By George Anderson
Most major businesses and governmental organizations have Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) in place to provide assessment and referral, brief counseling or Critical Incidence Debriefing. Colleges and Universities have student counseling and Judicial Affairs for disruptive students. Educators as well as the community must come to terms with the reality of the ongoing problems of person-directed violence. In addition to the very real physical threat posed by such rampant violence, education and workplace civility is threatened. When fear is paramount in their minds, students cannot learn and teachers cannot teach. Many administrators, teachers, and parents feel a sense of hopelessness about the role of schools in combating violence, in which the emphasis has historically been on social control rather than improving the school climate. This approach has been unsuccessful in the workplace as well as schools despite increasing security such as metal detectors, permanent school and work place security officers, and zero tolerance. All of these services may work well in dealing with trauma but is limited in its usefulness for preventing conflict and violence which may impact job and/or academic performance. . Learning how to deal with aggression and hostility in nonviolent ways before violence becomes a stable personality trait is absolutely critical.
Crises counseling and/or Critical Incidenct Debriefing are specifically designed to deal with situations like accidents, violence, murder, death, robberies, bomb threats or suicide. Equally as important as dealing with workplace or school violence are anger management prevention programs which are less costly and far more effective in reducing the incidences of workplace conflicts, violence, accidents and sick day usage. Anger management is the most effective violence prevention intervention currently available.
In both the Virginia Tech Tragedy and the Murder Suicide at the Johnson Space Center in recent days demonstrate the need for proactive rather than reactive measures to prevent person-directed violence in the work or school environment.
Since anger is a secondary emotion which is generally preceded by stress, anxiety, depression or some other perceived threat, voluntary or mandated classes can be implemented to deal with stress related tension at work or on campus. In contrast to mental health interventions such as counseling, psychotherapy or hospitalization, anger management can be mandated based on aggressive behavior, intimidation or threats. One of the most successful such programs is currently being used by the United States Postal Service. For many years, “going postal” was used to describe the frequent violent incidents which occurred among postal workers.
Several years ago, the postal service introduced a ten session anger management course offered on-site, on the clock at no cost to the employee. When first introduced as a pilot, the program resulted in a reduction of sick day usage, dramatic decrease in workplace conflict, increase in morale, increase in production, decrease in accidents and a 226% increase in voluntary referrals to the Employee Assistance Program. In a population of 16,000 employees, the Postal Service saved 1.5 million dollars during the one year pilot program.
Effective April 1, 2007, all Hospitals in the United States were required establish anger management policies for “disruptive physicians". This will likely have a tremendous impact on the improvement of patient care as well as staff retention. Anger management/executive coaching is the fastest growing new area of specialization in human services worldwide and needs to be considered when violence prevention is the goal.