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Slavson, S.R. (1951). Catharsis in Group Psychotherapy. Psychoanal. Rev., 38(1):39-52.

(1951). Psychoanalytic Review, 38(1):39-52

Catharsis in Group Psychotherapy

S. R. Slavson

While dreams may be the royal road to the unconscious, other types of catharsis, such as verbalization and action are secondary lanes. But these lanes must always be kept open. Since catharsis reveals the innermost feelings and attitudes of which the patient may be both afraid and ashamed, it can occur only in a positive transference relation. Through catharsis we aim to dislodge from repression and the unconscious guilt-provoking and anxiety-inducing feelings, thoughts, strivings and to bring them to consciousness. For obvious reasons the patient resists this and dealing with these resistances is one of the major skills of psychotherapy.

One of the sources of resistance is that the patient wards off regressing to infantile cravings, interests and preoccupations mostly of a sexual nature that belong to an earlier stage in development. This fear of regression blocks catharsis and is one of the causes of negative transference. The patient must be assured of the acceptance and tolerance of the therapist before he can reveal himself. Only when there is the security of such a positive transference can he hazard the risk. The value of catharsis lies in the fact that it induces regression to stages in emotional development where arrest or fixation occurred. Fixations make social integration difficult or impossible and it is necessary for the patient to first free himself of these before he can make an inner and social adjustment.

Varying degrees of regression are present in all therapies: in psychoanalysis, in other types of individual psychotherapy, and in group psychotherapy.

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