Young people can benefit from developing a better understanding of how they relate to their anger and how they manage it.  To best achieve this, practitioners can:

  • Create a safe space for the young person to discuss their anger
  • Identify the ways that anger works for them
  • Help young people take responsibility for their own anger and behaviour
  • Reduce unhelpful shame and stigma
  • Help young people recognise the stages in their own anger-related episodes
  • Help young people understand what sets their anger off
  • Help young people understand anger-related feelings and thoughts
  • Create a safe space for the young person to discuss their anger

Young people are most likely to share their thoughts and reflect on the own anger and anger-related behaviours when the feel safe and respected. This is best done in context of a secure working relationship with a practitioner they trust. Young people who feel shame or fear negative judgment are unlikely to open up.

The following element drawn from Motivational Interviewing can be applied to help young people understand their anger and anger-related behaviour better while demonstrating respect for their opinion and a preparedness to work at their pace. 

A2. Person-centred guiding and active listening
This element explains how to use complex reflections and other counseling techniques to elicit the perspective of the young person and to help them understand their anger and anger related behaviour in a new way.

E1. Attentive listening & E2. Hearing the client's story
Narrative Therapy also includes two elements that demonstrate how practitioners can genuinely understand the clients’ point of view about their anger by listening to the person’s own words, values and meanings.

The following example questions can help practitioners better understand a young person’s experience of anger and what it means to them:

  • Who do you get angry with? How often? Where and when?
  • How do you show your anger?
  • Who in your life models constructive ways to manage anger?
  • What did you learn about anger from your primary caregivers?
  • What did you learn about when you should get angry?
  • How do you feel about your anger?

Young people who find it difficult to talk about their feelings might prefer to use of symbols or specific physical objects to represent angry feelings, thoughts and behaviours.

Metaphors can also be useful in helping young people a way to describe their anger and their actions. For example a young person might describe themselves as a ‘volcano ready to explode’ or a ‘pressure cooker’. This can help the young person to get their point across as the meaning of the metaphors is explored. Practitioners should make sure that the metaphor doesn’t inadvertently reinforce the belief that some young people have that they are the problem and problems are insurmountable. 

The Narrative Therapy element, Externalising Conversations provides a guide for practitioners on how to use metaphor to help young people communicate about their problems, including those with anger.

Helping the young person identify the ways that anger works for them
For young people to develop a realistic appraisal of their own anger both the upside and downside needs to be explored. This can involve practitioners assisting the young person to identify situations where anger may be helpful if expressed appropriately. For example, anger can be a powerful indicator that something is wrong or that injustice should no longer be tolerated. Some young people might benefit from developing a list of the ways that anger and it’s related behaviour works for them. It is critical that young people’s own words are used and to be a specific as possible as this is more evocative and has more meaning.

Help young people take responsibility for the own anger and behaviour
Practitioners who show compassion and respect should be clear that this is not an endorsement of anger-related behaviour that is destructive and harmful. The practitioner may need to let the young person know that whilst at times they might have felt ‘out of control’ they are not ‘out of responsibility’. There may be social and legal consequences for young people to deal with.

The degree of responsibility attributed to a young person for managing their anger will to some extent be determined by their level of maturity and developmental stage.

These four important messages about violence can be conveyed to the young person 

  1. Violence is not okay
  2. Provocation is not an excuse for violence
  3. You are responsible for your behaviour regardless of the behaviour of others
  4. Being provocative is not okay (Geldald et al., 2010)

Reducing unhelpful shame and stigma
Taking responsibility is different to feeling stigma and shame. At times the discomfort caused by these feelings can stimulate a desire to change but they can also lead to self-pity and self-loathing. Associated thoughts and feelings can absorb a young person, distort their judgment and limit their capacity to develop a genuine understanding of the anger-related issues. It is particularly problematic when shame and stigma is internalised to the extent that it defines a young person’s beliefs about themselves. It becomes like the young person’s identity and personality is the problem rather than anger and how it is managed.

Practitioners can help young people externalise their anger by asking them to describe it as separate to them; as if it had its very own identity and personality.  The practitioner can invite them to describe their anger in a language and way that has meaning for them. Depending on the preferences of the young person, they might describe their anger as an object; noticing its shape, form, texture, colour and temperature. This serves to consolidate their anger or an anger related problem as separate. The practitioner can then guide the young person in exploring and understanding their relationship with anger. This includes identifying and locating the source of any shame and stigma associated with their anger, which can also be dealt with as something separate to the young person.

Rather than being something wrong with them, each young person can understand how their problems related with anger have developed. For example, young people who have experienced early childhood trauma can come to understand how it has impacted on their ability to regulate their emotions. This understanding can liberate a young person from unhelpful shame and stigma.  Further, it puts the focus on the real issue that the young person can take steps to deal with. It also might help young people understand how others in their family have struggled to manage their anger constructively. This helps the young person to be a more dispassionate, kind and gentle observer of their own anger and the anger of others.

E3. Externalising Conversations
Externalising Conversations is a technique in Narrative Therapy, that provides practitioners with a guide to helping young people externalise their anger. Externalising conversations make use of metaphors and descriptions that can provide a separation between the person, their anger and the behaviours associated with it.