Abreaction is a psychoanalytic term referring to a discharge of emotion that is attached to a repressed experience. In contemporary psychoanalysis, the analysand tries to not only feel but also intellectually understand the emotion—that is, the why and how of its repression. According to contemporary abreaction theories, the emotional experience coupled with an intellectual understanding bring about a therapeutic result.
In the early days of psychoanalysis, however, the intellectual component wasn’t deemed important for successful therapeutic progress. One just had to feel, it was thought. In fact, Freud, who introduced the concept in 1893, often tried get his patients to abreact under hypnosis.
Freud’s star pupil Carl Jung showed some interest in abreaction but also in its limitations. Jung believed that abreaction could bring about a positive, cathartic experience. But also he believed that abreaction of personal trauma wasn’t the only way to bring the psyche to health. Also, Jung argued that some patients fantasized or actively made up their early traumatic experiences.
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