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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.
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.
Freud's mentor, Josef Breuer, may have actually introduced the concept of abreaction. 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 in treatment of neurosis. Jung said:
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.
Abreaction therapy is a form of psychotherapy that uses abreaction to help a post-traumatic stress disorder patient by having them re-live 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 helps the wound heal. In the same way that the lancing process is painful, re-living the trauma can be highly distressing for the patient, who may physically feel memories of the pain.
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.
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