Last week a client made some lovely communication cards in our art session. I wrote about them in a posting and mentioned that we must laminate the cards to make them last longer. What I had actually written in my notebook was:
“We must take the trouble and expense to laminate them, to make them look special so they are enjoyed and get used a lot and, just as important, to make them anger-proof. Because anger there sometimes is”.
There is actually often anger not only with this client but with others too. I am sure that we have all had to deal with it at sometime in our work as a conductor, whatever hat we are wearing at the time.
Because the card-making client comes to art therapy sessions alone it is a different anger to the anger that can be apparent in group work. The anger and the way of dealing with it are different. Very often it is more difficult to work through the anger and to talk about it, or not talk to about it (what ever is necessary at the time), when an individual is alone with a conductor than it would be in a group influenced environment.
Anger and the group
I think when clients work in a group, whatever their abilities, their disabilities, their personalities and level at practising social skills, anger is experienced differently and dealt with differently. The other group members have an immense influence, often more than a conductor can have. In individual sessions this influence of the other group members is missing, then the anger is often directed at the conductor even when it stems from home or elsewhere. When a client walks through the door and is greeted by a group of friendly Hellos, offers of toys to play with, a strong hand-shake or a cup of tea a bad mood can disappear instantly.
A group can radiate its motivating influence in all situations, both over positive and negative behaviours. Encouraging or discouraging without really making judgements, just indicating gently, or in some cases (especially in the stroke group where subtleties have yet to be re-learnt) less gently, what kind of behaviour is expected from their colleagues in the group.
Often if the anger does not disappear at the door then the group sets to work on it. In a group anger can disappear the moment that the angry person meets a favourite friend, or it can be subdued by an observant group member who takes the person by the hand and makes interesting, enquiring and caring conversation until the situation brightens and the anger is dispersed. This works just the same with children as with adults, taking a friend by the hand, sharing a toy or a drink and a piece of fruit. Sharing news, discussing a topical news story, describing a holiday or telling a joke, they all work wonders especially, when the group-members take the lead. This of course is all watched over by the conductors who are always there ready to step in, but in my experience this is rarely necessary, only perhaps as encouragement to the others.
A conductor plays a different role to the other group members when dealing with anger and it is always preferable for the group as a whole to deal with it and to avoid one-to-one confrontations. It is a completely different situation again when working alone with an angry client, especially if the anger is directed at the conductor or used as a way of testing out the lie of the land.
In the individual sessions with my card-making client anger can raise its head in many ways as it can in many of the art therapy and conductive sessions that I have taken part in.
I am not talking about violent anger here, but of an anger that could influence the well-being of us both and influence very much the pleasure that we both get from the session. It could also influence my clients’ willingness to return for future sessions.
Sometimes it can be there at the beginning, underlying the otherwise friendly and pleased-to-be-with-Susie mood. This usually indicates that something has happened earlier in the day or even yesterday that is still being churned over and thought about. This has nothing to do with me personally and will usually remain that way, although I will need to deal with it on and off during the course of the two or three hour session. Something can always happen to change the peaceful atmosphere. Perhaps the anger raises its head a bit higher if my client gets tired or hears the children outside, if the phone rings or if a colleague comes in to use the office. On other days these things do not make him raise an eyebrow, days when nothing untoward has happened during the earlier part of the day to cause an upset.
When I know, or can ask, or can guess the cause of the anger or the cause of its raising its head I can restore the balance quite quickly. I have to be quick on my toes to prevent a bigger outburst. When we know each other well enough a reminder of how to behave in our rooms and with me will quickly restore the working atmosphere.
If I do not know the cause I have to have my wits about me and use all the things that we have accumulated to calm our souls and the atmosphere.
What is on offer?
There is a hot drink, or a cold drink, a snack to eat, a lie-down or a walk around. Music can be played on a CD-player or on instruments, or both. We can change our activities: we can paint, or stick or create something out of natural things, whatever the situation calls for. We always, however, stick to our long-term aim of working on an activity or a project until it is finished, although we could have two projects on the go at once just so we can vary the activity if and when it is necessary.
In one particular session one of my colleagues always comes in to say Hello, the others come in too occasionally. I have encouraged this because of the situation in the lay-out of our rooms. Sometimes they must come in to use the office while I am working. If they do this, then I have asked them always to introduce themselves and show some interest in what we are doing. This makes the disturbance positive and not a potential bringer of anger and disruption. It works well this way and the one colleague who always comes in to say Hello, regardless of whether she has to come through the room or not, is especially welcome. My clients really like her. She is such good fun that all my groups love it when she comes to “disturb” us, tease them and hear any news that they have to tell her. Any anger or bad feeling always flies out of the window and is forgotten about after a few jokes with her.
I encourage these visits, so that they become positive interactive times and not irritable disturbances and time taken away from there attention from me. This week something happened that was different, the visit caused an anger to erupt that although I had been aware of it since my client arrived, it was simmering gently, I had not expected to see it so vividly during our time together. I had had no idea what it was about and, although I had not ignored it, I had not dwelt on it and had provided distractions and interesting projects, and we carried on working.
It is in such situations that one really does have to think on one’s feet. When a client is unable or unwilling to say what is wrong sometimes I can guess quite accurately. This I was fortunate to do, this time. My client was resting, listening to gentle relaxing music when my colleague entered so I put my finger to my lips indicating that we should not speak,. That, I believe, but cannot be sure, was the mistake. My client thought that the door’s opening indicated the arrival of the person who collects him, even though we are so far advanced that he is not collected at the door anymore. He goes out on his own.
I was able to bring calm back to the situation, just by encouraging my colleague to speak and ask questions and be interested. It worked but it may not have done. Sometimes two or three different ways need to be tried. Even in a group the first path sought does not always work. Patience and lots of ideas are needed.
My colleague asked me later if I ever have Angst in these situations. I reflected on other situations when not only anger was expressed verbally but also aggressive behaviour. These were potentially dangerous situations.
But do I have Angst at such times?
What should I answer? Both Yes and No? No at the time, but Yes afterwards? I am not sure.
I really can truthfully say that am not sure. There is no time in the given moment to consider whether one is afraid or not, and afterwards, if there is Angst, then it is a different kind of fear that one has. A fear of what could have been and not of what really was.
In the actual situation it is not an important question. The questions are always: “How am I going to bring this situation back to a calm and peaceful one again?”. “What action is needed right now?" Whether alone with an individual or within a group, with children or with adults there is no time and no reason to think about my own fears, the other people present will have enough of them themselves. Remaining calm, and making spontaneous decisions that (nearly always) work, remove any thoughts of fear and with the situation resolved we try to carry on, making time when it is needed later to talk calmly about the situation.
Dealing with it
The most important thing for me especially when working with children, is not to let a child’s anger become contagious. The other children must not “catch” it and neither must the conductors. It could be easy to become angry with a child who is angry, other children in the group really dislike having their play disrupted by angry children but they dislike it even more if the angry child influences the playfulness of the conductors. I have also experienced this in adult groups, especially in MS groups and it is a constant task of the conductors to prevent individual group members’ negative moods, their anger at the world, infecting the atmosphere of the group.
So yes, anger is there sometimes. Communication cards have to be laminated to protect them from it. Not only that, conductors need to be on their toes to disperse it, to create and restore calm. Group members need their wits about them too, so that they can do whatever they can. Most importantly anger should not be ignored.