Road rage, air rage and trolley rage have become almost commonplace. Interview rage, as displayed by both Panorama investigator John Sweeney and his interviewee, Tommy Davis of the Church of Scientology, on Monday evening's programme, boosted the ratings but added nothing to our understanding of Scientology. Sweeney has apologised for "inappropriate behaviour" and cringes at the clip in which he looks like "an exploding tomato".

For observers of human confrontation, it was a classic situation, heightened by the fact that the Scientologists turned their own cameras on the programme- makers and both "sides" were under considerable pressure.

"The trouble is, people get into competitive situations and need to be right. Because we have to reach some kind of outcome during a TV programme and because adrenalin is flowing in both bloodstreams, people tend to go over the top much more easily, whether it is in interviews or any other kind of performance," says Ben Williams, an Edinburgh-based chartered corporate psychologist.

In the view of Mike Fisher, director of the British Association of Anger Management, John Sweeney does not have an anger management problem. "You saw him ranting and raving, then he calmed down. He went up a few decibels and then he calmed down again. He had four or five days of the stress of people following him."

In Fisher's view, Davis handled his anger better than Sweeney during the shouting-match. "Davis said: I am angry with you' and turned his back and walked away. He knew he was going to blow. He handled that like a master: he said he was angry and gave a warning that he was not going to be responsible for what happened," he says.

Despite his admiration, he does not feel that Davis won the confrontation. "It was about two men with fairly big egos crossing swords and the extreme nature of the conditions Sweeney was working under had got to him. I think that is a very exceptional situation," says Fisher, who admits that despite working in anger management for 12 years, "when I get extremely stressed out, everything I have ever learned will go right out the window".

Williams prefers a more subtle approach, suggesting that the best way to tackle someone in a situation like Sweeney's is to "ask them to explain their views and lead them down a path which would make them seem more and more ridiculous. Let the public draw their own conclusions rather than having to win in front of the public and put the other guy down. It doesn't make anyone angry. The guy goes away happy, because he's told everyone he's the king of the world. The interviewer wanted to win' when he should not have been going for that."

It is a lesson he thinks can equally be applied to real life. In essence, he sees examples of anger such as road rage as simply bad manners, which he defines as "a lack of concern for the other person at the expense of your own interest". He adds: "We tend to live at a much higher pace than ever before and people are less willing to take time out and just think.

"People often drive while listening to loud, fast-paced music when they should be listening to quieter, slower music. People walking along the road cannot greet each other because they are on their mobile phone or listening to an iPod."

Declaring himself an optimist, he says: "It will swing back. People are beginning to come home and switch off the radio and not watch television. What seems to be terribly cool now, will be incredibly naff in 10 years."

there was a satisfying sense of justice in the sentence of mopping and cleaning handed to supermodel Naomi Campbell for throwing a mobile phone at her cleaner. That, combined with the details of the five-day parade of designer outfits in which she turned up for work at New York's sanitation department in March, served to obscure the fact that she also had to attend a two-day anger-management course as part of her sentence.

While two days seems a remarkably short time in which to change ingrained behaviour, both Williams and Fisher are confident that the most volatile people can be taught to manage their anger. In Fisher's view, they are usually "individuals who have probably suffered from quite severe trauma, which has been unprocessed for a very long time". He explains: "A lot of incidents which may be no big deal to an adult can be very traumatic to children. When a child is told off at a very young age, they start to experience shame instead of guilt. Guilt is the feeling that you made a mistake, but shame is the feeling that you are a mistake.

"After that, every time you say anything to them, they act defensively. If you take anger and deconstruct it, you have hurt and fear: anger is not the primary feeling - that is fear."

The root cause is often low self-esteem. "Usually when people have low self-esteem, their parents and their grandparents have low self-esteem. We tell people that they have to identify what their needs are and be able to say I am angry with you because you are not listening to me'." Fisher admits to envying people who have healthy self-esteem and an ability to cope with challenges, confrontations or threats on a daily basis. "They are very clear about what they want and need, they are very clear about being assertive and they are also very emotionally sophisticated, because they have this extraordinary skill set which most of us don't have. I hate them for it, because I am so jealous."

He admits that he has had to work to overcome his own anger problems.

"I have had to be hyper-vigilant because only in the last two years have I really been able to relax. I come from a whole family of rage-oholics. The paradox is that we never saw our father or mother scream or shout. I used to terrorise my younger sister and she would do all the venting. That personality type is the winder-upper, who gets other people to express all their unexpressed anger. Sometimes parents who are not expressing their own anger are getting their children to do it for them. I used to be an imploder - a passive-aggressive type - but when I became an exploder, all hell broke loose. I tried to get support, but could not find it and so identified a gap in the market." After training in Florida, he set up the British Association of Anger Management.

His latest round of two-day courses across the country has just been cancelled due to lack of interest; or perhaps the £580 cost. Self-help comes much cheaper courtesy of the YouTube clip of Sweeney. As the reporter puts it so ruefully: "This is a fine example of how not to do it it makes me cringe."

Keep a lid on it
These six tips will help keep your temper under control:

  • Look at the bigger picture.
  • Remember that it's OK to have a different opinion to others.
  • Opinions are not facts. They are only what you think.
  • Learn: In order to learn, listen.

Observe: Look at the other person's body language.

Verify: Clarify information.

Empathise: Keep your heart open.

  • Use your support network.
  • Keep a diary.

Source: British Association of Anger Management