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Abreactions in Hypno-Psychotherapy and/or Hypnotherapy

Abreactions in Hypno-Psychotherapy and/or Hypnotherapy

A common question I get asked by clients is “What are Abreactions in Hypno-Psychotherapy and/or Hypnotherapy?” An abreaction is defined in the Oxford Companion to the Mind as:

“a recalling or re-experiencing of stressful or disturbing situations or events which appear to have precipitated a neurosis. During the recalling the patient is encouraged to give an uninhibited display of emotion and afterwards it is hoped that the neurosis will have vanished.”

Here are some important points about abreactions in hypno-psychotherapy and/or hypnotherapy:

  • Some clients will abreact spontaneously, others won’t even if this is the specific aim
  • An abreaction is different from a display of emotion. The “re-experiencing” part is critical. For example a client may remember an unpleasant experience from childhood and cry about it; this is not an abreaction. For it to be a true abreaction the client would need to be crying as if they were that child now. It can be difficult to tell the difference.
  • A person may abreact a whole range of emotions, and physical symptoms, not just upset.
  • Witnessing an abreaction can be distressing, but the client must be allowed to get through the experience. You can offer words of reassurance, reminding them that they survived the experience, that things are much better now, they are an adult now and whatever it was can’t hurt them now, etc. Do not attempt to break them out of it.
  • Some therapists believe that it is a good thing to induce abreaction; that is they specifically work towards this happening. There is another side to the argument in that it can risk re-traumatising the client. They have already experienced it once. Do they need to again? Those in favour would say that they would be re-experiencing it differently in therapy. It is a safe place and they have adult resources with them.
  • Most abreactions are re-experiencing events from childhood, but not all.
  • Some abreactions may be of events that the person had “repressed”; ie of which they were consciously aware. For an excellent discussion of this phenomenon, see Hartland’s Medical and Dental, Fourth Edition p209-214
  • Some therapists believe that abreaction is all that is required to resolve an issue, some feel this is simplistic. Perhaps, as usual, the truth is in the middle: sometimes it can, and sometimes it can’t. Here are two examples of real cases of ours for whom this has been sufficient. Firstly a client of 35 who could not drive over 30 mph. In hypnosis she abreacted an experience of a crash which she had previously told the therapist was not relevant because it was no big deal. However, she had, for a split second, believed that she had killed her boyfriend in the crash. The guilt, even from that tiny moment was such that she developed the phobia of driving. The realisation gained that the whole thing was based on a fallacy enabled her to leave it in the past. The second case was a colleague of mine who used to have a phobia of dead birds. Hypnotherapy enabled her to uncover a symbolic representation that her unconscious had made between dead birds and an event when she was five which lead her to feel strong feelings of guilt. On re-experiencing this event, she was able to realise that the five year old had NO reason to feel guilty, therefore the connection was no longer required.

Though at times it may be frightening for both therapist and client, abreactions in hypno-psychotherapy and/or hypnotherapy are completely natural and can often be a great precursor to therapeutic change.



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