What Jamie Taught Me About Anger.
Jamie (not his real name) was my first ever client during my training as a child creative arts counsellor.
He was referred because of his behaviour. He was out of class more than he was in and struggling. Although his school had a nurture unit they thought he could do with some extra support. He was just about to turn seven and due to go to junior school.
In our first session I asked him why he thought he was being sent to see me “because I have anger issues” he said. I asked him what that meant and he shrugged. We were to spend a very interesting five months together!
Creative therapy is a great way to work with anger because it enables exploration without direct confrontation. Even if cut of from experience connection to feeling can be made through drawing, visualization and bodywork.
Most of my work with Jamie happened via storytelling and role play. It was through his creation of a character he named the ball of energy that he managed to express his innermost feelings. The ball of energy in his story was drowning and no one was coming to help. There it was, his life experience laid bare through metaphor. What lay underneath the anger was a great deal of hurt and pain and devastating sadness and despair.
I played my part as he told his story even though I was unsure where it was leading and my doubts as to whether I should. I had to trust the process and honour the faith he had in me to hold and contain these huge feelings.
We revisited this story a couple of times. I knew it was important, I wanted him to know that, I wanted to make sure I got it right. At this stage the story had no ending. It didn’t feel right to offer up one. It would have been wrong to try and neatly tie it up, make it better, it didn’t fit his experience.
As we came towards the end of our time together we were able to come up with an ending together. I went home and wrote it up making it into a book and in our last session I gave his story back to him.
We were both much changed by our time together. I truly believe we wouldn’t have got there without the use of creative therapy. It not only helped him connect with his feelings it gave him a means to express them and enabled me to support him without offering false hopes.
Our early work on connecting anger with the body helped him to gain greater awareness of his inbuilt warning signs and we practiced ways to counteract these signals, to help him self sooth and self regulate. Once we had calmed the loudness of the angry voice we were able to hear the quieter cry of sadness. Through staying with the sadness it grew into a wail before finding its ultimate release.
I have worked with many children since Jamie who were presented as having “anger issues”. All have had their story to tell through one creative medium or another. As I help facilitate expression in this way I always feel immensely privileged and humbled by their bravery.
Anger is the label but it’s only the beginning of the story. For all those I have helped since, thank you Jamie for teaching me that.