Everyone can point to an event that changed their life. For me, it was the anger workshop.

The alcoholism treatment center in San Francisco, where I worked in the 1970s, had an “anything goes” culture for staff. We were encouraged to get in touch with our feelings, express them, and act them out. No holds barred

I once joked with our supervising psychiatrist that the place was a residential treatment center for staff. He winked, put a finger to his lips, and said, “Shish,” like it was our secret.

The anger workshop for staff showed how thin the line was between training and quasi-therapy for staff members. I was twenty-nine and single.

A clinical social worker like me, Carla Peters, came in regularly as a consultant to teach us couple and family therapy skills. Thirty-one and an expert on cutting-edge therapy approaches, she radiated self-confidence. She was gorgeous, with strawberry-blonde hair, a peaches and cream complexion, and an Australian accent that charmed me.

Australia is a boy’s club,” Carla said once. She must have been glad to live in California during feminism’s heyday. Today she wore a leather mini-skirt and shoes with stacked wooden heels.


Carla began the workshop, saying, “To help our clients deal with their anger, we need to understand our own anger.” I admired Carla, but what did she mean about being aware of my anger? What anger?

I looked around the circle of ten staff members in the barely furnished room and back at Carla.“This will be an experiential workshop,” she said, and I’ll ask for a volunteer to role-play with me. But first, I’d like each of you to relax. Close your eyes and let your mind drift. Then think of someone with whom you’re angry. It can concern someone you’re angry at now or someone you’re angry with over something from way back.”

My colleagues and I slumped in their chairs and closed our eyes. This exercise wasn’t going to be easy for me. I was interested in hearing about others’ anger, but I had none.

I was happy and excited. My sister, Gloria, thirty-one, was getting married in a few days. I was about to go home to Rockway, Queens, New York, for the wedding. I was a bit tired because my excitement about the trip kept me awake too long the night before. Gloria didn’t expect me to fly from San Francisco to New York on short notice for the small ceremony in the rabbi’s study, but of course, I said I’d go.


Carla said soothingly, “If you’re having trouble coming up with anything, that’s alright. Just breathe in and out slowly until you feel relaxed and an image comes to you. Then open your eyes. I filled my lungs and exhaled a few times slowly. I thought, Dad.

Startled, I opened my eyes. Why had he come to mind? After the divorce, my father stayed in my life, taking Gloria and me out to dinner every week. He’d helped me with math and science high school homework on the phone many evenings. When I visited my mother in Rockaway, we always got together. I’d even stayed overnight with his new family during some recent vacations.

Be he popped into my mind, even if I couldn’t make sense of it.

“Who wants to go first?” Carla asked gently.
I stood and joined her in the center of the circle.

“Good, Marcia,” she said. “Thank you, and who is the person you’re thinking about?”

I whispered, “my father.”

She asked me to close my eyes again and take a few deep breaths, remember what made me feel angry, and recall something he said. I thought of his critical words and hurtful actions from years back.

“The details don’t matter,” Carla said. “Feel your feelings, and say what you want to tell him. Imagine he is right there in this room.”


Keeping my eyes closed, I said quietly, “I’m furious with you.” I said quietly. “My voice lacked emotion.

“Louder!” Carla said. “Tell him all about it. He’s right here.”

“How could you?” I said weakly. Talking to my father this way wasn’t easy. While growing up in my family, an unspoken rule was I couldn’t be angry.

This isn’t going anywhere. I might not be so angry after all. Maybe someone else should have a turn at this.

“Take this,” Carla said, handing me a hefty pillow. “Beat this on the floor,” she said. “Bang it and keep going.” I tried again with my eyes closed, but the action felt more floppy than angry.

I couldn’t rage. I didn’t know how to.
Frustrated, I opened my eyes. Camen was taking off a shoe. This might help, she said, tossing it to me. “Bang it on the floor, hard as you can.”

I tapped its heel o the floor lightly, then harder, pounding it repeatedly, panting, keeping the momentum building. I dented the linoleum floor with the shoe’s wooden heel. Finally, I banged it violently; the heel detached and flew across the room.

My mouth dropped open. I must have looked guilty because Carla, still composed, said, “Don’t worry; I’ll get it fixed.” I handed her the heel and the rest of her shoe.
“Hmm . . .,” she said, “What else is there? Something bigger —
“How about this,” Ellie offered, pointing to a rickety old wooden chair in the corner of the room. Ellie was a 59-year-old recovering alcoholic paraprofessional. She was fun, outspoken, and a self-styled hippie who wore her greying brown hair down to the middle of her back. We were friends and led a therapy group together.

“It’s ready to throw it out anyway,” added Julie, the head nurse, who was also my buddy. She was obese yet called herself chubby, which amused me. Julie was pretty and dressed beautifully.


“Are you sure?” Carla asked.” A few people nodded, and someone brought me the chair.

I was ready. I let loose, frenzied, slamming the chair on the floor repeatedly, grunting deep noises from my gut. Crash! One of its legs came off. Bam! Off came the other. I kept going, bashing what remained of the chair against the floor.

I forgot about everyone in the room, about being in the room at all, as my rage took over. I was furious with my father. I’d never told him how I felt about him leaving our family to marry another woman.

The chair’s other legs loosened and wobbled. Smash! The back broke off from the seat. I stared at the chair’s back, still in my hand. It was a rectangular frame of brown wood with crossbars.

I was breathing heavily, shaking, and crying. Gently, I set the piece on the floor.


“Keep that,” someone said. “Take it home.”

I was spent physically, frightened, and exhilarated.
Everyone congratulated me. Carla said softly, “This has been a powerful experience for you. It will take time to integrate. Be gentle with yourself over the next few weeks.

Back at my apartment that evening, I leaned the rectangular piece that had been the chair’s back against the wall by my closet. It symbolized my father, or what had been his hold on me, and my strength, the power deep within me.

I was a heroine! I felt drained and proud. What came later is another story.

Author's Bio: 

Marcia Naomi Berger, LCSW, is a psychotherapist and the author of Marriage Minded: An A to Z Dating Guide for Lasting Love (She Writes Press 2021) and Marriage Meetings for Lasting Love: 30 Minutes a Week to the Relationship You've Always Wanted (New World Library, 2014. Her books are available in print, e-book, and audiobook formats. www.marriagemeetings.com