'must' treat me with consideration and kindness in the way I want them to, otherwise they should be blamed and punished.
  • Life 'must' give me what I want quickly and easily and not give me anything I don't want.

According to Ellis and Bernard (1985) these irrational beliefs lead to three types of self-defeating thoughts present in individuals with emotional disorders:

  • I am worthless because...
  • It is awful that
  • I hate it that..

Cognitive behavioural therapy does not seek to prevent a client from feeling angry, rather it aims to change the way a client responds to feeling angry. To this end, the idea is to enable the client to experience some annoyance or non-demanding anger which is considered appropriate in the circumstances. They do this by learning to appraise the harm which they might incur in a non-damning or accusatory manner. By evaluating the harm done in a realistic way, the client is able to analyse why something happened and thereby avoid encountering the same frustrations again. If they were to focus on blaming others for causing their frustration they would be more likely to be concerned with getting their own back which is obviously a more destructive approach.

Therefore, CBT assumes that:

  • The client's emotions and behaviour are governed by their thinking
  • Emotional disorders result from unrealistic thinking
  • Modifying unrealistic thinking can reduce emotional disturbances.