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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.
"Abreaction: concept introduced by Sigmund Freud in 1893 to denote the fact that pent-up emotions associated with a trauma can be discharged by talking about it. The release of affect occurred by bringing 'a particular moment or problem into focus'... and as such formed the cornerstone of Freud's early cathartic method of treating hysterical conversion symptoms."
Early in his career, psychoanalyst Carl Jung expressed interest in abreaction, or what he referred to as "trauma theory", but later decided 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 is a form of psychotherapy in which abreaction is used to assist a patient suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder by re-living the experience in a controlled environment. Sigmund Freud and Josef Breuer used hypnosis as a tool for recall in abreaction therapy.
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.
Dianetics and Scientology are two forms of abreaction that science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard borrowed from the United States Navy  when he spent three months in a San Diego hospital in 1943 with the complaints of an ulcer and malaria. Hubbard later wrote, in his autobiography "My Philosophy," that he had observed abreactive therapy in the hospital, though in later life he claimed to have made the discovery on his own after being wounded in battle and given up as untreatable.
Pop culture references
- In Thomas Pynchon's novel Gravity's Rainbow, the main character experiences numerous abreactive episodes.
- Theodore Sturgeon wrote a short story named "Abreaction" concerning this sort of experience.
- In Peter Shaffer's 1973 play Equus, the climactic scene is an abreactive episode.
- Salman Akhtar, ed. (2009). Comprehensive dictionary of psychoanalysis. London: Karnac Books. Retrieved April 27, 2013.
- Collected Works of C.G. Jung, volume 4, Freud and Psychoanalysis: Some Crucial Points in Psychoanalysis, Jung-Loy Correspondence (1914).
- Hales E and Yudofsky JA, eds, The American Psychiatric Press Textbook of Psychiatry, Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Publishing, Inc., 2003
- "War Psychiatry in the Merchant Navy". Proc. R. Soc. Med. 38 (5): 217–26. March 1945. PMC 2181173. PMID 19993044.
- L. Ron Hubbard -- Messiah? Or Madman?, Chapter Two
- A Piece of Blue Sky, Chapter Two, Page Five