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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.

In the early 1990s, however, the real HMOs took over. Insurance reimbursement, Anderson says, plunged to its current level of about $90, $70 and $60 for those respective services. The first incarnation of Anderson & Anderson collapsed, and Nancy Anderson took the job, which she still holds, of school psychologist at the private John Thomas Dye School in Bel-Air. George Anderson says he wasn't angry, "just depressed."

The depression lifted shortly and Anderson spotted an opportunity. While there were many ambitious programs for treating the mostly female victims of domestic abuse, not many were treating the mostly male perpetrators. He evaluated the only treatment then in use--a feminist-oriented encounter group model called The Duluth Model, which is designed to confront batterers and persuade them to change their ways. He felt that, while the course might be helpful for guilt-ridden Minnesotans, it would be ineffective amid the multicultural mix of domestically violent men in California. So he wrote his own cognitive therapy-based course for offenders. Then he had his workbooks translated into Spanish, Russian and Korean, among other languages. He successfully lobbied, with the help of then-state Sen. Diane Watson, that the California penal code be amended so that batterers on probation would be required to take a 52-week program much like his own. Anderson still licenses the workbooks and CDs, but he doesn't actively work on the domestic violence side.

"It's not a growth area," he says, noting that practically all domestic violence clients are court-ordered, and their motivation to change usually hovers around zero. But what treatment has transpired may have been helpful: Government figures show that, between 1976 and 2002, the number of women killed each year in domestic disputes dropped from 1,600 to 1,202. The number of men killed in such disputes during that period dropped from 1,357 to 388.

In the mid-1990s, Anderson says, he got a call from L.A. County Superior Court Judge Peter Meeka asking him to define the difference between domestic violence intervention and anger management. Anderson did so, and then proceeded to research, write and offer his own anger management course.

In 1998, he says, he got a call from now-retired Superior Court Judge Kenneth Lee Chotiner. "He asked me, 'Could you afford to send me five copies of your book? I'm on a committee of judges on anger management. We're trying to come up with some way to decide who can treat offenders. If you can possibly afford to send a copy of your book to any judge and court officer, I believe you can get a lot of referrals out of that.' "

Anderson agreed, of course, and every four months he sends every criminal courts judge, commissioner, referee, district attorney, assistant district attorney and public defender in Los Angeles County an updated list of A&A-certified practitioners. He adds quickly that no court officer is actually required to use the list.

Among his professional peers, Anderson's dominance in the field hasn't created much of a visible backlash. Michael Levittan, a Century City-based psychotherapist, has his own anger management method that concentrates on treatment and some executive coaching rather than training. "I do respect George as a colleague," he says. "Our methods have more similarities than differences."

"What's the opposite of anger?"

George Anderson, seated comfortably in the living room of his five-bedroom Brentwood home, just up the street from Norman Lear's house and with a great view of Maria and Arnold's place down the hill, considers the question for a few moments.

"Peace. Joy. Contentment. Satisfaction," he says finally. His wife (the other Anderson in Anderson & Anderson) and two of his three children, Jason, a college student and aspiring chef, and Ania, a flight attendant, are sitting nearby. They smile and nod.

They're all too familiar with the main tenets of their father's psychological philosophy, all included in the 123-page spiral-bound workbook each A&A-based anger management client clutches: first, that anger is not a pathological condition but a "secondary emotion" piggybacking on deeper feelings such as shame or embarrassment, and second, anger often masks more serious conditions such as depression and substance abuse. But there's hope.

"We don't have control over our feelings, but we can control our thoughts," Anderson writes. He posits that the key is to recognize "destructive interactions" such as hostility, manipulation, rage and avoidance and replace them with "constructive interactions" such as assertiveness, rephrasing, stating needs and seeking compromise. One means to that end: emotional intelligence, which he describes as "understanding and recognizing our inner feelings--our weaknesses as well as our strengths." Another is so-called active listening, which he defines as "listening with your heart." As Anderson explains this, he places his hand over his heart.

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