Catharsis Psychology Definition (A Comprehensive Guide)

The concept in psychoanalytic theory where the emotions associated with a specific traumatic event resurfaces again is known as catharsis.

This work originated from a Greek term which means purging or cleansing and is associated with the elimination of negative affect, emotions, or behaviors which are mostly associated with unacknowledged trauma.

Catharsis is considered to be an integral component of therapy which can be used to address repressed memories and this phenomenon usually occurs during the process of hypnosis.

In the previous generations, catharsis was used by the psychoanalytic mental health practitioners to treat the symptoms associated with hysteria.

In this article, we will discuss catharsis psychology definition. 

Catharsis psychology definition: History of Catharsis

The term Catharsis was first used by Josef Breuer in the psychological context who was a colleague and mentor of Sigmund Freud, who used to imply hypnosis on people to reenact traumatic events.

According to Breuer, the clients under hypnosis were able to express their emotions related to the traumatic events fully, then it can be said that they had a catharsis.

According to some anecdotes, catharsis was a common treatment used which can result in the elimination of symptoms of mental health illness especially in the case of hysteria. 

Catharsis psychology definition: Current Use of Catharsis

During the current times, as the theory of psychoanalytic has gone out of focus, so has Catharsis psychology definition and its concept but still, in modern times some of the therapists might still refer to the concept of catharsis in therapy.

These cathartic moments might not be to draw out the repressed memories of these traumatic events under hypnosis but for some other purpose.

This concept of catharsis and repressed memories has been challenged commonly, but in between them, there had been a number of scandals where the therapists manufactured inadvertently, the repressed memories of the events of their clients that have not actually occurred.

The usual diagnosis of hysteria has been now taken over by somatoform and dissociative disorders and the mental health professionals are no longer going for diagnosing their clients with hysteria.

Hence, in their mind, they have little or no incentive to provide any treatment for the symptoms related to hysteria.

Catharsis psychology definition: Psychological Benefits of Catharsis

There have been no studies yet that can demonstrate the effectiveness of the original concept of Catharsis psychology definition by Breuer.

However, there is enough evidence that states that addressing these unaddressed feelings of a person that were previously left as it is can help them with different mental health conditions, as one of the goals of therapy is also to address difficult emotions.

Technically the concept of Catharsis psychology definition is to release such emotions that have been held up after an event.

According to the psychoanalytic theory, the release of such emotions is deeply linked with the need of the person to relieve or end unconscious conflicts.

For example, having continuous stress over work-related issues and problems for a week may end up having the person in tension and frustration.

Rather than venting such feelings over others or in any inappropriate way it is way better for the person to let these feelings out in a better way, such as stress-relieving activity or some physical exercise. 

Catharsis psychology definition: The Meaning of Catharsis

The main term of catharsis has itself been derived from the Greek word of katharsis which means cleansing or purification.

This term is not only used in therapy but it is also used in literature as well.

This can be used as such that the hero of the novel will end up experiencing some emotional catharsis that might lead to the hero being restored or renewed.

The main purpose of using catharsis is to bring about a form of a positive change in the life of the individual.

Catharsis psychology definition involves both a cognitive component where the individual might gain new insights and also the emotional component where they can feel and express some strong feelings. 

Catharsis psychology definition: Catharsis in Everyday Language

The use of the term Catharsis psychology definition has also found his way into our daily life and literature, which is most commonly used to describe the moments of experience or insights of finding closure.

For instance, an individual who is going through a divorce might explain such experience as a cathartic moment which can help them bring a sense of peace and also give them the push to move past the previous bad relationship.

Some of the people also explain that they experience some cathartic moments right after some stressful or traumatic events such as job loss, accident, health crisis, or the death of a closed or loved one.

While the term is used a little differently to one described in psychoanalysis, catharsis can also be used to explain the different emotional moments that can help an individual to bring positive changes in a person’s life. 

Catharsis psychology definition: Examples of Catharsis

Catharsis can occur during different moments in life and also when the individual is taking therapy for some repressed memories.

Some of the main examples of the occurrence of catharsis can be :

1. Talking with a friend. A deep discussion with one of your close friends related to a problem that you are facing might ignite a momentary spark of insights that might end up in you seeing how a previous event in life is shaping or contributing towards your current patterns of behavior.

This sudden emotional release can make you feel better and help you out in facing the current problem.

2. Listening to a song. Music can be inspirational and motivational but it can also sometimes give you great insights in different moments of life.

Music can help you in releasing your previous emotions in such a way that it leaves you feeling refreshed and restored. 

3. Creating or viewing art. Another form of releasing such emotions is by creating arts as a powerful art can also help stir up deep emotions, this can help the individual in feeling refreshed and creative. 

4. Exercise/Punching Bag: Another way to refresh oneself from such emotions is through exercise, where the physical activity helps the individual to vent out those emotions in a positive way.

There was a time when parents were advised to buy punching bags for their children so that if feeling angered or frustrated these feelings could be vented out on the punching bag rather than keeping them inside. 

5. Psychodrama: One of the types of theory where the participants go through troubling events from their pasts while acting them out is known as psychodrama.

As the person that was involved in that event or situation goes through it again, it gives them a chance to take out the feelings from that time and to feel relieved and get over the incident from their past life. 

6. Art: Creating new masterpieces can have a soothing or cathartic effect too and can help a person overcome emotional feelings.

It can also help that person to express those feelings on the canvas and to let it out there on a clean slate. 

7. Primal Therapy: The goal of the primal theory is to help a person release the emotions from his early childhood or from his earliest sufferings.

Here, the therapist may guide or instruct the client to express each and every feeling they have been hiding starting from the earliest years and direct it towards his imaginary parents.

8. Reliving Traumatic Events: During therapy, there may be a point where you can relieve your emotions related to your past events on your own.

For example, when you are forced to return to a scene of trauma it can happen automatically as you are confronted with the details of that past event and feel that experience freely you can see that it was an event of the past.

9. Writing: Another exercise that can help relieve emotions is through writing which can be highly therapeutic.

Many mental health programs and psychologists encourage their patients and clients to write a journal for this same reason.

Whether you are creating poetry, writing a novel or writing about the experiences of your daily life it helps you to express those emotions that you have gone through all day into your writings.

10. Reading Literature and Watching Films: Acting and Reading can also provide experiences that can help out with the catharsis effect, the results of those movies can also help us overcome the traumatic events of the past.

For instance, a good book or a movie where the author has expressed the same feelings that you had buried inside you can help you express those emotions and be free from them. 

11. Volunteering: Sometimes volunteering to help others deal with their horrible experiences, can also help a person to overcome the difficult times faced by him.

It can also help them to express those feelings that they faced by helping others in the same situation.

12. Psychoanalysis: Psychoanalysis developed by Freud is another method which can be used to express such feelings, it uses the process of catharsis to bring around psychological healing.

13. Psychodynamic Therapy: When the client talks back through his experience and emotions of the past events that is known as psychodynamic therapy.

The main goal of this therapy is to help the client dive deeper into themselves so they can find the root problem of their emotions and present difficulties and fix it up.

14. Emotion-Focused Therapy: This therapy is more focused on couples to help them improve their relationship further.

The main purpose of this therapy is to develop emotional intelligence between the couple which is done by letting them walk through past experiences and events that have been hurtful by them and look for better ways to respond to such events. 

15. Rituals: Rituals have been used to deal with emotional and mental problems throughout the history of human life, which usually happens in group form but can also be done as an individual. 

16. Humor: Humor is also another way to release one’s emotions in a burst of laughter.

This is one of the easiest ways to express one’s emotions and get free of them with a good laugh. 

FAQ about Catharsis psychology definition:

What is an example of Catharsis psychology definition?

The emotional release that the audience or the characters experience the process of catharsis can lead to a sense of renewal and forgiveness.

Some of the examples of catharsis are: playing the piano, writing a journal, creating art, etc.

What is a cathartic release?

A cathartic is basically the emotional release of some previous repressed up memories that are hidden or buried by the individual.

For instance, it can be due to the stress or tensions at work which can lead to feelings of frustration.

What is the purpose of catharsis?

The main purpose of catharsis is to help the individual vent out buried emotions and to cleanse him of such thoughts which can help them in feeling restored and refreshed. 


Kendra Cherry (2020): “The Role of Catharsis in Psychology (2016): “Catharsis”

Ashley Brown (2020): “16 Examples Of Catharsis Psychology”

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