The ‘narrative therapy’ technique is also useful in dealing with anger.  The client is encouraged to externalize their anger.  This means that the anger becomes separate from the client, and as such the client is able to view it as something that they can administer control over.  The anger is no longer seen as part of themselves, but as a separate entity. The client will consider that they can change their view from ‘I am an aggressive person’ to aggression causes a problem for me.

Aggression is viewed not as a part of the client but as something external to them and acting upon them.

Once separated from the problem the client is able to feel more empowered to control the aggression because it is seen as having less power than it did formerly.   The counsellor can encourage a shift in the emphasis of the language to refer to ‘the problem’. e.g. my aggression gets in the way.

So to summarise as a counsellour :-

  • 1-Acknowledge and affirm the other person’s feelings. It is OK to be angry. Accept it.
  • 2-Help the other person to talk about anger in order to diffuse it.
  • 3-Drain their physical energy! Do not explain, interrupt, contradict, and give reasons, until the anger is depleted (if at any stage you feel their anger could become physical, then immediately stop the counselling session and either use your immediacy skills to bring the situation into awareness, or terminate the session and suggest to the client that they may wish to go out into a field where no-one will see or hear them and scream the anger out, or run the anger out etc.).
  • 4-Send caring and valuing messages, understanding or empathetic statements, before, during, and after the expression of anger. Adopt a calm style yourself and if you feel yourself becoming afraid of someone’s anger, terminate the counselling session.
  • 5-Avoid getting hooked into an angry response.
  • 6-Try to personalise the situation. The angry person had those feelings before you came on the scene. You may be just a convenient target or sounding board.

Of course, responses to dealing with angry people must be matched with the stage of anger the person is exhibiting.  For instance, it would not be appropriate to try to help a person deal with their anger through talking it out, when they look like they are on the verge of becoming physical/aggressive.  It would also not be appropriate to send caring or valuing messages to someone who is in the middle of explaining what another has done to stir their anger.  In the first example, the only option one would have is either the flight or fight response, as there is usually no point in talking reason to a person who has been hijacked by their angry feelings (hence they are not thinking, just acting).   In the second example, it would be best to acknowledge and affirm the other person’s feelings, rather than jumping in too soon and giving them caring and valuing messages.

Although some previous research has suggested it may be beneficial to encourage a person who is angry to express their anger via punching or screaming into a pillow or hitting a punching bag, more recent research has in fact provided evidence that encouraging an angry person to express their anger in this manner, merely increases their feelings of frustration and their desire to take out their anger on an object or person.  As this could prove dangerous, it is not recommended that any person be encouraged to do this, but rather to explore the deeper feelings or beliefs that anger might be covering so that the person has an opportunity to take control by exploring the cause of the emotion, and re-directing the feeling into a positive self- awareness and growth experience.

Ultimately, there is value in the energy that anger creates.  Anger can signal to us that we need to take a look at our deeper or underlying feelings and use it as an opportunity for self- empowerment by allowing ourselves to consciously choose the most constructive/positive way of responding, without falling into the trap of being reactive.

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