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The Function of Aggression Handout 2

The Function of Aggression Handout 2
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Workshop: The Function of Aggression in Therapy

Handout 2


(1) What are your experiences of aggression, from both positions of aggressor and aggressee?

(2) from your own experiences, how would you describe what aggression is?

Page 2

The word grid is offering a representation of some interconnectedness of aspects to be explored on this subject of aggression

image of page workshop handout - word grid

Page 3

Collect together all the words that would relate, in some way, to aggression


Can these words be themed?



Page 4

Rewarding - Punishing table image

Perls - Panksepp Table image
Perls-Panksepp-Lichtenberg table image

Page 5

Poem and narrative image handout page 5

Page 6

Holding the client’s projections and transferences

Staying attuned to the client’s sense of being using empathy, attention, full regard, acceptance, presence …

Allowing the client to ‘aggress’ – in its original meaning: move towards you …

Accept that the client’s aggressive (probably angry) manner to you as the therapist is a positive. You are safe enough for the client to be this way…

Accept the client’s aggression seriously Be attentive and do not discount or retreat from the aggression; meet the aggression and the client with respect.

Hold on to your own sense of being and worth. It is not you that has transgressed the client … keep your own respect.

The therapeutic work is to support the client’s awareness of the aggression rather than the aggression itself.

Hold onto seeking in the client the intentionality of action …

Avoid enactment of aggression; this is not supportive and usually detrimental…

Support the client to develop other feelings; often the aggressiveness masks unexpressed feelings.

Maintain the relational acceptance of the client, as one client commented “I couldn't be confrontational. I was always met with reason and smiles; it's overwhelming. I felt something – like a shadow or an aura – and I couldn't be aggressive"

Page 7


in everyday speech and in scientific psychology "aggression" usually denotes an offensive attack intending the infliction of harm – frequently associated with emotions of anger or rage – either on an interpersonal or an international level


Aggression, either in subtle or direct ways, aims to demean or harm another
(Staemmler, 2009, pp. loc 479, 705)

Here, I believe, is where we need to focus our attention when we examine a situation that we are involved in, or when we are with a client’s situation. What we can take from this definition of aggression is the intentionality of the behaviour – to demean, to harm.


assertiveness aims to put one's own needs or wishes forward and not to harm another
(Staemmler, 2009, p. loc 705)

The intentionality of assertiveness is different from that of aggression. With assertiveness the intentionality of the behaviour is of the person’s own needs to be put forward.

Holding this in mind I believe that most situations, especially in therapy, acts of supposed aggression are in fact acts of assertion.

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