What does catharsis mean?

What is catharsis ?

Catharsis is a term of philosophical origin that means personal cleansing or purification.


The term comes from the Greek “ kátharsis ” and is used to designate the state of psychic liberation that a human being experiences when they can overcome some trauma such as fear, oppression or another psychic disorder.

Through clinical therapies such as hypnosis or regression , it is possible to recall the memories that triggered the trauma, leading the individual to reach different emotions that can lead to healing.

In the religious sense, it is the state of spiritual purge that the individual longs for, for example, through confession.
The emotions expressed by the participants in a religious ritual are also demonstrations of catharsis or purification of the soul.

In medicine, catharsis is a term used to refer to bowel emptying .


Types of Catharsis


Catharsis as a process of emotional healing through psychoanalysis was defended by Sigmund Freud, who integrated the studies on hypnosis, already developed by the Austrian Joseph Breuer.
In his analyzes of him the influence of unconscious memories on human behavior.

Catharsis represents the patient’s cure , which is achieved through the verbal expression of repressed traumatic experiences.


In the cinema, seeing a scene, or even the end of a movie that causes “ discharges of senses and emotions ”, for example, catharsis can occur in some people .

Also, in the theater, in front of a work of art, during a musical audience, in auditorium programs with strong emotional appeal, etc.


One way to detect catharsis (collective or individual) is to observe various forms of religious rites , preaching, beliefs, that is, in different types of religious movements. Deep tears , excessive joy, astonishment, etc.
are observed .

Pedagogy and Education

The concept of catharsis is also explored in the field of education and, therefore, in educational processes.

In this sense, the cathartic process   occurs when students absorb and acquire the necessary instruments to act as citizens, as well as to reflect on their social practices.

In historical-critical pedagogy (HCP), catharsis is a concept that has been explored by many thinkers. The Italian Marxist philosopher Antonio Gramsci (1891-1937) stands out.


For the Greek philosopher Aristotle, the concept of catharsis represented the purification of souls .

It happens through a great discharge of feelings and emotions , caused by the visualization of theatrical works: tragedies or dramas.

When the audience comes into contact with poetic language , the audience can pick up such emotions (terror, fear, and pity) and thus free themselves from their own.

In this sense, Aristotle addresses the concept of catharsis in the arts .
Over the years, the concept of catharsis has expanded and is now part of various areas of knowledge , however, they all derive from the conception presented by the Greek philosopher.


Literature is the art of words and, like other artistic modalities, it conveys the feeling of purging or purification caused by catharsis.

So, when we read a literary text that causes us too much emotion and reflection .
It is possible that we have had a cathartic process .

Catharsis according to Aristotle

For Aristotle, the theater had the capacity for liberation for the human being , because when he saw the passions represented, he could free himself from them.

She was provoked in the audience during and after the performance of a Greek tragedy.
Catharsis was the state of soul purification experienced by the audience through the various emotions conveyed in the drama.

Catharsis according to Freud

Sigmund Freud introduced the concept of catharsis to psychology .
This, after observing the cathartic states provoked in the hypnotic processes carried out in patients who seek the cure of fears and traumas.

From this, Sigmund founds a branch of psychology called ” psychoanalysis “.
It is based on the idea of ​​exploring the “ human psyche ” through dialogue and the free association of ideas.

For Freud, patients did not need to be hypnotized to achieve catharsis . That is, it could occur during a conversation between the psychoanalyst and the patient.

Therefore, by talking to the psychoanalyst, the patient will alleviate his psychic disorders
–  aroused by various repressed emotions and feelings.

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