Catharsis Psychology

By Ashley Brown|Updated June 30, 2022
CheckedMedically Reviewed By Tanya Harell, LPC

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

What Is Catharsis In Psychology?


Online Therapy Can Help You Face Your Past And Release Pent Up Emotions

You’ve probably heard the word “catharsis,” but perhaps you don’t know exactly what it means. It 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 great outlet for people who are having trouble with stress, anger, and their 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 that include thousands of specific ways to achieve an emotional catharsis.

  1. Music: Throughout history, music has been used to help people deal with 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. It brings a sense of catharsis as it releases those sad feelings and clears the way for more positive emotions.
  2. Punching Bag:There was a time when parents of children with anger issues were advised to buy their children a punching bag. In theory, children would achieve catharsis and their anger would go away if the child released their anger by hitting the punching bag. Scientists are still researching this, but it may be a better idea for adults instead.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. Primal Therapy:In primal therapy, the goal of catharsis is to release the person’s earliest childhood suffering. 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 member sitting in an empty chair.
  6. Reliving Traumatic Events:In therapy or on your own, you may reach a point when you relive a past event and reach catharsis. For example, it can happen automatically when you’re forced to return to the scene of a trauma. As you’re confronted with the details of an environment where you once felt threatened, you can now experience those feelings freely, knowing with catharsis that the threat is in the past.
  7. 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 is the much the same.
  8. 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 you had long been buried. The catharsis can be the same with a well-acted movie.
  9. 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.
  10. Psychoanalysis:Sigmund Freud developed the psychoanalytic method, and much of his work centered on bringing about catharsis in order to promote psychological healing. Now, psychoanalysts use catharsis, but only as the first step in helping clients understand themselves so they can make better decisions.
  11. Psychodynamic Therapy:A psychodynamic therapist encourages their patient 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.
  12. 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.
  13. Rituals:Throughout human history, people have used rituals to deal with mental and emotional problems. This kind of catharsis can happen individually, or it can happen in groups.
  14. Humor:Humor helps people release their emotions, often in a raucous burst of laughter. This catharsis is something that’s easy to do because you can watch TV or a movie, talk to someone, or do a number of other things to get a good laugh. Sometimes, you may find that in releasing via laughter you will cry, and/or vice-versa – a truly cathartic experience.
  15. 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.
  16. Exercise:Although catharsis is an emotional release, it brings about many 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.

Is There Anything Else I Can Do?

There are psychologists out there who understand that simply talking about a problem may not lead to a catharsis. Furthermore, if someone has done something to upset you, it may be most beneficial to tell them if you want to resolve your feelings and reach catharsis.
Alternatively, you can deal with thoughts and memories by giving them time. Eventually, some memories fade and become less painful, so you may no longer feel upset, or the need for catharsis.
If you feel like you’re often overwhelmed and it gives you anxiety, you may need to endure it for a while, be with the emotions, so that you can feel more comfortable with them and better understand them going forward. This can be another form of catharsis. When you get used to pressure and discomfort, even if it’s just in your head, it can make things easier the next time you experience similar feelings. Of course, if none of these techniques help, talking to a counselor can make a big difference and bring catharsis.

Seeking Help

Online Therapy Can Help You Face Your Past And Release Pent Up Emotions

A form of catharsis can be helpful, but it also comes with risks. This is especially true when you’re dealing with a lot of anger. If you’ve been through trauma or ongoing abuse, it’s often best to talk to a therapist who can help you deal with your emotions safely and reach catharsis. 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.

You can talk to a licensed therapist at BetterHelp any time you need to address your mental health concerns and find catharsis. 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.

This accessible and convenient nature is due to BetterHelp’s remote nature and ability to be accessed anytime, anywhere. You’ll be personally matched with a counselor who is well-suited to helping you discover the source of your difficulties, so you can deal with them in a way that works better for you. Sessions can be conducted via video chat, phone call, instant messaging/texting, live voice recording, or any combination thereof. 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.”


In psychology, emotional catharsis is a special area of study for therapists who seek to help others overcome emotional repression, anxiety, depression, and fear. With the right therapist, you can face your past, release emotions, and learn new ways to think about your memories. It’s never too late to address a problem-take the first step today.

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