How Music Therapy Can Help with Anger Management

Music Therapy is a clinically proven method for regulating emotions and managing anger


How Does Anger Affect Us?

Anger is a very strong emotion that affects every person differently, and can manifest in a variety of ways. These include holding grudges with the intention of carrying out revenge, violent outbursts, or a constant feeling of anger. This emotion unchecked or in excess, can be detrimental to relationships with coworkers, family, and friends. In addition to affecting one’s personal life, uncontrolled anger can also take a toll on physical health. Anger can raise blood pressure and increase risk of heart disease. Extreme anger can stem from various experiences, such as bottling up other negative emotions or traumatic experiences. Many people also deal with painful experiences by lashing out, as they find it more comfortable to feel anger than pain. Anger doesn’t carry a diagnosis, like depression or an anxiety disorder, since it is something every person experiences, but music therapy continues to be a successful therapeutic approach to help clients to process and express their anger, along with other emotions, in a healthier way. 

Where’s the Proof?

Case Example 1

A study called Influence of Music Therapy on Coping Skills and Anger Management in Forensic Psychiatric Patients was completed with forensic psychiatric patients in order to determine whether or not music therapy can help people with uncontrollable anger or disorders that may reduce the patient’s ability to process anger. For example, one of the participants in the study is named Keith, and he has a Cluster B personality disorder and a very low IQ. He has violent outbursts of anger where he destroys property or attacks people around him. Keith is in prison due to one of his outbursts and was referred to a music therapist. His therapist helped him improve his anger management skills.

In his sessions, Keith head bangs and jumps to music, his version of dancing, and sometimes he feels the urge to scream because he is agitated. To discourage screaming, they help him to write his own lyrics so that he can rap them. These lyrics are always personal to Keith and are very simple so he can remember them. These lyrics also allow him to work with rhyme and rhythm. They match the music that Keith listens to with his mood. In music therapy, this is referred to as the Iso principle. He also practices relaxation methods and learns when to utilize them in real world situations.


This study concludes that in the patients who were in the experimental group and participated in music therapy sessions showed an increased tendency to use positive coping skills. Those in music therapy also showed a greater ability to manage their violent behavior. Another benefit of the music therapy group is that participants who received it experienced an improvement in their attitude about their psychiatric symptoms. These participants also showed progress with managing and accepting the limitations of those symptoms.


Case Example 2

In another study, female inmates were surveyed after 12 music therapy sessions. They reported lower feelings of stress, higher relaxation, and a more developed ability to express their feelings. The self-reported results of this study show that music therapy greatly decreased frustration and anger in these inmates. Music therapy is proven to form healthier coping mechanisms that lead to acceptance of anger as opposed to aggressive and violent behavior. 

 

Although these studies were done in jails where music therapy is commonly used for forensic anger management clients, music therapy can also be applied to all people who struggle to manage their anger.


What Are the Goals?

Obviously the big picture goal of using music therapy for anger management is helping clients to better manage their anger. But there are a lot of smaller goals that help to achieve the big picture goal. These goals range from identifying the memories or experiences that trigger the anger to developing a system of skills to cope with the anger. These goals help clients to identify where their outbursts or periods of uncontrolled anger stem from and develop healthier responses to anger triggers. Other goals include learning relaxation strategies and developing a deeper awareness of uncontrolled negative emotions and how they harm personal relationships.

 

 What Music Therapy Interventions Can Be Used?

Music therapy is a multifaceted field that has a variety of different intervention methods based on the needs of the client. In reference to anger management and processing negative emotions, some interventions are used to achieve the aforementioned goals. One of the intervention methods used in jails is lyrical analysis. Lyrical analysis allows for clients to interact with the lyrics of familiar songs and analyze their meaning. In doing this, clients can assess their own thoughts and feelings in relation to the content of the lyrics. This helps them to get in touch with their feelings, and to achieve the goal of awareness of their emotions.

Another intervention commonly used is performance. Clients express their emotions through movement, mime simple activities, and consider their use of space through their physical form and volume of their voices.  

Lastly, clients can write song lyrics and sometimes perform them. This serves as a sort of diary for clients to write out what they’re thinking or feeling, and through performance they can express these thoughts and feelings in a way that is healthier and more constructive than violent outbursts or short tempered anger.


The Bottom Line

Anger, while not a diagnosable disorder, can be unpredictable and hard to control. If it goes unchecked, it can have detrimental effects on the clients’ relationships, and even lead to trouble with the law or incarceration. Violent outbursts can cause harm to friends or family, and splinter personal and professional relationships.

Music therapy and it’s interventions have been proven to help reform clients with anger management issues or disorders that cause them to struggle with anger. In prisons, inmates participate in music therapy sessions to become more in touch with their emotions and control their outbursts. In addition to its success in jails, music therapy for anger management is also successful outside of forensic settings. Anyone who struggles to control their anger or has a disorder that may hinder emotional regulation could benefit from music therapy. Lyrical analysis, writing of lyrics, dance and movement performance, or any other music therapy interventions commonly used to help clients with anger management issues could produce positive results. 


*Much of the information used in this blog is in reference to the research study titled Influence of Music Therapy on Coping Skills and Anger Management in Forensic Psychiatric Patients


Hakvoort, Laurien, et al. “Influence of Music Therapy on Coping Skills and Anger Management in Forensic Psychiatric Patients.” International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology, vol. 59, no. 8, 2013, pp. 810–836., doi:10.1177/0306624x13516787.



Abbey Farina
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