Supporting a child with anger issues in a Therapeutic Storywriting group – a case study

Ten-year old Mike (name changed) was an academically able Y6 boy who was on the SEN register because of his inability to regulate his anger. He had attended a 10- week Therapeutic Storywriting group with five other Y6 pupils and was interviewed at the end of this as part of a research project.

According to the SENCO ‘he has a lot of difficulties with friendships, he’s very intense – problems arising from how he feels about his situation at home’. She said his behaviour in school had given cause for concern as ‘he fights with kids, gets very angry with them.’

She said he was referred to the group because, ‘it was felt this was a good way for him to have a chance to be with others, share ideas and in a supportive way’. She added, ‘it’s been great actually.’

Mike himself mentioned his anger problem and said that the group had helped him ‘to release my anger in small portions.  Now it goes into my pencil and into stories.  I can make a story around how I feel.’ 

Several of his stories were mythical adventures where the main character has to kill some monster or ‘hideous beast’, as illustrated below:

Mike thought that his stories had become less aggressive since joining the group.  Here is an extract from the post-group evaluation with Mike.

Mike: I wrote really aggressive stories sort of like hard – stories with death and blood. Now I can write better stories because you can basically try and put your feelings on to the paper.

Researcher: So how would you say your stories have changed then?

Mike: I would say they’ve changed in character and feel more personal. 

Mike was also able to talk about his relationship difficulties saying that he could ‘get a bit edgy’ in class and that normally, ‘I can’t work right away with people because my ideas clash with theirs but it’s easier here.’  He thought that he had got on quite well with others in the group and that it had helped his friendship skills. ‘If you’re shy you can show your emotions and you know that people won’t laugh their heads off, you can trust them now’.

The support which Mike gained from the group seemed to be reflected in his story Pleasure Island, written as the sessions were drawing to an end. In this story the main characters are named after himself, another member of the group and the group teacher (he uses her surname, David):

One beautiful day, three kids called Mike, Andrew and David were taking a ride when suddenly the boat capsized near an island.  After three days on that island, they searched for food and drink.  When they had been searching for 5 minutes, they found a cave where on the wall was a piece of writing. It said ‘When the clock strikes the hour, food and drink are yours’. The hour came.  The cave suddenly burst with wealth and food and everything you can imagine appeared before their eyes. 

“We can build a boat and go home”, said David.

“No, we have everything we need here”, said Mike.

One way of reading this story is to see it as a metaphor for how Mike had found emotional nourishment in the group.  Interestingly, when David (the group teacher) suggests that they can go now leave the island, Mike is reluctant to leave as he feels they ‘have everything we need here.’  This could imply that Mike feels increasingly content to be in the storywriting group and is reluctant for the group to end.

Mike said that taking turns in the group had helped him with his listening skills and that taking part in the group had helped him to write more:

 ‘Before I would have rushed the events. I can write up to the ending – so I can write faster.  Now I write up to 1 page of A4.  Before it was about half a page of A4’.

When asked what sort of children would benefit from the group he replied, ‘people who have problems – if your family’s been really sad you can work that into a story. Basically people who are over-emotional – like if you get really angry.’  

When Mike was asked how he felt about the imminent ending of the group he replied rather dramatically ‘Get my gravestone, Granny!’  He then added, ‘I just really like it.  I really like it.  I just prefer it to class. If the Storywriting Group was class and I had to go there every Friday that would be even better.’

Dr Trisha Waters

Case Study taken from Research Project Writing Stories with Feeling