Marco* first came to therapy to help manage his anger. Marco stated that he has been angry for a long time now. He stated that he has a very bad temper, snaps at everything, and gets into physical fights at least three times a month. When asked where he learned to be angry, Marco had no problem talking frankly about his father. Marco was a victim of child physical abuse from the ages of 7-14. Depending on his father’s mood when he walked into the home, Marco knew if he was going to get to sleep peacefully or if he was going to have another bruise on his body. Marco learned very quickly how to protect his younger siblings from being hit by placing himself at his father’s mercy. Marco thought that instead of his brother and sister being hurt, he will take the brunt of it. His mother, who was also scared of Marco’s father, stayed quiet and stood back while Marco got hit. Now as an adult, Marco has realized that anger has taken over.

As Marco’s therapist, the initial task at hand for me was to build rapport with him while creating safety. I provided Marco with a safe space for him to express his thoughts and feelings. Creating safety for Marco also included helping him gain self-care resources. For Marco this meant regulating his emotions and body sensations, along with getting regular sleep and eating habits. Marco was not in touch with his body. He knew he felt tense, but wasn’t able to describe or connect with his tension. Marco early in therapy looked like he was always on edge, being very careful of what he would say and not say, had tension in his shoulders, and had a right leg that wouldn’t stop shaking up and down (when talking about his abuse). One of the first tasks in therapy was to help Marco learn to calm himself down by also learning how to connect with his body sensations. I helped him focus in on his body sensations in the present moment in our sessions, describing what his sensations felt and looked like. Marco started to understand how his sensations and past trauma are connected.

Since anger was a familiar and comfortable feeling for Marco to express, I helped him learn about anger in his body. By focusing on the sensations he experienced in his body, Marco was able to know when he was going to get angry, giving him the opportunity to think before he acts. In session, when Marco would talk about his father’s physical abuse towards him, I would check in with him and see how he is feeling inside. One session that really stands out to me is when I noticed Marco’s fists getting tighter and tighter in session when talking about a past memory. I asked Marco to temporarily stop talking about his memory of being hit and to shift his focus on his hands. Marco noticed the tension in his hands and said he felt like hitting something. At that point, I asked Marco to follow his body’s sensations (in a safe way). Marco decided to punch one of the pillows on the couch. Marco punched the pillow, over and over, until he got the tension out of his hands. I had never seen a client punch a pillow like that before. He was able to release that pent up anger he had been carrying with him all these years. I then encouraged him to return back to his trauma memory when his body was relaxed.

My work with Marco is a work in progress. He has come a long way in his therapy process and is learning to self regulate more effectively as time goes on. He is also no longer getting into fights and is handling his anger better. He continues to attend therapy once a week and has also joined a group therapy specifically for men with trauma.

*Marco’s name has been changed to maintain confidentiality.

Author's Bio: 

Cristina Mardirossian, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, has a Masters degree in Clinical Psychology from Pepperdine University, and a Bachelors degree in Psychology and Women's Studies from UC Santa Barbara. Cristina has a wide range of experience with a variety of populations and cultures, spanning from working with trauma (sexual, neglect, emotional, physical abuse, etc), grief & loss, depression, anxiety, relationship issues, self esteem issues, etc.

Cristina is trained in a variety of techniques, interventions, and modules, including Trauma Based Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy. Cristina makes an effort to approach each client in a manner suited to his or her unique needs.

Cristina is also a member of The California Associate of Marriage and Family Therapists (CAMFT) and Armenian American Mental Health Association (AAMHA).

Cristina Mardirossian, MA., LMFT
Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist
Lic. # MFC 49234