Three Tools to Help Clients Manage Anger with Mind-Body Bridging

This month we’ve been looking at Mind-Body Bridging (MBB), an holistic approach to healing and wellness developed by University of Utah researcher, Stanley Block, MD. MBB, which is the core modality utilized in our Mind-Body Workbooks, has been building momentum as research continues to show its efficacy, perhaps most notably among US veteran populations suffering from trauma-related stress and emotion regulation issues.

In Block’s latest workbook, The Mind-Body Workbook for Anger, he outlines three tools to help manage anger, which can be adapted for use in a variety of therapeutic sessions almost regardless of the modality you’re practicing. Whether you’re using cognitive restructuring, mindfulness-based stress reduction, an acceptance-based approach, or any other form of treatment, these tools can easily be incorporated into sessions to help your clients manage their anger. You may recognize some of these tools from other modalities; we feel that one of the greatest strengths of the Mind-Body Workbooks is their unique explanations of popular therapeutic concepts.   

  1. Thought labeling.

Teach your client to notice when a negative thought pops into her mind. Remind her as often as necessary that a thought is just a thought. Encourage her to label her negative thoughts each time they appear as mere thoughts, and then return to what she was doing. For example, she might have the thought I’ll never control my anger. She can begin learning to distance herself from the thought by saying I’m having the thought, “I’ll never control my anger,” and it’s just a thought.

The mind naturally makes both positive and negative thoughts. No one will ever get rid of the negative thoughts, and most of us know that trying to get rid of them doesn’t work. When the client attempts to push them way, she quickly realizes she is only giving them more energy. Alternately, if she labels them, she begins to see that the nature of a thought is empty—it’s just a thought. This realization will prevent the I-System from taking a thought, spinning a story from it, crossing the mind-body connection, and causing bodily tension. (If you missed our previous posts on the I-System, check them out here and here.) If that had occurred, the thought would have no longer been just a thought, but a state of mind-body distress that might have led to an angry and explosive outburst.

  1. Bridging awareness practices.

Once your client has begun to notice her thoughts and negative self-talk, she can begin the practice of tuning into her senses, and then returning to what she was doing. Explain to her that when her I-System is active, it closes off her senses until all her awareness is focused on her anger. You can use the metaphor of putting one’s hands over the ears to block out any other sound. The I-System not only keeps her from heating the ever-present background sounds, it also keeps her from experiencing her ever-present natural self. Alternately, when she can return to her senses in the moment when anger is triggered, the I-System quiets, allowing her to deal with the challenge of the moment with a calm, ready mind and a relaxed body.

Bridging awareness practices use the sense to build a bridge from a life filled with anger—the powerless self of the I-System—to life lived at its best: the natural self of executive functioning. Anyone can learn to build this bridge.

  1. Storyline awareness.

Like thought labeling and defusion, storyline awareness helps the client catch herself when she is going over stories about negative things that have happened, so that she can recognize them as storylines, and then return to the task at hand. Remind your client that it doesn’t matter if her stories are true or false, positive or negative, because it’s not the negative thoughts themselves that eventually get her down or vice versa; her storylines create mind clutter that fills every cell of her body with tension. It’s the I-System getting hold of her stories that takes her away from the present moment.

For this reason, storyline awareness is an exceptional tool for reducing anger. Storylines aren’t just stories; they have a harmful physical effect on the body, and cloud the mind. Negative storylines tend to define us, and positive ones tend to confine us. All storylines keep us living in the past or dreaming of the future, barring you from the moment and handling what’s happening right now with your natural self in charge.

Teach your client not only to notice her storylines, but to see the damage they do, and allow her awareness to stop the story. When she’s able to place her awareness on the true nature of the storyline, her executive functioning is restored. Between sessions, encourage your client to notice how much of her time storylines swallow up. Remind her that she doesn’t need to push the story away; she just needs to become aware of it. She’ll learn through practice that her sharpening awareness will dissolve the storylines and dissipate their power over her.

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