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Dr. Raymond “Chip” Tafrate: Anger Management

Fallout from anger episodes, when they are intense, frequent, and persistent, leaves lives in shambles. Careers are lost, relationships shattered, and behaviors become self-destructive. Surprisingly, for such a basic primitive drive, until recently little scientific exploration had been done to aid clinicians to help clients with debilitating anger problems, says Dr. Raymond “Chip” Tafrate, associate professor of criminology and criminal justice. “I was disappointed by the scarcity of scientific literature available in the early ’90s when I was a doctoral candidate in clinical and school psychology at Hofstra University.”

Now, Anger Management: The Complete Treatment Guidebook for Practitioners (2002, Impact Publishers, Inc.), co-authored by Tafrate and his former Hofstra advisor Howard Kassinove, provides answers and avenues for treating angry patients. “This is a unique guidebook,” explains Tafrate, “because there are no other anger management how-to-books for practitioners at this time.” With practical, but powerful, strategies for interventions, the book, Tafrate said, is research based and empirically validated and “is the outgrowth of 10 years of research.” Its core concerns: Who are angry people? How can they be helped? It provides clinicians tools so patients can analyze their anger triggers, negative appraisals, experiences, patterns of expression, and their outcomes.

The authors conducted specific treatment studies at Hofstra and at CCSU with subjects being recruited through newspaper advertisements and also referred by courts to anger management programs. “Our treatment studies looked at interventions not tried before, and we reviewed the scientific treatment outcome literature to determine which interventions were effective,” explains Tafrate.

“By comparing high- and low-trait anger adults, we discovered that angry people think differently, tend to have more distortions, experience stronger internal arousal, and more commonly use negative verbalizations towards others. Outcomes they experienced were damaged relationships, substance abuse, and arrests,” comments Tafrate.

The book illuminates how clients can increase their awareness of anger episodes and focus on change processes to assess and increase insights and motivation for change. “Many clients are unaware of situations or triggers that set off their anger episodes, and unaware of how their actions are perceived,” says Tafrate. “They may not link other behaviors, such as excessive shopping, gambling, drinking, or procrastination, to their anger.”

Change strategies involve avoidance, when possible, of anger-evoking situations; managing physical arousal by teaching clients relaxation techniques to use prior to, or during, anger episodes; and building life skills. Tafrate notes, “Sometimes anger can be reduced by increasing actual competence on the job, in parenting, or in communicating more effectively with a partner; or a client can be taught to use helpful verbal responses in an aversive situation to dampen conflict and tension.”

An important goal is to “create a philosophical view which increases the client’s capacity to accept, adapt, adjust, and cope, even if the anger trigger was negative and intentional and could have been avoided,” according to Tafrate. One of the most interesting change strategies involves forgiveness. To seethe, ruminate, and seek revenge on the target of anger is harmful, but “forgiveness leads to a future orientation, to growth, and ultimately a happier life.”

Relapse prevention prepares clients to rebound when anger episodes reappear. “We want to convince people to persevere by showing them that their angry reactions and behaviors do not get them what they want. Many high-anger people are more likely to be imprisoned, routinely damage social relationships, disrupt career prospects, and develop health-related problems.”

How to Control Your Anger Before It Controls You—A Self-Help Book

A popular self-help book Tafrate co-authored with the eminent founder of Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT), Dr. Albert Ellis, is titled How to Control Your Anger Before It Controls You (1997, Carol Publishing Group). The breakthrough precepts of REBT serve as the means to rewire rage and to use assertiveness instead of anger to live more serenely in an often difficult and unfair world.

“The book attempts to help people discover their rage-creating beliefs and to teach them to focus on ways to think themselves out of anger,” said Tafrate. “For example, some people have a low frustration tolerance and can be trained to think and act differently to change negative patterns of behavior. A mother on the verge of shaking her shrieking baby may be thinking ‘this baby shouldn’t cry so much and I can’t take it anymore.’ We want her to change her thoughts to ‘some babies cry more than others. I can get through this.’” Further, problem-solving interventions show readers how to think in terms of multiple potential options to cope with a situation. “We try to get people to think about consequences,” Tafrate explains. “In this case, the shaken baby could become brain damaged, even die. So, the mother, made aware of this, must consider other options, check for physical causes of the crying, or call a friend or doctor for advice, perhaps hire a baby sitter.”

One way of thinking oneself out of anger is through a cognitive procedure for examining and uprooting angry thoughts and feelings called Disputing through Debating one’s Irrational Beliefs. Instructions and exercises are included on self-monitoring forms embedded throughout the book to help readers to challenge and eliminate angry reactions.

Widening the Breadth of Anger Research

Tafrate’s writings on disorders commonly found in criminal justice settings and on the nature and treatment of anger have been published in scores of scientific journals and books for practitioners. This year he has expanded his research to another neglected topic: screening/assessment of individuals with anger problems. He and colleague Dr. Raymond DiGiuseppe, in the Psychology Department at St. John’s University, Jamaica, NY, have published an Anger Disorder Scale. The questionnaire and manual were created as an instrument not only to describe the clinical nature of a person’s anger problems, but also to guide intervention.

Tafrate is working on anger profiles of offenders, examining for example if spouse abusers have different anger patterns than substance abusers. Tafrate and colleague Dr. Damon Mitchell, assistant professor of criminology and criminal justice, are also developing a Criminal Thinking Scale.

Knowledge of anger treatment is still developing, and Chip Tafrate is forging into that frontier on a search for much-needed scientific guidance.

— Geri Radacsi

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