According to psychotherapist Jude Bijou, MA, MFT, author of Attitude Reconstruction: A Blueprint for Building a Better Life, extreme acts of violence, like we just witnessed in Newtown, CT, may be symptomatic of a society that does not know how to help people express their emotions in a safe, healthy way. She offers a solution: the OK Room, a designated place to release the intense emotions of sadness, anger, and fear in a safe, private, and effective way.
I asked Jude Bijou to elaborate.
Where are OK Rooms most effective?
OK Rooms can be created in schools, hospitals, office buildings—anywhere where emotions are likely to be heightened.
Who needs an OK Room?
Students, faculty, employees, visitors, or anyone needing to move emotional energy out of the body in a safe and supportive environment.
What do you do in an OK Room?
The idea is to provide a safe area where emotions are expressed without harming oneself or others. OK Rooms often have pillows for screaming into, old phone books to pound, heavy bags to punch, cardboard boxes or magazines to rip apart, and boxes of tissues for crying. They usually include a soft chair or two and a place for a monitor to sit.
Just like an infant has a temper tantrum and then bounces back to her beautiful present self, children and adults can do the same by pounding, stomping, and yelling to move the anger, shivering, and shaking to release the fear, and crying to express sadness. Following a few simple ground rules will ensure that emotional energy efficiently passes through the body, rather than fuels more agitation, anger, and depression.
How would teachers and kids be trained to use an OK Room?
Training of teachers, organizations, administrators, mental health professionals, as well as laypeople is done through a series of videos or live trainings. These training modules demonstrate how to emote constructively and physically without inflicting harm on oneself or others. A simply written e-manual outlines effective ways to deal with emotional energy and address commonly asked questions. Ideally, there would be a hotline set up to answer questions and to coach monitors through situations that they feel uncomfortable with.
In terms of social norms, what kinds of challenges would such an endeavor pose? I'm thinking, for example, of parental protests or even objections from conventionally trained school psychologists. I'm also thinking of the stigma attached to kids who use such a room. Any thoughts?
The proof is in the practice. When I give presentations I have the audience shiver together and then stomp together so they quickly experience the amazing release for themselves. In one middle school where they already have a designated OK Room, kids look forward to getting time to emote. Recently, a child came up to the teacher on the way to recess and said, "I think I'm going to get in a fight at recess. Can I go to the OK Room?"