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The Storm's Quiet Eye

How cool, calm and emotionally brilliant Brentwood psychotherapist-entrepreneur George Anderson built an empire from L.A.'s limitless supply of hotheads

August 28, 2005|Andy Meisler | Andy Meisler's last story for the magazine was about California's food capitals.

John Elder, perhaps as well as anyone, has a handle on the whole amazing success story. Several years ago he was teaching anger management at the Richstone Family Center, a nonprofit facility in Hawthorne, when he noticed a curious phenomenon.

"We used to get most of our clients from court referrals, but suddenly the numbers started to dwindle, as if someone had closed a door," says Elder, who has a master's degree in psychology and works part time in that field. A brief investigation revealed that local court referrals were only going to facilities and facilitators certified by Anderson & Anderson, a Brentwood-based organization run by a psychotherapist named George Anderson.

"I was moderately angry, so I went over to his office to meet this George Anderson," he says, noting that he took one of Anderson's training classes. "Well, George had me disarmed within 90 minutes. We ended up having lunch together, and I ended up working for him. And I really enjoy it. George is, quite simply, an emotional genius."

Anderson also is quite a businessman. He sells an elixir for something Los Angeles produces in abundance: namely, rage, frustration, aggression, revenge and self-destruction. No conclusive scientific data exists to show that Angelenos are angrier than their fellow Americans, but consider the anecdotal evidence. This is where the CEO of the Happiest Corporation on Earth said of a subordinate, "I think I hate the little midget"; a Ventura County man was charged with felony vandalism earlier this month after he shot at a car to shut off its alarm; and a recent community meeting debating the issue "Blacks and Hispanics: Allies or Rivals?" voted noisily--and angrily--for the latter.

Anderson has practically cornered the market on anger management training in Southern California, establishing himself as the dead-calm center of a swirling world of volatile hotheads, sputtering short-fusers, temperamental teeth-clenchers--the whole menagerie of people whose outbursts often bring them, eventually, into a rational and lucrative world Anderson helped create.

Which makes him, perhaps, the least angry man in Los Angeles.

Only an ostrich without cable or internet access can have failed to notice the rise of road rage, freeway shootings, bitter lawsuits and just plain nastiness hereabouts. It takes a bit more digging to realize just how well Anderson, who has come a long way from his middle-class boyhood in the Deep South, has anticipated, met, made money from and--depending on your point of view--helped to ameliorate this dispiriting trend.

"Can you imagine how much business we get just from what happens every day on the 405 Freeway?" Anderson says, shaking his head. He adds that these days flagrant tailgaters, fist-shakers and bird-flippers often get mandatory anger management courses added to their fines and insurance rate hikes.

Anderson--even his generic-sounding name is a virtual nonaggression pact--is a lanky 67-year-old man with a slight paunch and smooth skin the color of toffee squares. He has a shy, gap-toothed smile, alert but slightly droop-lidded eyes, a head of short graying hair receding slightly from his forehead and crown, a matching salt-and-pepper mustache and a large, roundish nose that's quirkily nonthreatening, like a small dab of cookie dough. Most days he's dressed in soft khaki pants, a soft button-down shirt, and loafers. No tie. His overall mien of preppy, intelligent affability has prompted many friends and acquaintances to say he reminds them of the TV sitcom character Cliff Huxtable.

In an era in which many psychiatrists, psychologists and couch-committed psychoanalysts are being financially squeezed by managed-care paperwork and shrinking reimbursements, Anderson is prospering in a reinvented business fueled by a court-ordered clientele that's compelled to pay for anger management services from their own pockets. Anderson & Anderson--which has four full-time employees, including Anderson--grossed more than $800,000 last year. George Anderson has neither an M.D. or PhD degree and rarely sees patients or leads group sessions.

For the past few years, Anderson & Anderson has enjoyed an ironclad but completely unofficial, even somewhat mythical, connection to the Los Angeles County court system. The reason for this will be explained--at least partially--later; suffice it for now to know that visitors to local courthouses who ask for names of certified anger management programs are almost invariably directed to Anderson & Anderson or to independent Anderson & Anderson-trained practitioners.

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