Misconceptions of Working with Anger II

I noticed some misconceptions within the comments on my last article “Working with Anger,”. Here are the points I would like to clarify:

  1. Ignoring inappropriate behavior is denying feelings?
  2. Proper use of assessment and Music Therapy will not elicit negative feelings.

“Ignoring the behavior is denying feelings.”

This conclusion surprised me. While working with anger, the client, the therapist and the environment need to be safe. Boundaries have to be established with clients that express their anger through behavior and not language. This client came into the session angry. Neither music, the sound, nor the therapist made her angry. Rather, she carried with her the anger from previous experiences. She brought her feelings and her responses to them with her into the session. People have a right to feel whatever they feel and feelings should not be denied.

Anger that turns inward often turns into self-destructive patterns, and this client had already developed some of those patterns. In the session, the client was allowed to express herself. No one directed this client on what to do or what not to do. The client was allowed to pour out her emotions musically, vocally, and through movement within the boundaries that were drawn for her, without judgment. Instruments were steadied before her arrival, to allow her the opportunity to hit drums loudly without pushing them over. If instruments or objects were tossed, they remained on the floor. Thus, the opportunity to retrieve more objects to toss was limited. She was allowed to continue to feel and pour out the anger in a safe manner. This was important. It was important for the process. Her feelings were safely honored.

“Proper use of assessment and Music Therapy will not elicit negative feelings.”

There is a common misconception that therapy is always going to feel good. When a person decides to go to therapy, there typically is a want or need for growth. While the therapist should set up the relationship and environment so that the client is comfortable to begin this process, growth can often be uncomfortable. Growth is something new: a new way of thinking, being, or responding. It is often not something we find familiar at the start or comfortable on the journey.

This client came in wanting independence. The client wanted her own voice and/or intentions to be heard. She fought “relating” to the session by tossing any object which could be used as a vehicle to interact. The intentional responses from the therapist allowed this client to go through her anger, to the other side.

At first, on the other side of the anger was sadness. As the therapist set boundaries and was able to remain with the client musically in both the anger and then sadness, the opportunity for more open interaction and relating began. This is the objective.

Here is where the therapy happens, and it happens through the music. The aim was to create essential accommodations for the client, within the context of relational musical play experiences. Music Therapy then becomes a “microcosm” for how the individual acts or relates outside of Music Therapy.

As the client engages, conventional health domains such as cognitive, sensorimotor, emotional etc, are addressed and embodied within the experience (ex: you can’t play the piano, tap a drum, etc without moving your body). As the client relates for continued periods of time, she is being communicative. She is able to sustain her ability to engage in relation to another. As she does this, she begins to experience herself differently. She begins to experience herself in relation to another differently.

Persisting to observe the client’s needs, individual differences, and development in the play is where we can then open doors for the client to desire to be connected. For this client, as we continued this process, the desire to defend herself (accumulated from previous experiences) disappeared.

By working through the anger musically, we can allow the client to work through the obstacles that get in the way of healthier relating. Generalization is nearly impossible when we look at behaviors in a vacuum. We have to look at what is getting in the way of healthy, positive relationships.

Back Mountain Music Therapy invites and encourages you to provide any thoughts, views, questions, or discussion on articles in the comments sections below.

Antoinette Morrison


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