Catharsis Psychology

Updated March 23, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

A string of unfortunate events or a traumatic experience can cause a feeling of turmoil that continues to build. Eventually, you may reach a point where you feel like there’s so much emotion bottled up inside that you become overwhelmed. When this happens, catharsis psychology can be helpful. Read on to learn about the definition of catharsis psychology and sixteen ways you can make it work for you.

Pent-Up Emotions From The Past Can Affect Your Mental Health

What Is Catharsis In Psychology?

The term catharsis comes from the Greek word “katharsis,” which refers to purification or cleansing. When used by modern psychologists, catharsis means discharging negative emotions to relieve intense anxiety, stress, anger, or fear.

In recent years, catharsis psychology has been adapted a bit to become more applicable to modern times and situations. Psychoanalysis still focuses on getting over negative events and feelings, but not necessarily in a cathartic way. However, catharsis can still be a positive outlet for people who are having trouble with stress, anger, and strong emotions, and many people have relied on it to successfully release these feelings.

Examples Of Catharsis Psychology

There are many ways to discharge emotions or experience catharsis. The following examples are broad categories, each of which can include thousands of specific ways to achieve emotional catharsis.

  1. Music: Throughout history, music has been used to help people cope with their emotions. Music is often in itself an emotional or cathartic experience. When you feel sad and listen to a sad song, you may feel better, or at least more understood. Music can bring a sense of catharsis as it releases those sad feelings and clears the way for more positive emotions. 

  2. Psychodrama: Psychodrama is a type of therapy in which participants act out troubling events from their past. As the person in question becomes involved in the scene of their past hurt, they may relive the feelings they overlooked back then, finally experiencing them fully and letting them out in catharsis.

  3. Art: Creating art can have a cathartic effect, too. Every art medium has the power to help both amateur and professional artists release emotions in catharsis. One person may spatter paint on a canvas, flinging away their anger as they do. Another might draw heavy black slashes with a charcoal pencil.

  4. Primal Therapy: In primal therapy, the goal of catharsis is to release the person’s earliest negative childhood memories. The therapist may instruct the patient to express the feelings they’ve been hiding all of these years by directing their anger toward an imaginary parent or family sitting in an empty chair.

  5. Reliving Traumatic Events: It is often advisable to only relive traumatic events under the supervision and guidance of a professional. In therapy, you may be guided through a past traumatic event and reach catharsis when you’re able to talk about it without reacting as usual. As you’re confronted with the details of an environment where you once felt threatened, you can now experience those feelings freely through catharsis, knowing that the threat is in the past. 

  6. Writing: Writing can be highly therapeutic. Many psychologists and mental health programs encourage journaling for this very reason. Whether you’re writing directly about your experiences in a journal or creating poetry to express those emotions through poetic words and images, the catharsis release can be just as equally effective.

  1. Reading Literature And Watching Films: Writing and acting can provide catharsis, but so can experiencing the results of those creative endeavors. When you read a well-written book, you may find that the author expresses a familiar feeling so clearly that it brings up feelings you thought had long been buried. The catharsis can be the same with a well-acted movie.

  2. Volunteering: Sometimes, when someone has a difficult experience, they deal with it by volunteering to help others. Of course, this also involves community activism, which can provide catharsis as well. Giving support to others can boost positive feelings in yourself. 

  3.  Psychoanalysis: Sigmund Freud developed this psychoanalytic method and much of his work centered on bringing about catharsis to promote psychological healing. Now, psychoanalysts use catharsis, but only as the first step in helping clients understand themselves so they can make healthier decisions.

  4.  Psychodynamic Therapy: A psychodynamic therapist encourages an individual to talk about past experiences and emotions. The goal of psychodynamic therapy is to go deeper than the person usually does in their everyday life, so they can experience catharsis with the root problems of their present difficulties.

  5.  Emotion-Focused Therapy:  Emotion-focused therapy is often used to help couples reach catharsis and improve their relationships. It works by allowing patients to develop emotional intelligence. This happens as the two people re-experience past hurts, put them into perspective, and find catharsis in new ways to respond to them.

  6.  Rituals: Throughout human history, people have used rituals to cope with mental and emotional problems. This kind of catharsis can happen individually, or it can happen in groups. There are different categories of rituals, including spiritual, religious, status, and more. 

  7.  Humor: Humor can help people release their emotions, often in a raucous burst of laughter. To achieve this kind of catharsis, you can watch TV or a movie, talk to someone, or do several other things to get a good laugh. Sometimes, you may find that in releasing your emotions via laughter you will cry, and/or vice-versa – a truly cathartic experience.

  8.  Confession: Telling your life story with all of your secret thoughts, actions, and experiences can release emotions that you only vaguely knew were there. This may also be true in religious ceremonies, even though the main goal here isn’t usually emotional release or catharsis.

  9.  Exercise: Although catharsis is an emotional release, it can bring about many other changes in the body as well. The cardiovascular, respiratory, gastrointestinal, and musculoskeletal systems are all affected as pent-up emotions are released. Some people find that they can achieve catharsis by exercising or doing something physically demanding that promotes the same types of physical changes.

  10.  Making Noise: The emotions you have to go somewhere, and it can be productive to let them out by creating noise. You might play an instrument, bang on pots and pans, or even scream into a pillow. This can be a cathartic experience by allowing you to fully let go and let what happens, happen. 

Pent-Up Emotions From The Past Can Affect Your Mental Health

Seeking Help

Catharsis can be helpful, but it doesn’t come without risks. This can be especially true when you’re coping with a lot of anger. If you’ve been through trauma or ongoing abuse, it’s often more productive to talk to a therapist who can help you cope with your emotions safely and reach catharsis in a guided environment. If you're struggling with fear or phobia, seeking professional help can go a long way. Mental health professionals are equipped with the psychology of fear knowledge and armed with techniques that can help you cope and heal. They can also use catharsis as a therapeutic tool to help you in coping fear or phobia. Once you’ve released your bottled-up emotions, you can develop new ways of dealing with the present.

If you are facing or witnessing abuse of any kind, the National Domestic Violence Hotline is available. Call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or Text "START" to 88788. You can also use the online chat.

Online Counseling With BetterHelp

If you are experiencing mental health concerns that need to be addressed, online therapy may be helpful. You can connect with a licensed therapist who has experience with catharsis through BetterHelp, an online counseling platform. BetterHelp’s ability to be accessed from anywhere can give it an accessible and convenient nature—which may put you at ease. Sessions can be conducted via video chats, phone calls, instant messaging, or any combination thereof. A therapist can help you discover the source of your difficulties, which may stem from events from your past, and teach you how to cope with your emotions in a productive way.

The Efficacy OfOnline Counseling

Online counseling can be effective in improving a variety of mental health conditions. Studies conducted on BetterHelp found that 98% of users experienced significant improvement in their conditions and mental health journeys, 94% preferred it to face-to-face therapy, and nearly 100% found it to be accessible and convenient.

Keep reading for a couple of reviews of qualified therapists who have helped others find emotional release using a variety of cathartic methods.

Counselor Reviews

“Lori has been absolutely amazing to work with. In just a couple months she has helped me process, resolve and release some issues I had been holding onto and trying to let go of for a very long time. She listens with full presence and non-judgement, and responds with total understanding. I feel very safe in our sessions to speak my truth, and Lori also challenges me to see things in new ways I hadn’t previously considered. I am incredibly grateful to have found Lori, and I really value the time I get to spend with her. Lori really cares about the well-being of her clients, and she does a great job of helping her clients feel that care and support, which has really helped me to feel safe and grow :)”

“I have only been seeing Heather for a couple of weeks, but she has already been extremely helpful. She makes me feel like I am heard and that my feelings and experiences are valid. I would highly recommend her to anyone who needs to be listened to and receive competent and helpful feedback and guidance.”

The Takeaway

In psychology, emotional catharsis is a special area of study for therapists who seek to help others overcome emotional repression, anxiety, depression, fear, and trauma. With the right therapist, you can face your past, release pent-up emotions, and discover new ways to think about your memories. It isn’t too late to address a problem that’s been holding you back. While traumatic events can be difficult to talk about, online therapy offers a safe environment in which you may be able to open up more comfortably. 

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