Of all the work we do with individuals in the court system, court-ordered anger management assessments can be some of the most fascinating because there often is simply nothing to go on but one person’s word against another. Someone calls the police over a domestic disturbance of some kind. It could be a spouse/lover, a neighbor, or it could be a complete stranger observing someone behave in a way in public that they believe represents a threat to someone else. The police show up within the hour and make a judgment call as to whether someone is going to jail. Even with zero physical evidence of harm or threat, the officer is nearly always going to err on the side of caution and take someone away. Once that ball is rolling, the person charged has a process to go through before this will be put behind them.
The vast majority of individuals with a legal charge that we assist already have a plea bargain to disorderly conduct or a case dismissal arranged, pending an anger management assessment. In other words, the prosecutor (or judge) is willing to back down from the assault/DV but first, they want something from a mental health professional in the file to verify that the accused isn’t a danger to their family members or society.
How do we determine if someone needs anger management treatment?
First, we have the individual answer written questions on a screening designed to look for a few basic things – obvious problems with anger, subtle problems with anger, as well as a person’s willingness to recognize normal frustration and anger. Having angry feelings is a normal part of life. We expect people to experience anger and expect people to handle it in different ways. When people answer screenings as if they never experience anger, it only increases suspicion that they are either out of touch with normal frustrations or they are trying to conceal the fact that they are having problems controlling their anger.
The next part of a professional anger management assessment is a clinical interview. This is typically a 40-50 minute interview in-person or by phone or secure video conference. In the interview, we discuss some basic background (job satisfaction, health, family and living situation, etc.) and then we ask the individual to explain the incident that led to the legal charge (or perhaps workplace incident) that gave rise to the mandated anger management assessment. Once the interview is completed we go to work on a report that is written in a format that is meaningful to a court or an employer. It includes a diagnosis if there is one, or an explanation why we didn’t make a diagnosis. If there appears to be a diagnosable condition or the person is at risk for further incidents there will be recommendations made to remedy the underlying problem(s).
"There is no evidence, I can't believe I'm in this situation!"
The most surprising of our anger management evaluation cases involve people who are accused of violent behavior but with no evidence to support the accusation. No blood, no bruises, no scrapes, no video evidence…nothing but a complaint against one person by another person which an officer considers “probable cause”. That‘s pretty shocking but it can get worse. We see cases where individuals don’t even know they had a charge against them or an arrest warrant on file until months after the fact, often at a routine traffic stop. How does that happen? When the police show up after someone has left the scene, and then receive information suggesting a crime has been committed they ask a local judge to authorize an arrest warrant. The logic is that the person who left the scene is a potential threat to others and an arrest gives authorities a chance to investigate. Part of the deal with an arrest warrant is that there is no mandate for the court to notify you of the warrant.
Sometimes, the situation isn’t so one-sided. The altercation or incident may have been a workplace violation, where all it might take is a raised voice or inappropriate language used during a disagreement. In many cases that we get involved in, some evidence of a physical threat in a domestic situation does exist; a photo of a scratch mark, a bruise, a bloody lip, eyewitness accounts, etc. Regardless of the true story, authorities want the person “assessed” or “evaluated” for an anger management problem. This not only reduces the court or employer’s liability in the event of a future incident but it may help an individual who is having problems controlling their anger, to get real help before something worse happens. We may conclude at your anger management assessment that there is no basis to suggest you have problems controlling your anger. But if you are having a problem controlling your anger, we would be happy to help you find the help you need regardless of whether that help comes from using one of our local services or seeking help with another professional or support resource.