Rage room no replacement for therapy, psychotherapist says

Rage rooms may be all the rage around Halloween, but a Toronto psychotherapist warns they are no replacement for therapy and are not about managing anger.

Toronto-based Battle Sports says its rage rooms are really about stress relief

A person gets ready to smash a bottle with a baseball bat at a Rage Room run by Battle Sports, a company that runs a recreational complex in Toronto. (Battle Sports/YouTube)

A Toronto psychotherapist says rage rooms that are being promoted in the city as "cost-effective anger management" are no replacement for therapy.

A rage room is a designated space where people are allowed to smash objects for a certain length of time for a fee.

Dawn Binkowski, a registered psychotherapist, said she is concerned about marketing claims made by Battle Sports, a company which operates a rage room in its recreational complex in North York and another one downtown in partnership with what it called the Riddle Room. Its second rage room opened in October.

"Rage is uncontrolled, uncontained anger that is often violent," she told CBC News in an interview. "With a rage room, there's a normalization of rage that I think is dangerous. It's irresponsible because they are providing the experience without providing the support."

On its website, Battle Sports bills its rage room as "Cost-Effective Anger Management." In its blog, it says: "We'd like to think we're doing the world a favour by providing a (cheaper) alternative to standard therapy!"

Battle Sports has been promoting its rage rooms as good places for date nights leading up to Halloween. Customers use bats and crowbars to smash objects after booking the rooms for 45 minutes at a time.
Dawn Binkowski, a registered psychotherapist in Toronto, says rage rooms are not about anger management. (Supplied)

Binkowski said the claims may be tongue-in-cheek, but are still misleading.

"My concern is they are advertising it as an effective form of anger management," she said. "I think there's some danger in that. Rage is terrifying because it's uncontrolled. There's no opportunity to engage in conflict resolution. It's like saying it's okay to go whack the hell out of something."

Binkowski said rage rooms might provide "relief and release," they might be enjoyable, but they are not a good idea for people who have been mandated by the courts to take anger management programs after acting out aggressively in criminal ways.

They might trigger memories of the incidents, they might stir up strong feelings, and they might remind people of the satisfaction they felt by being destructive, she said. Rage rooms also do not solve problems, she said.

"If people have difficulty controlling their anger to begin with, this isn't going to help them," she said. "It has the potential to be detrimental."

If a therapist accompanied a client to a rage room, then together they could work through the deep emotions or psychological wounds that might be raised or uncovered by the smashing of objects, she said. "It can be unsettling," she said.
Battle Sports organized an event on Friday called Halloween MasqueRAGE that featured a glow-in-the-dark Rage Room. (Battle Sports)

Binkowski, who used to work as a court reporter but became a therapist 11 years ago, said she likes the idea of an anger room, a controlled environment in which people with the help of therapists express anger. Such a room could benefit people who have trouble expressing strong emotions, she said.

She said she lets her clients hit the couch in her office with swimming pool noodles to express anger. When she went to a retreat run by the Gestalt Institute of Toronto in 2001, she was allowed to hit a log repeatedly, with students and faculty nearby to provide support.

Binkowski said true anger management is expressing anger in a healthy way that does not trample on the rights of others.

Stephen Shew, one of the co-founders of Battle Sports, said the company is well aware that what it offers is not therapy. 

"We are not replacing therapists. We are not replacing doctors. If people have serious issues, they should go to a therapist," he said. "What we are doing is trying to offer a novel experience that allows people to smash items. We have a lot of couples who come in."

Shew said about 70 per cent of people who use its rage rooms have never been in one before. He said some people might use one after they have had a bad week, while others might use one simply to try it out. The company has a security camera that monitors activity in its rage room to ensure safety, he said.

Depending on the package that customers choose, they are given a certain number of "smash items" plus a crowbar and baseball bat.

Smash items include cups, plates, vases and knick knacks, as well as printers, keyboards and alarm clocks. Customers are given protective gear - coveralls, a full face protective mask, work gloves and a protective chest vest. It is recommended that they wear closed-toe shoes.

"We realized there must be a lot of stressed out people in Toronto, with all the corporate jobs in the city," he said. "So we figured, why not offer another alternative for people to relieve their stress?"

He said the company got the idea from a bar in Japan, but there are rage rooms in such places as Serbia and Texas.

According to literature provided by the Salvation Army Homestead, which runs anger management programs for women, managing anger is about being assertive. It is about lowering the intensity of a situation and keeping anger below the level of rage. It is also about pausing before saying or doing something that a person may regret later. And it is about getting needs met without smashing things.