Abreaction (German: Abreagieren) is a psychoanalytical term for reliving an experience to purge it of its emotional excesses—a type of catharsis. Sometimes it is a method of becoming conscious of repressed traumatic events.
The concept of abreaction may have actually been initially formulated by Freud's mentor, Josef Breuer; but it was in their joint work of 1893, Studies on Hysteria, that it was first made public to denote the fact that pent-up emotions associated with a trauma can be discharged by talking about it. The release of strangulated affect by bringing a particular moment or problem into conscious focus, and thereby abreacting the stifled emotion attached to it, formed the cornerstone of Freud's early cathartic method of treating hysterical conversion symptoms.
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.
Mainstream psychoanalysis tended over time (with Freud) to downplay the role of abreaction, in favor of the working through of the emotions revealed through such acting-out of the past. However, Otto Rank explored abreaction of birth trauma as a central part of his revision of Freudian theory; while Edward Bibring revived the notion of abreaction as emotional reliving, a theme subsequently taken up by Vamik Volkan in his re-grief therapy.
In Scientology, Dianetics is a form 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.
- Introduction to Studies on Hysteria
- Salman Akhtar, ed. (2009). Comprehensive dictionary of psychoanalysis. London: Karnac Books. Retrieved April 27, 2013.
- S Freud, On Psychopathology (PFL 10) p. 72-3
- Collected Works of C.G. Jung, volume 4, Freud and Psychoanalysis: Some Crucial Points in Psychoanalysis, Jung-Loy Correspondence (1914).
- Otto Fenichel, The Psychoanalytic Theory of Neurosis (London 1946) p. 572
- S Freud, On Psychopathology (PFL 10) p. 309
- J Didion, The Year of Magical Thinking (London 2005) p. 55
- "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