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?”
Children look forward to using OK Rooms because they have permission to thrash, pound, kick, scream, laugh, and cry—to express their emotions and experience the benefits. Who doesn’t want a place to just let go when they feel at the end of their rope? Within five or ten minutes, you’re ready to resume dealing with anything thrown your way.
Can an OK Room in a school or in a home help seriously angry and disturbed individuals? How does acting out one’s extreme emotions heal such a person?
Emotions, in essence, are pure energy—sensations in the body that are natural and inherent in every human being. If we move that energy out physically and constructively, we avoid adopting ways to compensate that harm ourselves, hurt others, and impact the planet. We’ve been hearing lots of debates recently about “causes” for sporadic violence in our school systems. Arguing over gun control is like focusing on the symptom and ignoring the disease. As a nation, we need to address the problem at its origin—at the root cause. Underneath all of these acts of violence and senselessness are unexpressed emotions—especially anger, regardless of how seriously angry or disturbed an individual is. We are all full of unexpressed anger, fear, and sadness, despite the kind of symptoms we exhibit.
The solution is apparent: Learn how to process and release anger (as well as fear and sadness) in a way that does not harm others and frees the body, mind, and spirit from destructive attitudes and behaviors.
OK Rooms are nonpartisan in that they allow everyone to take responsibility for owning and dealing with their own emotions. They’re effective. They’re inexpensive. And they’re transformational.
Learn more about how to set up an OK Room by contacting Jude Bijou at her website, www.attitudereconstruction.com.
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Jude Bijou, MA, MFT, is a respected psychotherapist, professional educator, and workshop leader. Her theory of Attitude Reconstruction® evolved over the course of more than 30 years working with clients as a licensed marriage and family therapist, and is the subject of her award-winning book, Attitude Reconstruction: A Blueprint for Building a Better Life.