“He who speaks truth tells what is right. But a false witness, deceit.” –Proverbs 14:8
“Surely You desire truth in the inner parts; You teach me wisdom in the inmost place.”
–Psalm 51: 6
“And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” –John 8: 32
“Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.” –Proverbs
Abreaction is a psychological term defined as the reliving of an experience in such a way that previously repressed emotions associated with it are released. Because this occurs frequently in heart-healing counseling, it is important to be aware of how it can be handled and contained.
The dynamic and very intense nature of abreaction is understandable when we consider the unity of body and soul. If a traumatic experience overwhelms a person’s coping abilities, it is “shut off” from conscious awareness, and the will to survive kicks in. But where does the memory with all its physical and emotional content go? It is stored in the cells and the spirit, sometimes in a compartmentalized way. That is to say, a piece may be in a part of the body, while another piece may be in a part of the personality.
Becoming finally aware of the memory in the safe company of a trusted person can bring together all the traumatic aspects of the experience for the first time. The wounding event is finally processed as if it were happening now. An affected individual may take on the countenance of the time—she may speak and act as a much younger person. Her expression of emotion may be extremely intense, and she may feel phantom pain in an area of the body that was injured.
Abreaction is integration of memory–physical, intellectual, and emotional. It is accompanied by expression of the repressed feelings caused by the event, probably for the first time. The different aspects of the incident move from a disconnected series of hidden impulses into a whole piece of the sufferer’s sequential personal history. As it becomes an assimilated experience, it can be brought to Jesus for His healing.
Managing Abreaction in Heart-Healing Counseling Sessions
The level and duration of abuse to a large extent determines the seriousness of wounding and influences the relative likelihood of an abreactive reaction. However, abreaction cannot be predicted; it often erupts suddenly, without warning. Some instances of abreaction are virtually inevitable in ongoing heart healing ministry.
The first consideration when encountering abreaction is always safety for the injured one. The counselor will support the person by sitting with her empathetically, making sure she doesn’t put herself in danger through activities like wild arm flailing or pounding. The concentrated strength of expressed pain can be frightening to the individual experiencing it and make her want to stop. It is good to explain in advance that sometimes this coalescence of memory is necessary in the healing process. The counselor’s calmness gives comfort.
Within the framework of safety and session time constraints, the counselor allows the sufferer to process the pain through abreaction. It is usually not necessary to interrupt the natural progression; it runs its course in a few minutes at most. Should the person become agitated to the point of fear for the sufferer’s ability to continue experiencing the pain without personality decompensation or breakdown, grounding techniques can be used to bring her back to the here and now.
Grounding is a form of intervention that assists in returning a person to the present. It helps an individual reorient and regain mental focus after abreaction, dissociation, or intense anxiety episodes. Grounding methods may be sensory or cognitive in content.
For example, if the session is over or for some other reason you need to bring the person “back”, the counselee may be encouraged to open her eyes and look around the room, noticing details in the environment. The individual can be directed to focus on the floor at her feet, or her hands in her lap, etc. She may be helped by handing her a pillow or another object to hold and feel.
Asking the counseling recipient questions regarding the immediate surroundings or matters of common knowledge enables cognitive grounding. For example, you can reorient in time and space by inquiring: Where are you? What day is today? How old are you? What year is this? Who is the President?
It is vital to make sure the individual is grounded before concluding the session. A short period of “debriefing” for the person who has been in abreaction may be necessary. Otherwise there is danger that she will leave the meeting room in an agitated or confused state. This can be very upsetting, even dangerous, for her.