In classical psychoanalytic theory, catharsis is the release of repressed psychic energy.
The term catharsis originates from the Greek word katharsis, meaning to purge, or purgation. In psychology, the term was first used by Sigmund Freud's colleague Josef Breuer (1842–1925), who developed a cathartic treatment through the use of hypnosis for patients, primarily women, suffering from hysterical symptoms. While under hypnosis, Breuer's patients were reported to be able to recall traumatic experiences. Through the process of expressing their original emotions previously repressed and forgotten, according to his theory, they were freed from their symptoms. Catharsis was also central to Freud's concept of psychoanalysis; however, Freud replaced the technique of hypnosis with that of free association.
In other schools of psychotherapy, catharsis refers to the therapeutic release of emotions and tensions, although not necessarily the unconscious conflicts emphasized by Freud. Some of the more nontraditional forms of psychotherapy, particularly psychodrama and primal scream therapy, have emphasized the healing potential of cathartic experiences. The scientific evidence regarding catharsis as a therapeutic treatment is controversial. Research shows that venting anger does not actually reduce anger and, in fact, may increase it. Venting feelings is not catharsis. Catharsis in therapy involves experiencing repressed emotional traumas within a safe environment. The expressed feelings are followed by cognitive processing and insight.
See also Cathexis ; Freud, Sigmund; Psychoanalysis ; Repression.
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