What is the Meaning of Abreaction in Psychotherapy?

Last Update on September 13, 2022 : Published on April 21, 2022

Have you ever heard of abreaction before? There is a high possibility that you must not have heard of the word but i am sure you must have experienced abreaction quite a few times. What is abreaction you ask?

Well, abreaction is an involuntary response your mind generates to a certain stimulus that is related to your past experiences. Let me explain it to you with the help of an example;

I have traveled a lot and during one of my travels the bus I was in met with an accident. Unfortunately, I was wide awake during the accident and the initial collision is stored as a photographic memory in my brain. So, now whenever I travel and the driver applies strong brakes or a strong high beam light falls on my face, I instantly hold my seat so that I’m not thrown off.

This unconscious emotional and physical reaction is called abreaction. It is mostly experienced by people who have been through a traumatic experience and feel similar anxiety when these memories begin to resurface.

What Is The Meaning Of Abreaction?


Abreaction Definition– Abreaction is an automatic physical and emotional response generated by your mind and body upon the recollection of a painful memory from the past. This involuntary response is a reaction to an act similar to the one in your past that caused you pain. The emotional and physical reaction evoking act is (in the present) not aiming to hurt or cause pain, but you still get scared.

In simple words, abreaction is a protective response to an act that you assumed would have caused you pain. For example, people who have been through physical abuse usually cringe when someone raises their hand to simply scratch their head or just do some stretching.

But to a physical abuse victim, raised hands are directly linked to abuse and that’s why they might just move slightly to protect themselves.

Also read: What is Trauma-Informed Therapy, Its Techniques, How It Works (And More!)

What Is Abreaction In Psychotherapy?

Abreaction in psychotherapy or an abreaction therapy makes use of the abreaction response itself to help you get over it. Having abreactions may be a sign that you have not come to terms with those upsetting feelings.

While you are in therapy, your therapist might try to free you from the abreactions that you are having. The process of the same involves you experiencing abreaction in a controlled therapeutic setting.

This is done so that you can process those negative experiences that cause abreaction, you can identify negative thoughts and finally replace them with productive and positive thought processes. Therapists basically use abreaction itself to recondition your brain.

How Is Abreaction Used In Therapies Like Hypnotherapy, EMDR, Etc?

Abreaction is not used as a single strategy to deal with your mental health condition. Abreaction is used to support the current treatment that you are going through. The use of abreaction is debatable because some professionals find the use of abreaction very helpful where some do not appreciate the use.

Those who choose to use abreaction while administering certain therapies that deal with trauma often try to make you revisit your trauma so that you can express each of your thoughts and feelings about the painful past clearly.

Therapists use abreaction as a tool to explore hidden feelings about the traumatic past. They even use it to find out what’s triggering that response, and abreaction helps in identifying the factors responsible for disturbing you.

Simply put, therapists use abreaction to explore and investigate the experiences in the past that caused you pain. They do this to understand your condition better and to know where you are coming from.

How To Deal With An Abreaction Outside Therapeutic Setting?

how To Deal With An Abreaction

Abreaction can be evoked artificially but let’s not forget that it is a natural response to actions that are similar to their traumatic experiences. When abreactions happen during a controlled environment like in a therapy session, there is a therapist to monitor your condition who doesn’t let you topple down.

But when abreaction happens in an uncontrolled environment, you should know how to cope at that moment so that you don’t end up hurting yourself even further. Here’s what you can do;

1. Beware of what triggers abreaction: no one knows your trauma more than you and you know evokes those feelings. Try to be consciously aware of all the potential triggers so that you’re not caught off-guard.

2. Learn calming breathing techniques: abreaction can result in an increase in adrenaline and heighten all your senses. You can use breathing techniques to help yourself calm down and relax.

3. Be around your friends and family: if you know you get triggered very easily make sure you are around your support system. Be with people who understand your condition and help you calm your senses.

4. Seek professional help: if abreactions occur frequently or have started to disturb you it’d be best to seek professional advice. There are many therapies that can help you work on your abreactions like hypnotherapy, EMDR, cognitive behavioral therapy, etc.

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That’s All Folks!

That’s all about the meaning of abreaction and what abreaction means in psychotherapy. Abreaction can be a frequent occurrence in people who have experienced physical trauma and abreaction itself can be used as a tool on the road to recovery.

I hope you found this blog about understanding the meaning of abreaction and the above-mentioned tips help you deal with abreactions when they leave you overwhelmed.

Thanks for reading.

Take care and stay safe.

About The Author

Kirti Bhati
Kirti Bhati

I am an English literature (major) and psychology (minor) graduate from St. Bede’s College, Shimla. Postgraduate in Clinical psychology from IIS University, Jaipur. She has published a Research paper on Music therapy in the military population and Workplace stress in a national seminar conducted by Fortis hospital (gurugram) and international seminar conducted by St. Bede’s College, Shimla, Respectively. Authored a dissertation work on ‘effect of social media addiction on the mental and physical well-being in adolescents’ Currently working at calm sage as a writer.

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