Part one of the anger series written by Regesh Executive Director, Edwin Schild, B.S., M.Sc.
Helping Youth & Adults Confront Their Anger
Dealing with the effects of anger and anger management has become a key component of much of my work with youth and adults throughout the years.
In fact, many years ago Regesh engaged a researcher to study various anger management theories and existing courses to better understand the components of anger and its sustainability on the individual. Subsequent to that, Regesh developed a unique anger management program for youth and adults that has proven to be very successful and intuitive. Lately, during the pandemic, I find myself working more and more with clients experiencing bursts of anger, anxiety and depression as the negative mental health impacts of this year have stressed the wellbeing of far too many.
Managing Anger in Therapy, Aaron’s Story
(All names have been changed for confidentiality purposes.)
This is Part I of a four-part series on anger management that I will share with our readers. Over the next few articles, I will be sharing some of the key points and issues when facing clients with a history of anger.
But first, let me share Aaron’s story with you.
Aaron’s parents, Dr. and Mrs. Ross, came into my office looking very tired, stressed, despondent and unsure of themselves. They came without Aaron; he had refused to come to the appointment. He claimed that at 15 he could decide for himself if, and when, he would come to appointments about his life. They began by describing an extraordinarily angry young man.
Aaron was adopted almost at birth. His anger management problems were described as starting very early with increasing issues around the age of seven. Problems continued escalating around the age of twelve, which continued with major problems at the time of the referral.
Managing Anger at a Young Age – When to See a Professional
As a therapist, I work with angry individuals all the time, but at this point Aaron was one of the angriest I had come across. In fact, his parents described him as having constant daily flare-ups, sometimes even threatening to hurt them or burn down the house. They noted that Aaron had a sleep disorder and would more easily “blow up” when hungry, though he often refused to eat. Aaron would often go into “fits of rage”; he would clench his fists, grind his teeth, make demands or give orders and bully others, usually his mother.
When the referral was first made, Aaron had had the police called to his home after he trashed the house, made serious threats against family members and threatened to burn down the home. Aaron was placed in jail overnight. Aaron’s problems were not only at home as he also had significant anger management issues in school and the community.
Aaron’s parents knew that Aaron needed immediate help and wanted to avoid having him placed in a group home, but they were unsure how to get him in to get the much needed help he needed.
A Therapeutic Anger Management Session
With prior preparation and encouragement, Aaron did come to the next session. At the time I met the Ross family in the reception area, Aaron had his back turned away from me. He was reading, or pretending to read, a poster on the wall.
Aaron made no eye contact with me and in no way did he want to be there. I avoided any confrontation or issues of power struggling. I encouraged Aaron to continue reading the poster and join us when he finished. Within a minute or two, he joined his parents in the therapy room with me.
The First Therapy Session
As we started this first session with Aaron included, one could easily see how volatile Aaron was. His father’s cell phone vibrated several times, Aaron becoming more and more agitated each time. With one ring too many, Aaron tried to grab his father’s phone which was on the table. Both grabbed at the same time and his father retrieved the phone. Aaron started to use fowl language to his father relating how angry the buzzing phone made him. It certainly was not the right time to explore why this bothered him so much.
With my guidance, Aaron was able to calm down. I suggested that we continue with our “getting to know you” questions for a few more minutes. Then, we would ask his parents to wait in the reception area while the two of us spoke in private. Aaron pleasantly surprised me and agreed with this plan.
After a few moments talking about some light points with Aaron and ensuring that our time alone was confidential, Aaron was willing to engage in a discussion about his anger issues. During our discussion it struck me that this angry young man was a good hearted, though hurt, individual. I quickly began sensing something special about Aaron and in our discussion related that to him. In spite of his major troubling behaviours at home with his parents, primarily his mother, he was able to tell me that they were “good people”.
The Anger Circle & it’s Bullying Ripple Effect
As the time moved quickly, I wanted to engage Aaron as much as possible in this first session. I made sure to validate his thoughts and let him know I understood what he was saying. I shared with him how hurt I thought he was and how his own anger might frighten him at times. Diagnosed with ADHD and a learning disability, I thought that life became more difficult for him at this point. Taking a big chance, I told him that I thought I could describe his life story.
Discovering Yourself in Therapy
I first told Aaron that he most likely got frustrated at the age of four to five because he had a hard time keeping up with the other kids. Aaron learned the feeling of embarrassment. By the age of seven, I hypothesized that other kids started noticing this and began making fun of him. Aaron’s parents and teachers probably started feeling that he was lazy and told him so around the same time. By nine, Aaron was aware of the anger that was growing inside him, not understanding how to manage it. Aaron began to bully other kids, just like they had been doing to him. Aaron believed that he was a failure by Eleven years old.
He was getting into more trouble at home and school and was acting out his anger, which, in turn, got him into more trouble and gave him even more doubts about himself. By thirteen he viewed himself as not only a failure, but also a troublemaker and took pride in how he could intimidate others.
Aaron’s behaviour continued until around fourteen when drugs began taking a toll on his life after the police became involved. Aaron inevitably arrived at my office at fifteen.
Working Together in Therapy
In my practice, I tend to be very vocal within my sessions; I tell my clients that as I form ideas or concepts, I believe in sharing them. I let clients know that I don’t have to be right. Although, when I do share my thoughts, clients have the opportunity to engage in meaningful discussions. In fact, I encourage them to correct me if they think I am far off base.
A Trusting Relationship with a Therapist can Help Manage Anger
As Aaron listened to my thoughts, his mouth dropped open, his eyes grew wide and tears formed in his eyes. The only thing he could say was, “How did you know?” With that comment, Aaron and I started a remarkable relationship. Aaron said that not one of the counselors he had been to over the years really understood him. The angry young man was suddenly fully engaged, ready to work, share his pain, and begin a trusting relationship.
You won’t believe how this session ended. Aaron’s story is fascinating and develops into a positive experience in understanding anger management. Stay tuned for Part 2 – I will tell you how the session ended and how Aaron’s (and my) life changed.
Edwin Schild is the Executive Director of Regesh Family and Child Services in Toronto. Regesh runs many programs helping families, youth & individuals dealing with personal and family issues in their lives. He is currently open to speaking engagements and train-the train workshops. Contact Edwin at 416-495-8832 extension 222 or firstname.lastname@example.org. We welcome you to browse through our website for more information.