Bibliotherapy for anger issues
'Bibliotherapy' is an important part of cognitive therapy, either to run alongside a course of therapy or as a self-help tool. I often recommend books to my clients, partly because there is only so much time in a session, so it's much more useful for them to read up about their particular issue and for us to discuss their findings next week. But I also find that many people like to understand why they might be having problems and find their own strategies for solving them – another important idea in cognitive therapy, because ultimately I am trying to help my clients to be their own therapist.
In this series of posts, I am going to recommend some of the best books for a number of topics: depression, anxiety, mindfulness, compassion, stress, anger issues, eating disorders and low self-esteem. In this second installment, I will focus on problems with anger. The idea is that you can read one or all of these books, depending on which appeal to you. You can also read the whole book or dip in to the chapters that seem most relevant to you.
1. Overcoming Anger and Irritability: A Self-help Guide Using Cognitive Behavioral Techniques, by William Davies. Part of the excellent Overcoming... series, this is designed as a CBT workbook, which you can use either instead of or alongside a course of cognitive therapy. As with any issue in CBT, problems with anger (either struggling to express or control it) are seen as a consequence of unhelpful thoughts and beliefs. So if you change the way you think, you will change the way you feel and behave.
CBT is proven to be an excellent tool for tackling unhealthy anger, with plenty of good-quality research confirming its effectiveness. This book is easy to read; packed with useful information about why we develop anger problems and how to overcome them; and provides a step-by-step programme of exercises to tackle your own problematic anger. And at just £9.99, it's a fair bit cheaper than a course of CBT too!
2. The Compassionate Mind Guide to Managing Your Anger, by Russell L Kolts. I am currently reading – and thoroughly enjoying – this warm, wise and helpful book, so can strongly recommend it. Kolts is an American clinical psychologist specialising in anger issues, with vast experience of working with groups such as prisoners, for whom destructive anger is clearly a major problem. He draws on Paul Gilbert's compassion-focused therapy (in which I am currently training) to explain the evolutionary/psychological basis of anger, especially its role in protecting us from threats, either real or perceived.
As Buddhists have known for 2,500 years, compassion is a wonderful antidote to anger, aggression, hostility and hatred – a fact that is increasingly recognised by Western mental health professionals. Learning to treat ourselves and others with greater kindness, compassion and tolerance is a major step on the road to reducing the destructive impact of anger on our lives. If you only read one of these books, I would choose this one, as it is both profound and a pleasure to read.
3. The Superstress Solution, by Roberta Lee MD. Don't let the title throw you off – I have included this book in both the anger and stress sections of my bibliotherapy course, because anger and stress and often inextricably linked. Think of it this way: if you are prone to irritability, remember how you felt after your last holiday. I'm guessing that all the little things that normally drive you to distraction didn't seem like such a big deal – and you probably dealt with them without becoming in the least bit cross or frustrated. Why? Because you had de-stressed and were relaxed, so your levels of patience and what's known as 'frustration tolerance' were far higher than in your pre-holiday, stressed-out state.
That's why, if you have a problem with anger, managing your stress levels is extremely important. Dr Lee is an integrative physician who takes a holistic approach to reducing the stress levels many of us suffer from in our always-on, over-stimulated, over-caffeinated, under-rested modern world. Covering everything from diet and exercise to meditation and lifestyle changes, this is a wonderfully clear, sensible and helpful book. Follow her advice and both your stress and anger levels should reduce significantly.