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The release of repressed psychic energy.

The term catharsis originated from the Greek word katharsis, meaning to purge, or purgation. In psychology, the term was first employed by Sigmund Freud's colleague Josef Breuer (1842-1925), who developed a "cathartic" treatment for persons suffering from hysterical symptoms through the use of hypnosis. While under hypnosis, Breuer's patients were able to recall traumatic experiences, and through the process of expressing the original emotions that had been repressed and forgotten, they were relieved of their symptoms. Catharsis was also central to Freud's concept of psychoanalysis, but he replaced hypnosis with free association.

In other schools of psychotherapy, catharsis refers to the therapeutic release of emotions and tensions, although not necessarily unconscious ones such as Freud emphasized. Certain types of therapy in particular, such as psychodrama and primal scream therapy, have stressed the healing potential of cathartic experiences.

See also Repression

Further Reading

Jenson, Jean C. Reclaiming Your Life: A Step-by-Step Guide to Using Regression Therapy to Overcome the Effects of Childhood Abuse. New York: Dutton, 1995.

Additional topics

Psychology EncyclopediaPsychological Dictionary: Abacus to Courage