ANGER ON MY MIND

Taming Rage

Posted on: September 4, 2007

Anger-management firms get a steady stream of clients. A therapist from one Gardena company will be on a TV show this week.

By Sandy Mazza
Staff Writer, Southbay Daily Breeze

When his girlfriend told him that her stepfather hit her, Gary raced to the man’s house to confront him.

Filled with rage, he throttled the older man until friends pulled them apart. Police were called, and Gary was arrested on suspicion of assault.

A judge sentenced him to probation and 10 anger-management counseling sessions.

Gary’s inability to control his anger may be a difficult personal struggle for him, but for the men and women who operate anger-management programs, it is part of a very profitable cottage industry.

For his sentence, Gary chose to visit Daybreak Counseling Service in Gardena. He joined five other court-appointed participants for the session.

They spent an hour talking about their anger, and the problems it created, in the warm second-floor office in downtown Gardena.

Gary said his anger problems are going to take a lot of work to fix.

“I don’t think (this class) is going to be enough,” said Gary, who didn’t give his last name. “I haven’t been able to control myself very much. … I can’t even think when I get angry. That day (during the fight), people were grabbing me. I told them I was OK just so I could leave and fight the guy again.”

Unlike domestic violence prevention programs, anger-management counseling is not regulated by any government agency. Anyone with the motivation can start a program and charge any fee.

But when people lose their temper, the man they’re most likely to deal with is George Anderson. Anderson – the founder of Anderson & Anderson Anger Management program – has a near monopoly on the county’s programs. When judges order convicted criminals to attend anger-management programs, they give them a list of programs certified by Anderson.

Anderson is a psychotherapist and an expert in domestic violence prevention and anger management. He provides counseling at offices in Lawndale and Brentwood. But the majority of his business is training other anger-management providers.

Anderson trained Shannon Munford, who then founded Daybreak Counseling Service, where he hands out Anderson’s 120-page anger-management guide, “Gaining Control of Ourselves,” to all of his clients.

Munford opened the program about six years ago, and now has five locations in the county, including the Gardena office.

A therapist from his company will appear on the premiere episode of the “Decision House” TV show on My Network TV Channel 13 at 8 p.m. Wednesday. During the episode, the counselor works with a feuding couple. The future of their relationship will be decided during the show.

At Daybreak’s Thursday meeting, clients discussed the issue affecting the couple that will appear on the TV show – how uncontrolled anger can ruin intimate relationships.

A man named Freddie said his girlfriend broke up with him after he had an outburst of rage. He was ordered to take anger-management classes by a judge because he resisted arrest when the couple were arguing.

“I had a pretty good relationship with a girl,” Freddie said. “She went bye-bye. I realized being a jerk caused it.”

While they are a steady source of clients, court-ordered patients are only part of the clientele for anger-management programs.

Businesses often require employees to get counseling after they have emotional outbursts at work, and some people sign up for classes voluntarily, Anderson said.

Munford said he treats people who have been involved in a wide range of crimes.

He has treated a man who threatened to kill a cable company customer-service worker because he was upset with his service. Munford has counseled people who have become too harsh while disciplining their children. He has worked with gang members who were caught in minor fights with rivals. And one woman was sentenced to anger-management classes for yelling at an El Camino College parking-enforcement officer who she believed was only giving out tickets to white people.

“It’s kind of a catch-all sometimes,” said Munford, who is also a county probation officer and therapist. “Anger is always there. It’s always a part of a probationer’s criminal makeup. They’re angry about something.”

Munford said anger-management counseling doesn’t necessarily change the behavior of his clients – especially those who are ordered to attend.

“It’s kind of similar to traffic school,” Munford said. “Once they complete it, they completed it. But they may get back on the road and be a bad driver.”

His clients pay a $45 registration fee and $30 per class.

Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Robert Schnider, who supervises the court’s family law division, said he believes anger-management classes rarely motivate people to change their behavior.

“I know there are people who go through it, and it’s meaningless to them,” Schnider said. “There are a lot of people who start the classes but don’t finish – 10 percent to 20percent. But then I know people whose lives are turned around by it. It depends on why you’re going and what your attitude is.”

Shanee Potter, 22, of Los Angeles, completed 14 anger-management sessions at Daybreak Counseling Service last year. She voluntarily signed up for the program after she was arrested on suspicion of stabbing her ex-boyfriend’s new girlfriend five times with a steak knife.

She said the class taught her ways to divert her angry thoughts and feelings.

“I just really wanted to hurt him,” Potter said. “I would think about hitting him upside the head with a frying pan. Then I would get upset when I tried to apply for a job and they denied me” because of the felony conviction for the stabbing.

“I learned that when I get upset, I just have to move on and keep trying. I try to stay busy, work out, or look for another job.”

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