Sometimes my path leads me into areas where I feel exposed, uncomfortable, and without a lot of obvious support.

I depend in the end on the feel of the path beneath my feet and the knowledge that I am not the first to come this way, and likely not the last.

Annie, Get Your Gun:
Some Notes on the Management of Anger in Therapy

11 Nov 1991

In the 80's and early/mid 90's in New Zealand - and elsewhere in the world - evidence obtained by therapists using memory regression techniques was considered adequate to imprison abusers so identified.

These therapists were fully funded by ACC to counsel persons whose trauma was the result of sexual abuse, or accidental injury, but not otherwise. An extremely strong financial incentive existed for these counsellors to identify trauma as having originated with sexual abuse.

Political considerations around marriage breakup also frequently prompted allegations of sexual abuse, and counsellors roped in to lend substance to these claims tended to assume that if the accusation had got as far as them it must have happened.

Recently, I expressed the view that therapy that incorporated punishment, retribution, and/or revenge as a means of restoring a client's sense of personal effectiveness and worth was treading very doubtful ground, especially where information "recovered" from "blocked off" areas of consciousness was used in subsequent legal procedings.

I suggested that even where there was no use of "recovered" information, that punishment addressed issues of effectiveness without doing much about issues of personal worth. Even a bully is effective.

I suggested that a form of therapy directed towards forgiveness was more likely to address healing in its wider sense. I was challenged in this view, on grounds that I think merit proper consideration and reply. The therapist concerned spoke of clients who, in their dealings with other counsellors, felt pushed into forgiveness before they were ready for it, before they had dealt adequately with their anger. That it had been necessary to address the anger first.

I agree completely. After the last police raid on Centrepoint even without being directly involved in the arrests, I found it difficult to go past any police officer, police station or vehicle without making mental fireballs out of them. It took months for this to go, even knowing what I do about forgiveness.

And as far as I am concerned, any client who is pushed into any course of behaviour by a counsellor has cause for legitimate protest.

This being so, my concern is at two points.

In the first place, my experience is that far more clients are pushed in the direction of permanent helplessness, anger and revenge as a matter of present convention, without any adequate procedures being available for discharging the accompanying emotional loading.

Secondly, I believe that the procedures currently in use to "recover" "blocked off" information are not adequate to determine the nature of the abuse, nor to identify an abuser with any accuracy.

Consequently, the management of any anger generated by a client in therapy becomes a matter of some delicacy. I do not believe it is inevitably appropriate in these circumstances to pursue redress or revenge through the courts or even through changes in the present relationships that exist between client and alleged abuser/s.

(it would certainly not be appropriate to use a vividly recalled dream for such purposes, yet dreams can be immensely useful in therapy, provided that they are not confused by client or therapist with out-there reality. Recalled memories, I believe, are of much the same order as dreams.)

For the most part, I do not doubt that such a client has been abused, though not necessarily sexually, nor that his/her pain and anger is anything other than genuine. As such, it is to be honoured and validated. Nevertheless, I believe that a responsible therapist will devise ways in which the anger and the pain can be dealt with in session without directly involving an alleged abuser.

A woman came to see me one morning with a sore arm, after a weekend spent mostly in bed weeping. There were several factors which emerged as I carried out a standard Hyperton-X muscle balance and chatted.

Her primary love interest - I can't think of a better short term to describe a person you are strongly attracted to and hoping for a partner-relationship with - had declined to make his relationship with her monogamous. I took a bit of time out of the Hyperton-X to diffuse some of the emotional energy locked up in this.

Also, it appeared, for some time she had been having intensive counselling for what I am not going to pretend was anything else than extensive sexual abuse. Her counsellor had produced for her a summary list of all the abuse she had ever mentioned and an estimate of the damage it had caused her in her life.

She was appalled and devastated and outraged, all at once - feelings of extreme helplessness, coupled with feelings of intense anger. Her voice was strongly charged as she told me this, though still somewhat choked and ragged, and her body movements were agitated.

She had spent some time down at the beach hurling stones at some effigy or representation of her abusers, and had over-extended her arm muscles to the extent that she had been obliged to discover how to throw left-handed when her right arm packed up. I don't know whether this was her own idea, or at the behest of her counsellor. Whatever, she was still distraught, and she still felt powerless and extremely vulnerable and raw. And angry. And now her shoulders hurt.

I suggested - a little tongue in cheek - that she might like to join a small bore rifle club and squeeze off bullets at targets. There'd be less damage to her arms. I'd belonged to one years ago, and I still remember how satisfying it used to be. "I'd want a bloody machine gun," she said, "and all my abusers tied and gagged. Gagged so they couldn't talk back at me......"

Now, when I am feeling angry and powerless, I can get into gun fantasies too - knee-capping, usually, or bomb fantasies. It's a good signal to me that I am letting things build up and that I have some work to do on myself, so, allowing for personal difference, I reckoned I knew roughly where she was coming from. I chatted a bit more to get more detail.

Then, I set up a fantasy firing range for her, with abusers duly bound and gagged at the far end, and her with her machine gun. She muscle-tested strong. All set? I asked. "You bet," she said.

O.K. I've just taken their gags off, I said, checking her right arm. She muscle-tested weak.

I ran round the alarm points, found one that tested unlocked, and diffused it. She tested strong. She was looking vaguely alarmed at this point, so I re-evaluated for abusers without gags, and confirmed the strong test. I asked her how it felt. She was still a little unsure, but responded with a cautious and slightly surprised "Good!"

By the way, I said, I've just untied them. She looked very sick for a moment and muscle tested unlocked again, and once more I chased around the alarm points and located another emotional involvement. We cleared this too, and she looked very surprised as her arm muscle tested strong.

"It can't be that easy," she reckoned. I was feeling somewhat fiendish at this point. Um, ah, I've just taken your gun off you, I said.

She squawked quite loudly at this and muscle tested extremely weak and I kept a hand just behind her head for a moment before retesting the alarm points and clearing. At this point I re-evaluated for facing her abusers unarmed and with them free to move and speak as they wished. Strong all round.

How does that feel? By this time, her colour had changed, her voice had become richer and more animated and she looked much more centred. "I don't believe it," she said.

Now the bad news, I said. It's not permanent! Weak muscle test. "Bastard!" she said. (She's known me a long time.)

So what have we just been doing, then? I said. What had we been doing, indeed? My experience suggests that diffusing the emotional investment involved in each situation generates an experience of power, often for the first time, in a given situation.

I liken it to a landscape having a six lane motorway through it, and that's the way that habit or social usage or upbringing or convenience or whatever dictates we travel that piece of territory. And every time we go down it, we re-experience our powerlessness, our outrage, our pain and our anger. Or whatever.

My therapy has drawn their attention to a small off-ramp just before they reach this territory which they can choose to use in the future. For a while, it will take some effort to overcome old habits and conditioning. A six lane motorway can't be disposed of overnight. It does take time for the weeds and the gorse to grow back. They will have to use the off ramp consciously and deliberately for a while and they are likely to slip up now and again, and drive straight past. And they will need some support.

But now they know there is a choice, and they know that they can begin to accept some personal responsibility for exercising it. It's not just a strong muscle test they experience. Their entire physical and emotional experience of themselves changes at that moment. They begin to feel effective.

"I see," she said, thoughtfully. "Thank you very much. Thank you very much."

The muscle test has changed back to strong again without any further diffusion, and we brought the session to a close for the day. (In this case, I telephoned later in the week to confirm that she was still coping. It was an important phone call. After weeks and weeks of therapy to get her into the condition in which she arrived on my table, she was at first a little reluctant to believe her shift in perception could have been so simple, or that it could be a "real" shift. She wasn't sure whether she "should" be "cured" with so little effort.

I disposed of the notion that I had "cured" her, and then checked to establish how she was under the doubts. That I had bothered to telephone gave her a sense of support that went a considerable way to address the doubts, and she was then able to contact again some of the sense of personal effectiveness she had gained in my session with her.)