When I first started training to be a couples’ counsellor, my impression was that I was going to be dealing with a lot of anger management. I grew up in a family where rows were not the usual way of dealing with problems, and I’m generally a non-confrontational person. So I did worry about how I would deal with this.
It is not unreasonable that at some point one or other client will be angry, and this will be presented in the room. But I would say in the majority of cases, the couple are in therapy to resolve issues and have a shared willingness to resolve their problems in a reasoned way, so we can manage the anger. In fact, it can be a useful tool to examine where the anger is coming from and how each partner reacts to and processes it. Tracking an argument: listening to what is being said and exploring the interaction with each partner really helps them to see how escalations occur and what their trigger points are.
But, there are times when one or both partners presents with large amounts of anger, easily and vocally expressed (sometimes very, very loudly expressed!) And these can be very challenging cases. In the first instance we need to be conscious of safety. If anger is being freely and overtly expressed, it is important to explore what will happen when the couple leave the relative safety of the counselling room. So checking in that anger doesn’t spill over into violence or intimidation is part of the process of dealing with it. When I work with couples where anger is overtly expressed, I will contract with them to agree at what point and how I will intervene in rows. In the most extreme cases it may be necessary to stop the session, something I have had to do on a few occasions.
I do find it difficult when clients are loud and shouty. So I monitor my anxiety levels and what the anger is bringing up for me to enable me to work with the clients’ anger in the room. Managing anger is not about stopping the expression of anger. It is about ensuring anger is expressed safely and that it leads to a resolution of feelings. This means allowing anger to be expressed without resorting to personal insults and intimidation.
A quick Google search will throw up lots of helpful guidelines on anger management and how to row safely and effectively (see here for example: http://bit.ly/2bhGbE6 ).