Catharsis or katharsis is an Ancient Greek word meaning "cleansing" or "purging".

This concept is used in various settings.

In theater Catharsis refers to the emotional relief the audience can experience when watching a comedy, melodrama or drama .

In the older medicine the term Catharsis has been used to refer politely to the purging of the bowels. The laxative used to trigger the catharsis was called a cathartic.

Since Freud several strands of modern psychotherapy use the concept of catharsis to describe the letting go of deep emotions, supposedly related to events in the individual's past that at the time had not been adequately addressed or expressed, but instead had been suppressed or ignored.

Catharsis refers also to an emotional release that can happen during a dream or when people address the underlying causes of a current problem they are having.

Felt Shift

The Felt Shift is a more subtle form of catharsis closely related to the above mentioned emotional release that can happen when people address the underlying causes of a current problem they are having.  The Felt Shift. is a concept developed by Eugene Gendlin and implemented in his Focusing approach. A Felt Shift as body experience happens when there is a breakthrough into new meaning.

Research into Catharsis

Evidence-based research seems to cover three areas

  1. Research into the health effects of Catharsis generally.
  2. Research that confirms positively discharge of specific emotions, e.g laughter
  3. Research that confirms negative outcomes of discharge, especially that of anger and fear.

1. General Catharsis research

One co-counsellor P.J Hawkins has written his PhD about Discharge: Catharsis in Psychotherapy

2. Research about Laughter as Discharge


3. Research about Anger discharge

Research seems to suggest that "Blowing off steam" may reduce physiological stress in the short term. However, this discharge may act as a reward mechanism promoting future outbursts.instead of developing more effective behaviours coping with the anger triggering situations.