Swedish researchers studying anger say it appears there is a pent-up need for anger management and that an internet-based treatment can work.

Scientists from the Centre for Psychiatry Research at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden, had to close its recruitment site after a few weeks because there was so much demand for help with anger issues.

“It is usually very difficult to recruit participants for treatment studies. For the anger study, however, it was very easy,” said Johan Bjureberg, an assistant professor at the center.

The study included 234 participants, all of whom had significant anger problems. The participants were each randomly assigned to four weeks of either mindful emotion awareness, cognitive reappraisal or a combination of these two strategies, delivered online.

“Many people who have problems with anger feel ashamed, and we think the internet format suits this group particularly well because they don’t have to wait in a reception room or sit face-to-face with a therapist and talk about their anger,” Bjureberg said in an institute news release.

Mindful emotion awareness is focused on the ability to notice and accept one’s feelings and thoughts without any judgment and without acting on them. Cognitive reappraisal involves focusing on the ability to reinterpret thoughts and situations and identify alternative thoughts that don’t trigger difficult feelings.

Combination therapy was most effective, though all options were associated with decreased self-reported anger and aggressiveness by the end of the treatment.

Participants had significantly lower levels of outward anger expression, aggression and anger rumination after the combined treatment, compared to either treatment alone. They did not have anger suppression.

For those experiencing particularly high levels of anger at the start of the study, the combination treatment was especially effective.

This study strengthens existing theories that hold that difficulty regulating emotions and interpreting events is a major contributing factor to problems in managing anger.

“Our results suggest that a very short treatment of only four weeks administered over the internet with minimal therapist support is effective in reducing anger problems. Our hope is that follow-up studies support this finding and that the treatment can be offered broadly within regular care,” Bjureberg said.

The findings were published recently in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology. Researchers at Örebro University in Sweden collaborated on the study.

More information

The American Psychological Association has more on anger management.

SOURCE: Karolinska Institute, news release, Dec. 12, 2022