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Abreaction is a psychoanalytical term for reliving an experience in order to purge it of its emotional excesses; a type of catharsis. Sometimes it is a method of becoming conscious of repressed traumatic events.

Early in his career, psychoanalyst Carl Jung expressed interest in abreaction, or what he referred to as "trauma theory", but later found it had limitations concerning the treatment of neurosis. Jung stated that:
"though traumata of clearly aetiological significance were occasionally present, the majority of them appeared very improbable. Many traumata were so unimportant, even so normal, that they could be regarded at most as a pretext for the neurosis. But what especially aroused my criticism was the fact that not a few traumata were simply inventions of fantasy and had never happened at all"..

Jung believed that the skill, devotion and self-confidence regarding the way the analyst did his work was much more important to the patient than the rehashing of old traumatic emotions.

Abreaction therapy

Abreaction therapy is form of psychotherapy in abreaction is used to assist a patient suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder by re-living the experience in a controlled environment. Hypnosis is often used as a tool for recall in abreaction therapy.[citation needed]

The efficacy of this therapy has been likened to "lancing a boil". Exposing the wound releases the "poison" and allows the wound to heal. In the same way that the lancing process is painful, re-living the trauma can be highly distressing for the patient, and memories of the pain can be physically felt.

Pop culture references

  • In Thomas Pynchon's novel Gravity's Rainbow, the main character experiences numerous abreactive episodes.
  • In Peter Shaffer's 1973 play Equus, the climactic scene is an abreactive episode.


  • Collective Works of C.G. Jung; Some Crucial Points in Psychoanalysis: Jung-Loy Correspondence (1914)
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Abreaction". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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