Could you, or some of your clients benefit from a method of anger management?
If yes, you may be interested in the powerful HEArt Program developed by Howard Lipke, Ph.D. It is a unique anger prevention system that he developed based upon his work with Veterans.
This post will provide you with a few key take-aways about the HEArt program based upon Dr. Lipke’s book entitled: Don’t I Have the Right to Be Angry?: The HEArt Program for Veterans and Others Who Want to Prevent Destructive Anger [affiliate link]. In addition, Dr. Lipke has stopped by below and answered a few clarifying questions! Also, make sure to listen to Dr. Nancy Smyth’s wonderful interview with Dr. Lipke on InSocialWork!
HEArt Program = Hidden Emotion Articulation program
The basic premise is that we often use anger as a defense to avoid experiencing another hidden emotion.
People who have been in terrifying, traumatic situations might have their fear closer to the surface and thus their anger is closer to the surface, ready to block them from experiencing it.
One of the key exercises to managing anger, or preventing an angry occurrence in the future is to:
- Notice [I’m getting angry/this type of event is likely to make me angry] and pause.
- Ask yourself: What am I worried about? (Am I being reminded about something from the past?)
- Try to detect underlying emotion (fear, worry, sadness)
- Use new knowledge to engage in [more] productive action
In essence, once you discover the reason for why your anger is trying to distract you from the uncomfortable emotion, it no longer has a reason for existence and thus your anger is no longer there (or the wind has been taken out of its sail, so to speak).
That said, you may also have the experience where after you uncovered the underlying [uncomfortable] emotion which your anger tried to block, that you may still be feeling angry. This will mean that you need to engage in some more sleuthing to figure out what additional (uncomfortable) emotion is being hidden.
If you find yourself struggling to detect the underlying emotion to your anger, please check out the graphic below for additional detail, and consider reading a few of the helpful examples or additional exercises that Dr. Lipke provides in his book (or consulting with a therapist).
One caveat I should add is that the HEArt method is far more effective as an anger prevention method vs. one for “on the spot” management. Hence, Dr. Lipke recommends its use as prevention, in anticipation of a triggering event. This is due to the amount of thought that needs to go into the process, and that the process of looking for hidden emotions might in itself cause problems with managing the unwanted anger that has arisen.
Lastly, I highly recommend Dr. Lipke’s book for both clinicians working to help their clients in anger prevention, as well as for social workers and other individuals seeking to improve their own abilities at self-regulation.
To illustrate the effectiveness of this method, I will share with you my personal reaction to this book. I found this approach so powerful and meaningful that it led me to set the book aside for a few months (so as to avoid it and the emotions it was evoking in me).
For me, the aha moment was vis a vis one of the book’s illustrations used to explain the connection (or circle) between shame and anger and this helped me better understand why a particular relative of mine had suffered from a short temper.
On the one hand, I felt more compassionate towards the relative but on the other hand, I felt anger as a response to having been the occasional recipient of this person’s outbursts, and as this model so beautifully explains, the emotion behind my anger was of discomfort (fear and worry of what may come next from the past). Wanting to avoid experiencing this, I put aside this book and the process of writing this post took much longer than I had intended.
This suggests to me that this is a book that you too may want to read over time, in order to allow yourself to fully absorb its wisdom and see how and where it may apply to you/your life.
And now, moving onto the exchange with Dr. Lipke!
Howard Lipke, Ph.D.
Howard, For some people, finding the hidden emotion behind the anger may be difficult. If asking “what am I worried about?” or “what am I in danger of losing?” doesn’t help clarify what the hidden emotion is, what other activities or questions may help?
It is difficult for most people, especially the people who need and want the anger prevention work the most to find the underlying emotion. The book is my best effort to make it a little easier, but it is still a difficult process. I try for, but don’t expect complete success. Working on this with a therapist can be very helpful.
In your book, you recommend mindfulness as one activity/skill to assist with painful emotions that come up. Could practicing a mindfulness meditation also be used to discover the emotion behind the anger?
Yes, mindfulness can help with that and lots of things.
In your experience, approximately many times does a person need to employ this skill of looking for anger’s underlying emotion before it starts to become a habit?
I have presented HEArt for 20 years or more at an inpatient VA PTSD program. Sometimes people come back to the program for “booster” visits. Also, graduates sometimes attend the meeting as outpatients.
I can’t give a number, but for those whom it makes sense, after 12 or so sessions (combined with all the other treatment they are getting, of course), vets would sometimes say the message comes up spontaneously and helpfully. This is not to mention that many find it immediately helpful, but not a habit.
Sometimes, explaining to people the connection between their thoughts, feelings and actions (as in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) can be helpful in anger management. When, if at all, would you find it useful to combine the HEArt method of anger prevention along with CBT?
One of the problems in our field, and maybe everywhere, is that there is a strong pull to categorize exclusively. In mental health, we have our alphabet collection of therapies that often get talked about as mutually exclusive.
From the start of the HEArt book, I try to get across the four basic ways of dealing with destructive anger. Number 3 is the basic lesson of CBT.
I try to get people to use the identification of the underlying emotion as a way to prevent the unwanted anger action, and then to lead back to the rethinking of the situation. The two basic cognitive (CBT, if you will) questions are “Is the situation what you think it is?” and “Is the anger action worth it?”
So, to answer your question “Would I find it useful…?”, I think I already do combine them. Though, my incorporation might not be sufficient to meet some standards.
You might be interested in the integrative model of psychotherapy at my web site HowardLipke.com. It is called the Four Activity Model (it has initials, FAM) of psychotherapy. Its guts are in a paper there and it is a little more elaborated in my book EMDR and Psychotherapy Integration.
Thanks so much, Howard, for giving us this introduction to your HEArt program!
Below is a graphic summarizing the HEArt Anger Program’s Key Take-Away’s:
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received one copy of the book mentioned above for free in the hope that I would mention it on my blog. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”