Music Therapy is far from the first thing we associate with anger management, but music can be a helpful tool in learning to manage strong emotions like anger. Music’s expression of emotions through the stories we hear in songs can help to raise emotional awareness and the awareness of options for expressing them.
Emotional awareness is the first part of any anger management training program, whether the program is tailored to individuals or groups. In order to manage anger a person needs to know just how angry or upset they are. Songs that portray stories can be used to “diagnose” how angry the person in the song seems to be. Talking about the situation in a song can give a client a bit of detachment from the emotion that they may find hard to realize when they themselves are in such a situation. After focusing on the song, the client can personalize the situation to describe the feelings he might experience in the situation. It is in this capacity that anger management and music therapy are so incredibly effective.
Songs also can be used to pick out the emotions contributing to anger. Anger is often a secondary emotion. The grief, sense of loss or injustice, or perhaps jealousy or shame behind the anger can be identified in a song or in the client when in a similar situation. Sometimes a music therapist may ask a client to choose a song that mirrors a situation in the client’s life. This helps the therapist and the client to explore the emotions behind the anger. The same examining of stories in songs helps to identify the thoughts behind emotions, and which thoughts can contribute to escalation in the clients. These thoughts, which are sometimes irrational, can then be worked on and sometimes changed. Again, this is another reason why anger management and music therapy are so effective when combined.
An early goal in anger management and music therapy is to help the client be able to rate their stress level, or “upsetness level”. They work on a scale that ranges from 1 to 10 and this allows them to become aware of their baseline level. This also helps a client to know when they need to engage in preventative de-stressing techniques like exercise, meditation, or recreational pursuits. This anger management technique also helps a client recognize when they are escalating and need to take an immediate “time out” away from the source of stress. Again, songs can be used to describe the situations that clients have the most difficulty with in keeping their cool.
The next step in a successful anger management and music therapy session is to address the feelings that may be behind the anger. This makes it easier to identify the situations and the thoughts that may contribute to escalating anger. Music therapy can be useful in examining situations in songs and identifying if the anger in a song is expressed passively, assertively, aggressively, or passive-aggressively.
A critical step in anger management that is addressed by music therapy is learning how to pull back. When a client has an awareness that his or her anger is escalating there is a window of opportunity each client must identify for their own self. This is the critical point of escalating anger when the client still has the ability to exert self control, but they must disengage from the situation in order to stop escalating to the point where they no longer have control. The methods of pulling back can be normalized through discussing songs. Humor can even be injected to help with detachment from the emotions, as when discussing a song like Paul Simon’s “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover.”
The act of pulling back can be helped by appropriate venting and calming. Again music can be helpful in providing outlets. A music therapist might present expressive drumming as a means of getting anger out in safe ways. Sometimes playing angry music can help a client vent. Other times exercise will help venting, and music can also be used to as an energizer to encourage venting exercise.
Calming is often needed when pulling back, or when leaving the situation is not possible. Relaxation techniques are part of most anger management programs. A music therapist can teach relaxation to music by choosing the appropriate calming music for the clientele and showing them various relaxation techniques.
So we see there are many ways anger management and music therapy can work together to raise awareness of feelings, to depicting emotions felt in different situations, to describe many options for expression of emotions, as well as presenting techniques for venting and calming.