An abreaction is a retriggering of emotional pain or trauma. The point of hypnotherapy is not to have an abreaction, but to change the problem story on the unconscious level. If an abreaction occurs, we don’t necessarily want to delve into it. Instead we want to release it, and get on with the new story.
Not everyone has an abreaction. Probably 10 per cent of trauma and anxiety clients that I’ve seen have experienced this. An abreaction looks like an emotional response, such as crying or anger. It can occur during a session or in every day life. This reaction will usually happen spontaneously. It can happen during session or after the session as the unconscious begins processing. It is often a sign that change is happening. Other times though, it is just retraumatising and the release still needs to happen.
If the upset lasts more than a day or two, the client should alert the therapist as they may require assistance to really let it go. The experience is not necessarily good or bad but it is unpleasant. Some therapists deliberately invoke an abreaction because they believe that they are raising awareness of new information that can then be healed. I do not recommend deliberately provoking such a response because the unconscious mind is fully capable of understanding metaphor or story as a means to processing pain. Yet abreactions still happen and as said, they are not necessarily good or bad.
Pain from the Past
During the hypnotic trance, memories from the past may be evoked and cause this reaction. In regression techniques this happens more often than in other processes. If the memories are traumatic or painful, it can lead to upset. However in regression the process involves reframing the problem and deliberately confusing the unconscious mind in a helpful way so that the problem dissipates. The entire regression process is focused on addressing the cause and healing the experience, whether an abreaction occurs or not.
Triggers for repressed emotions can be evoked through any of the senses. When this happens, the key is to process out the emotion, as guided by the hypnotherapist. Hypnotherapy often involves working with layers of awareness and an abreaction can come about when a deeper layer is revealed. Once it is realised it can be processed and released. But as mentioned, it is not necessary to experience an abreaction.
Processing an Abreaction
To process out the emotional upset, I will use one or both of the following techniques:
- The Open Window – this is a technique used to break patterns of emotional and or habitual behaviour including anxiety, smoking, food or alcohol abuse and others. The client is guided to taking control of the problem emotion/trigger and managing its decrease in an incremental way, literally showing the unconscious mind that the problem emotion/trigger is diminishing. This forms an instruction to the unconscious mind to create less of it. In this way an abreaction can be literally sent out the window and released.
- Direct Suggestion Hypnosis – this is what most people think of when they think of hypnosis. The client is lulled into a relaxed state and their inner experience becomes pronounced while their outer experience is muted. I will then guide the client into a metaphorical release of non-specific problem memories, so that the clearing can remain abstracted. In this state, specific memories often come to mind when the client’s unconscious mind associates them with the prompts. Other times the feelings remain abstracted. In either case the focus is to process out, remove, and destroy the painful memories, peacefully.
Abreactions are not pleasant, and they are not necessary for healing, but sometimes they are very healing in and of themselves, as long as they are processed accordingly. Releasing past trauma in this way can offer a deep relief and unburdening. The message here is not to be afraid of having an abreaction. They don’t last long and they are one way that your unconscious mind can choose to clear old emotional pain. If you have emotional baggage causing your problem, we can help.