Getting a Grip on Roadway Anger
The students were assigned to attend eight therapy sessions -- either
relaxation or cognitive relaxation therapy, both common methods for treating
anxiety, stress, and anger.
Relaxation therapy "works on the notion you can be really angry and
really calm at the same time," says Deffenbacher. "A great number of
people get all hot-headed, physically angry and charged up. But if they could
calm down, they would think [the situation] through more calmly."
Each student was taught basic techniques of relaxation: tensing and
releasing the muscles, and deep breathing. This was followed by sessions in
which they visualized "road rage" situations while a therapist prompted
them to control their reactions.
The cognitive-relaxation group got the same type of relaxation interventions
along with work on anger-provoking thought processes.
"For example, let's say you cut me off in traffic," Deffenbacher
says. "I'm thinking, 'Crazy [woman], she shouldn't be allowed on the road.
This is awful, I'm going to run over her.' That's a very angering way to think
about it. Instead, I could think, ''Wow, she almost hit me. Back off, Jerry;
let her have her accident somewhere else. Just chill out and let her go down
"Those are two very different thought patterns, even though your
behavior is identical in those examples," he tells WebMD. "We help
people identify the thought patterns that take a bad situation and make it
The study showed that the two types of interventions were nearly equally
effective. "They don't make people absolutely anger-free but they do reduce
the frequency and intensity of anger," Deffenbacher says.
People must want to change, or none of it will work, Deffenbacher says. He
advises anyone who wants to change angry behaviors -- whether or not they are
related to driving -- to check the yellow pages for therapists who deal with
stress and anxiety issues. "In the mental health profession, anger has not
been identified as a diagnosable condition," he says.
Deffenbacher, whose work is funded by the CDC and the National Institute on
Drug Abuse, is now studying the effects of treatment on students who drink and
The paper is very interesting but preliminary, says Richard Wetzel, PhD,
professor of medical psychiatry and psychology at Washington University School
of Medicine in St. Louis. He tells WebMD that in some respects, the studies are
unrealistic. "These are not real patients; these are students from a
psychology class ? people who are bright, they're willing to admit that have a
problem, they have insight into it. ? They haven't been referred by the courts
for treatment, which is very different."
"These [relaxation] therapies are helpful in that they make people feel
like someone is dealing with them," Mitchell H. Messer, MA, LPC, who
established the Anger Clinic in Chicago three decades ago, tells WebMD.
However, Messer adds that "these are people whose anger issues have not
been dealt with for 19 years."