Is it possible to overcome the typical oppositional response of a client with anger issues? When they yell, lash out, or blame you for their problems, it can put even the most capable of therapists in a tricky situation.
But according to Ron Potter-Efron, clinical psychologist and expert in working with the “angry brain,” therapists can create a brain-change plan with their angry clients, getting them out of the mode responsible for their outbursts.
The first step, Potter-Efron says, is defusing reactivity by “building a bridge” from the response of the “old brain” to the “new brain.” In this video clip with Networker Editor Rich Simon, Potter-Efron explains how it’s done.
Angry clients, Potter-Efron writes in his Networker article, “arrive at your office with a shotgun at their backs, so to speak,” pressured to attend therapy by spouses, friends, or bosses. “No wonder they feel powerless,” he continues. “They’re being coerced to lay down their anger, the only weapon they’ve ever had against feelings of powerlessness.” Anger, he says, is the only emotion these clients can trust—one they’ve likely used since childhood to respond to danger, trauma, shaming, and pain.
Using Potter-Efron’s approach, you can actually channel anger productively in order to repair and rebuild bonds between partners, understand the psychobiology of intense emotion, including tears, and help angry clients rewire their brains.
Richard Simon, PhD, founded Psychotherapy Networker and served as the editor for more than 40 years. He received every major magazine industry honor, including the National Magazine Award. Rich passed away November 2020, and we honor his memory and contributions to the field every day.
Ronald Potter-Efron, PhD, LICSW, CADCII is a clinical psychotherapist, director of the Anger Management Program at First Things First Counseling and Consulting Center in Altoona, WI, and an internationally recognized anger expert. He has more than 30 years of clinical experience and in his private practice. He specializes in the treatment of individuals with severe aggression and domestic violence concerns. Ron is also author of 15 books, including Handbook of Anger Management (for professional readers); Angry All the Time; Letting Go of Anger and Letting Go of Shame (both with Patricia Potter-Efron), and Healing The Angry Brain (New Harbinger, 2012).