March 20, 2007 — Psychologists agree: Show business is a high stress job, one that greatly reduces a person's ability to manage small irritations.
Now, as a number of showbiz headliners experience public temper tantrums, some are taking anger management classes to get a handle on their emotions and avoid legal consequences.
For big time stars, fighting with invasive paparazzi is one thing — in certain situations it could even be considered self-defense. But attacking the general public when things aren't going your way is quite another.
This week, British supermodel Naomi Campbell is doing community service coupled with two days of anger management classes in New York to avoid trial on a second-degree felony assault charge.
Campbell risked deportation after she threw a jewel-encrusted Nokia cell phone at her maid's head; the maid was hospitalized. If her charge had gone to trial, she would have faced a sentence of up to seven years in prison.
Breenzy Fernandez, the director of the one-day anger management program run throughout the New York metropolitan area by Education & Assistance Corporation (EAC), says that it promotes responsible behavior in individuals arrested for crimes precipitated by anger.
"It is used as a sentencing alternative by the courts," she said, "and offers intervention with individuals who have responded with excessive aggression resulting in conflict-related offenses."
Over the last three months, rappers Foxy Brown and Busta Rhymes and TV stars Isaiah Washington ("Grey's Anatomy") and Jason Wahler (MTV's "The Hills" and "Laguna Beach: The Real Orange County") have all been ordered to attend anger management classes for terms ranging from two days to six months as an alternative to serving time behind bars.
Group-Structured Social Work
Fernandez would not confirm whether Campbell was taking the EAC's anger management course, but she did say that what happened in her program was probably similar to what the supermodel was experiencing.
The day begins at 9 a.m. with a group of 20 to 25 offenders along with a teacher and a social worker. Class members might be attending for anything from road rage to reckless behavior that involves an assault, Fernandez said.
"The group setting gives people the opportunity to discuss feelings and emotions. And the teacher and social worker ask the group questions that help them to work out how they could have addressed the situation in a different way," she said.
Psychologist Ari Novick, who runs the AJ Novick Group, has co-authored one of the most widely used curriculums for anger management programs in the country. He says that while the term "anger management" was coined in 1976, the field has really grown over the last five years.
Novick currently sees between 300 to 400 offenders sent to him by the courts.
Campbell Has Taken Classes Before, but Do They Work?
Of course, this isn't the first time Campbell has taken anger management classes — in 1998, she pleaded guilty in Toronto to assaulting another employee.
During an interview with Barbara Walters in June 2000, Campbell broke down and confessed: "Anger is a manifestation of a deeper issue. … And that, for me, is based on insecurity, self-esteem and loneliness. … I was really unhappy. I realized I was going to lose the people who really loved me if I didn't find out what was making me do the things I did."
Despite taking anger management courses at a rehab clinic in Arizona after the 1998 offense, she has repeatedly been accused of abusing other hired help.
Her alleged inability to harness her emotions raises the question that perennially faces that industry: Does anger management work?
"While small-scale studies and anecdotal reports show the programs have helped some people cope with stress, I haven't seen any studies that show anger management programs prevent crime," said Pamela S. Hollenhorst, associate director at the Institute for Legal Studies at the University of Wisconsin Law School. "Sending people to these programs as an alternative to jail does avoid additional jail crowding, so the programs work in the sense they avoid consuming scarce resources that could be used for more serious criminals."
But Novick believes the duration of the court-mandated classes is part of the problem, saying that just two days of anger management is "absurd."
"While there are still no conclusive studies to show that anger management works in the long term, we do know that a cognitive behavior approach has positive results," he said.
When it comes to determining how much anger management fits the crime, the responsibility rests with the judge.
"There are no state laws or federal laws governing anger management," Novick said. "That's why there's a discrepancy between the amount of time people should spend in a program."
So how much time should it take to let go of anger?
"It's really hard to absorb anything in two days, let alone something that should take eight to 10 weeks," Novick said. "Anger management programs are not psychotherapy, they're educational. They rely on participants learning a skill, practicing it in their lives and then returning the next week to discuss it. A good program should provide skills for stress management, empathy, assertiveness, forgiveness and better judgment. It should also address how better to manage expectations and self-talk."