If you’ve ever felt like smashing stuff, this therapy might be for you.
I’ve always been a little short-tempered. When I was younger, my parents would chuckle and tease me about my temper tantrums.
It was cute as a kid, but it became clear as I grew up that managing my outbursts would be a key part to becoming a mature adult.
I invested a lot of time into my personal growth to develop strategies that help me prevent my temper from getting the better of me. I won’t lie: It’s difficult at times.
That said, I was intrigued when I started hearing about the concept of rage therapy. Everything I learned so far told me I had to keep my anger and rage contained, but this new movement advocated for letting it out.
Rage is a tricky emotion to study. Is it positive or negative? It’s a hot debate, with many psychologists unable to provide a definitive moral answer.
Most interventions around managing anger and rage have focused on regulating physical symptoms and reactive thoughts through cognitive behavioral therapy. This process helps individuals understand and change their responses through counseling and behavior modification.
The general assumption has been that rage and anger are unwanted emotions that need to be managed and minimized.
Social and evolutionary psychologists, as well as mental health professionals, now find that anger has beneficial qualities — it can help us make sense of the world around us.
When experienced and embraced on a mild-to-moderate scale, anger can help us move forward positively.
While there’s no clear psychological definition for rage therapy, there are growing alternative interventions focused on releasing our rage.
I spoke with Dr. Sheri Jacobson, clinical director and founder of Harley Therapy, to learn more.
“Many mental health conditions stem from unexpressed emotions. If we don’t give space to these emotions, then we’ll come up against psychological difficulty. Rage and anger are no different,” Jacobson advises. “If we can release those emotions in safe ways, then we can provide some relief from them, in the same [way] as scratching an itch.”
The impact of the pandemic and political events over the past year have given people plenty of reasons to feel angry, which might be why there’s a rise in alternative rage therapy practices.
From rage room experiences to online scream clubs where individuals can sign in and scream into their microphone, there are options out there.
These are also referred to as smash rooms or anger rooms. They’re purpose-built rooms where people can vent their rage by destroying objects.
Rage rooms may consist of fake living rooms with replicas of furnishings, such as televisions and desks. Or they might contain a range of random objects. Some rage rooms are located at junkyards where there’s plenty of stuff to smash.
These are websites where you can scream with others across the internet. You can hear the screams of other members, and they can hear yours. It’s as simple as using the microphone of your phone or laptop, and letting it all out.
If you’re feeling some pent-up anger and frustration, you might want to give it a try.
Though there isn’t much research, rage rooms and scream clubs may offer several benefits.
A sense of empowerment
Anger can stem from a sense of helplessness and lack of control over a situation.
Finding a way to channel your anger, even briefly, can help you feel like you’re reclaiming your emotions. As a result, you may feel more empowered and ready to tackle the situation anew.
A safe space to explore emotions
One benefit of rage therapy is the opportunity to explore your emotions in a safe and contained way. There are boundaries in place that help you manage your venting proactively and safely.
Non-judgmental freedom to “let it all out”
Anger and rage aren’t socially acceptable emotions, and expressing them might feel counterintuitive to everything we’re taught. Rage therapy offers a safe alternative to focus on these emotions without judgment.
Motivation for positive change
If change is needed in our lives, anger can help motivate us to do something about it. Anger and rage can be triggered when our needs are blocked or when we face obstacles.
These emotions served evolutionary benefits of survival, and they can motivate us to take action. We just need to make sure it’s an action we want to engage in, rather than one fueled by reactivity.
A way to improve relationships
Practices like rage rooms and smash clubs could be a good bonding exercise for those experiencing the same stressors.
Breaking things together could be a fun way to blow off some steam and a great way to start a conversation about what’s getting us so worked up in our lives.
While some of these rage-management practices sound fun, there may be cause to be wary.
“Venting can be helpful; however, rage is often violent and uncontrollable,” Jacobson warns. “Whether these practices exacerbate your feelings depends on how helpful the behavior is and whether it’s helping you address and understand the reasons you’re so angry.”
On top of this, it’s only a way to release the pressure — not prevent it.
“You can smash and scream all you like, but it won’t necessarily address the underlying issues,” Jacobson adds.
A 1999 study found that venting anger and rage can lead to further feelings of aggressive behavior.
“Some practices for managing anger and rage can create a cyclical narrative and end up perpetuating negative thoughts, such as ‘I’ve lost control’ and ‘I can’t handle this,’” Jacobson says. “Anything done to excess can also be problematic, as it compounds our feelings and makes us feel worse.”
Rather than simply seeking to express and expel the emotion, Jacobson advises it’s more important to seek strategies that allow us to bring our negative feelings into balance.
“Part of the work to do with managing anger is ‘thought balancing.’ We’re wired for negative and repetitive thoughts, so we need to focus on finding balance,” Jacobson says. “This doesn’t mean being artificially positive, but acknowledging and accepting our emotions in balance with our experiences.”
Rage rooms and scream clubs will only take you so far. To find acceptance of your feelings, Jacobson suggests building a toolbox of resources that work for you.
This may include:
“ACT is a great starting point, as it allows us to acknowledge our emotions and what we’re going through, as well as place events in the past,” Jacobson says.
As humans, we evolved to understand our emotions and the ways they impact us. We have sophisticated resources available to help us get to the heart of our troubling emotions, like rage, and work to bring them into a better balance.
“The great news is we do have the ability to change our thoughts. It can be hard work, but it can happen,” Jacobson adds.
Rage therapy and scream clubs may be a great way to unwind and release tension built up from a lot of anger. They may also be a good place to make connections and vent about life.
At the same time, it won’t help with the underlying issues that cause anger in the first place. It’s important to have management strategies in your toolbox to help you work through your emotions in addition to releasing them.
Elaine Mead is an educator, writer, and psychologist-in-training, currently based in Hobart, Tasmania. She’s passionately curious about the ways we can use our experiences to become more authentic versions of ourselves, and she’s obsessed with showing you photos of her Dachshund puppy. You can find her on Twitter.