Abreaction is episode of emotional release associated
with bringing previously repressed emotional experiences
(e.g., physical, sexual, and/or emotional abuse or trauma)
into conscious recollection. The term is often used by
those who practice psychoanalysis, a branch of
psychotherapy begun by the famous neurologist, Sigmund
Freud. Abreact means a) to show strong emotion while
reliving a prior experience that was traumatic and b)
release of emotions that had been repressed.
Abreaction is considered a form of catharsis (emotional release). The purpose of
abreaction is to purge the body of emotional excess. While Freud was a proponent of
abreaction, another famous psychoanalysis (Carl Jung) believed that the skill,
enthusiasm, and confidence of the therapist (known as an analyst in psychoanalytic
circles) were more important than abreaction.
Abreaction is still used in modern psychotherapy and psychology as a way to treat
posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), in which a person develops certain signs and
symptoms after being exposed to an extreme traumatic stressor, causing clinically
significant impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.
The traumatic experiences are sometimes brought
to the surface in abreaction therapy via hypnosis.
Hypnosis is a technique in which a person is
placed in a mental state that resembles sleep and
is given suggestions that the person will accept.
When the emotions are brought to the surface, it
occurs in a controlled environment. The technique
is conceived as akin to popping pimple, in which
releasing the pus (analogy for negative emotions)
allows for healing to take place. However, the
experience can be very distressing for the patient
and does not always work.