<< Return to InPsych August 2006 

Dr Michael Currie MAPS
Centre for Psychotherapy Hunter New England Mental Health
Conjoint Senior Lecturer School of Psychology University of Newcastle

Doing Anger Differently (DAD; Currie, 2004) is a school-based program for young adolescents boys who display high levels of anger and aggression, which was devised and researched through 2000-2005. Such boys, on the threshold of manhood, are physically capable of very destructive acts, and combine this with a childlike and vengeful understanding of human relations. Commonly the problem these males present is shunted from the education system to departments of justice as violent boys leave or are expelled from school and join a marginalised subgroup of criminally minded youth. However, maintenance of regular attendance within mainstream schooling is linked with a reduction in risk for such an outcome. The DAD program was developed as a response to the substantial difficulties involved in the treatment of chronic aggression and anger in early adolescence.

Percussion: a metaphor for anger

The most innovative aspect of DAD is a series of Latin American percussion exercises that have polyvalent effects on the members of the group. The exercises firstly help boys to use percussion as a non-verbal metaphor for their rage and anger. These emotions often manifest in overwhelming bodily arousal, but elude speech. As music is isomorphic with emotion, the percussion exercises can provide a bridge between the body (i.e. the physical affect) and speaking about the emotion. This bridge allows boys to speak where previously they have acted violently.

Adolescent boys love to play the drums, preferring a drumming group to routine school classes where they are often in conflict with teachers. The percussion exercises provide a context for participants to enter into intense and meaningful group relationships. After a short time the group provides a locus of enjoyment and membership - often the first time a boy may have experienced this, given the troubled backgrounds of many participants.

Group therapy interventions

The program also includes a model that structures group therapists' interventions into the action and discourse of the group. The aim is to draw out participants' ways of perceiving actions and participants' recurrent fantasies that lie behind these perceptions. This allows for an individualisation of the treatment in a cycle of assessment and intervention into each boy's difficulties as they unfold in the group over time. Weekly supervision is essential to this process. The aim of intervention is to assist boys to move from a paranoid to a critical habit of mind. This is achieved not through a skills training approach, but by drawing out participants' latent knowledge as expressed in the discourse of the group. We have found that such an approach makes best therapeutic use of the inclination to mastery and the dramatic re-organisation of psychical and social life that are features of puberty.

The enjoyment of the group that the percussion creates serves a special purpose. When boys threaten aggression within the group this also threatens the survival of the group. Therapists repeatedly show boys who threaten aggression that this same aggression also destroys the place that they enjoy and they feel they belong. This places each boy in the position of having to place a limit on their aggression if they wish the group to continue. Participants, with the assistance of therapists, find their own subjective way of keeping the rules of the group. This is quite different to keeping the rules for an authority (i.e. a school teacher). This experience of making and keeping rules in the group means the group mimics the function of a father: i.e. boys learn to act to get what they want within the bounds of social rules and laws.

Evidence of effectiveness

Two randomised control trials have shown that participation in DAD results in lowered anger, aggression, depression and increased self-esteem. Teacher observed aggressive misbehaviour was reduced by 80 percent nine months after the end of the treatment. In 2004 the program won a National Crime Prevention Award from the Australian Institute for Criminology.

A book and treatment manual based on the DAD program will be released through Melbourne University Press in late 2007 or early 2008. For further information, contact the author on Michael.Currie@hnehealth.nsw.gov.au.

Reference

Currie, M. (2004). Doing anger differently: A group percussion therapy for angry adolescent boys. International Journal of Group Psychotherapy, 54, 275-295.