Anger, Rage and Relationship by Sue Parker Hall

Anger, Rage and Relationship
Book/Workshop Review
published by Routledge 2009 ISBN: 978-0-415-41348-0
Reviewed by Mary Stefanazzi

Anger, Rage and Relationship by Sue Parker Hall presents an original and radically new way to understand and work with anger and rage issues.  I had the privilege of experiencing Sue’s work at her workshop, also called Anger, Rage and Relationship, on 13th & 14th May, 2011 at Our Lady’s Hospice in Dublin.

The capacity for healthy expression of anger is generally accepted as fundamental to psychological health.  However, there is all too often a gap between fundamental principles and an in depth understanding of anger.  Sue’s research unearthed and recorded some revealing and unhelpful interventions by therapists in response to anger from clients.  ‘Obviously I’m not good enough for you … let me give you your money back!’ ‘I like it when you’re angry, you really come alive.’  ‘Would you like to bash a cushion?’

Rather than promoting strategies and techniques for eradicating anger, Sue Parker Hall, puts forward an approach which seeks to not only work with, but differentiate between anger and rage.  Anger and rage are constructed as entirely different phenomena, originating at different developmental stages, having different functions and relational needs thereby requiring different aspects of relationship in the therapeutic process.

Recognising the various reasons why people cannot hear anger in another, Sue sets out the general misunderstanding of anger problems and considers the positive aspects of anger.  Her model is specific on the therapeutic needs of anger and the consequent implications for working with overt and covert anger.

The depth of Sue’s approach is evidenced in her chapter on practitioner protection, which is not often covered in much depth on professional trainings.  The book discusses a range of risks and offers practical and relational measures to maximize safety.  Sue argues that risk can be radically reduced through adopting a relational approach which supports all parties to process their emotional responses.  However, professionals who work with vulnerable clients are risking their emotional and physical health on a daily basis.

Considering the therapeutic value and dangers of working with anger and rage, I am often curious at the lack of priority the subject appears to have on professional counselling and psychotherapy training programmes.  Trainers may argue ‘of course we cover anger!’ I would respectfully pose some counter questions in response. ‘How have you historically assessed a trainees understanding of, and capacity to deal with anger?’ ‘How has the inevitable anger and rage that arises during training been processed relationally?’  ‘Have trainees experience of this process been evaluated?’  ‘If so, was the experience a therapeutic one for them?’  I could pose further related questions ad infinitum – but I won’t just now.

Against this backdrop I was deeply moved and encouraged to experience the openness, safety, and sacredness of the space Sue held.  The power of naming and dealing with anger, rage and relationship is, I believe, significant both personally and culturally.  I would recommend everybody to read and experience this valuable work.  Signed copies of Sue’s book can be purchased from http://www.empathic-anger-management.co.uk

Mary Stefanazzi MIAHIP ECP is a psychotherapist, supervisor and ethics consultant.  Her website is www.psyche.ie  Mary can be contacted at info@psyche.ie.