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Regression and Abreactions: Are they Necessary for Neurosis?

Research already undertaken indicates that regression therapy can be of benefit to individuals. The claims are that it can help a person ‘return’ to a point in their life where trauma occurred and help them to understand how the impact of the event may have affected their behaviour and choices (Good Therapy, 2007).

If the intention of the therapy is to release repressed emotions, it follows that an abreaction may occur. Is an abreaction to all regression hypnosis necessary to resolve the neurosis? This essay will argue that it isn’t necessary but is very likely.

An abreaction is an emotional or physical reaction caused by re-living the emotional thoughts and feelings associated with the memory of an earlier traumatic event. During regression therapy, it is the addressing and processing of the trauma that is necessary for a successful therapeutic result. The abreaction itself isn’t vital, nor necessarily therapeutic; it is the act of resolving the trauma. Examples of abreactions are any form of emotional release and include crying, showing fear, flinching, and/or yelling. (Emerson, 2003).Regression provides an opportunity to revisit an area in life where you can address the situation with the benefit of hind-sight. This doesn’t mean that an abreaction will always occur but the act of addressing the trauma will enable the client to look at it in a different way, with a different perspective – healing will, therefore, take place. (Dryden and Reeves, 2013).

During the early part of his career, psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud experimented with regression hypnosis. The hypnosis enabled patients to recover repressed memories of childhood traumatic events. During the course of treatment, Freud found that talking about the feelings associated with the original trauma enabled the patient’s “hysterical symptoms” to disappear. He, therefore, perceived hysteria to be the repression of ideas and wishes that are unacceptable to the conscious mind and expressed through bodily symptoms (Dryden and Reeves, 2013).

In age regression, the subject will experience the imagined events as very realistic but disconnected from them. They are still able to respond to questions and instructions appropriate to the non-regressed state and the context (e.g. ‘Now I would like you to come back to the present time’) (Heap and Aravind, 2002).

The efficacy of regression therapy has been likened to ‘lancing a boil’. By exposing the wound and releasing the poison, the wound can heal. In just the same way that draining the infection out of a boil is painful, reliving the trauma can be highly distressing for the patient and some people can even feel the memories of the pain physically (Hunter, 2005).

Clients need to be allowed to experience the abreaction in whatever way that they will whilst feeling supported and safe at the same time. Abreactions shouldn’t be forced nor should they be constrained. The client should be allowed to express their emotions in whatever way is appropriate to them (Hunter, 2005).

Abreaction has been viewed in dynamic psychotherapy and hypnosis as an important and valuable tool. There are a number of other schools which look for an emotional discharge from the patient (Gestalt, primal, rebirthing, re-decision therapy). Gestalt therapists use a variety of creative and confrontational tools to evoke a reaction. Catharsis and abreaction are encouraged. The goal is the integration of affect and experience (both past and present) resulting in an enhanced awareness of the profusion of influences faced by the individual and the capacity to deal with them more effectively. Rebirthing therapy differs little in form and practice from Primal Therapy (the birth trauma). However, the therapy equation is the same: affective discharge plus insight equals change (Feldman and Zeig, 1983).

Heap and Aravind (2002) state that “the regressed subject should speak of the events in the present tense, but this may not be so necessary for therapeutic work”. When subjects are age regressed, it is the emotional element of the experience, the feeling of reliving the memory, that is important. This may be similar to the original but it will be modified by the fact that the person is much older and more mature coupled with the learning that has occurred since. Patients may feel extreme anger when reliving the memory of their being cruelly treated but the anger is that of the child, rather than the adult.

My argument is that it is the process of talking through the trauma and reliving the memory whilst being supported at that moment that ultimately affects change. The abreaction may be a part of the process within the therapy but is not required or vital. Addressing the trauma by looking at it from a different perspective with the support of a professional is the key to countering and addressing the neurosis.

Bibliography

Dryden, W. and Reeves, A. (2013) The Handbook of Individual Therapy. 6th ed. London: Sage

Emerson, G. (2003) Ego State Therapy. Carmarthen: Crown House Publishing Ltd.

Fadul, J.A. (2014) Encyclopedia of Theory & Practice in Psychotherapy & Counselling. Raleigh, USA: Lulu Press Inc.

Feldman, H. and Zeig, J. (1983) Abreaction Revisited, Erickson Psychotherapy: Vol 1. New York: Brunner/Mazel.

Good Therapy – Regression Therapy, 2007. Available from http://www.goodtherapy.org/learn-about-therapy/types/regression-therapy [Accessed 24.02.17]

Hunter, C.R. and Eimer, B.N. (2012) The Art of Hypnotic Regression Therapy: A Clinical Guide. Bancyfelin, Wales: Crown House Publishing Ltd.

Hunter, R. (2005) Hypnosis For Inner Conflict Resolution Introducing Parts Therapy. Carmarthen: Crown House Publishing Ltd.

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