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The last track focused on the battering control technique of the double-bind or paradox and how this effected your client's decision to leave.
In this track we will discuss an Anger Letter Exercise that can help a battered woman to identify and express her anger in a safe and healthy way. As you listen you might compare my Anger Letter technique with the one you are currently using. Have you found, like I, that once a battered client can dissipate some of her anger she can sort out more clearly the facts to stay or leave.
As you know, battered women often encounter the added risk of being ridiculed, assaulted, and injured by their partner for showing what they are feeling, particularly if this feeling is anger. Have you found, like I, battered women almost always have anger about the abuse, regardless of whether or not they have identified that anger?
Let's look at Tonia, a 34-year-old mother of two, and how the Anger Letter Exercise helped her to safely express her suppressed anger. Tonia and her husband, Vinnie, had been married for fifteen years before she left him and moved into her own apartment. In our sessions, I found that Tonia did feel angry about her past with Vinnie, but was uncertain about what to do with the feelings of anger she felt. Tonia stated, "I had feelings of rage when Vinnie would beat me and then pull me up by my hair to beat me more, but it was safer not to show it."
7 Steps for the Anger Letter Exercise
Step #1: Introduce the task to the battered client. I discussed with Tonia that this exercise involves writing a letter to someone with whom she is particularly angry. . I also told Tonia that this letter was not intended to be given or sent to the abusive person. Instead, it is intended as a way for her to identify and express her anger in a healthy manner.
Step #2: Discuss the ground rules for the exercise. Next, I discussed with Tonia that she would have fifteen minutes to write her letter. Within those fifteen minutes, her letter could be of any length. I also found it helpful to discuss with Tonia that any language or profanity she chose to use was appropriate, and that spelling and grammar were not important and would not be judged.
Step #4: Have the battered woman read her letter aloud. As always, this is an option for your battered client. I find reading the letter aloud is an important part of the process of dealing with anger. However, as you know, some women find this to be particularly difficult and may prefer not to read their letter. However, Tonia jumped right in at the opportunity to read her letter aloud. She started out with "Dear Vinnie, you're like the scum of the earth" and continued from there.
Step #5: Give support. After Tonia finished reading her letter, as you know, she probably felt particularly vulnerable. At this point I like to give supportive comments and observations about what the battered woman just read. I also like to get feedback from the battered woman about how it felt to write and read the letter. Have you found, like I, that some women find this very difficult, while others are exhilarated by the opportunity? Tonia was especially invigorated by the exercise. She stated, "These are all the things I always wanted to scream at the top of my lungs at Vinnie, but I always knew I couldn't. It feels like a relief to have said it all, even though I know he didn't hear it."
Step #6: Dispose of the letter. I gave Tonia choices about what she could do with her letter after the reading was over. I offered to take and keep the letter for her, destroy it in a shredder machine, or allow her to keep it for future reference. Have you found, like I, that the battered woman usually wants to rid herself of her Anger Letter? Tonia asked me to shred her letter without hesitation.
Step #7: Give appropriate anger responses. I concluded this Anger Letter Exercise by discussing with Tonia some appropriate ways to deal with her anger. As you know, these ideas can be ridiculous and irrational, as long as no one is harmed. Some of Tonia's ideas were to write in a journal, talk to her sister, scream into a pillow, or shred a newspaper with her hands.
Have you found, like I, that this letter becomes a spring board for a second letter to themselves regarding self hate for letting it happen?
How does my Anger Letter intervention compare with the one you are currently using? Did you get anything new or did this list serve to affirm your current technique?
Now that we have gone over the seven steps to an Anger Letter Exercise, I would like to discuss with you some possible issues that may arise when using this technique.
Oftentimes the Anger Letter uncovers feelings of empathy for their abuser. In the next track we will discuss how to create a reality check for your battered client who feels sorry for her batterer.
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