April 3

Handling Abreactions in Hypnosis Sessions

Emotional Release Work


Abreact: to release (repressed emotions) by acting out as in words, behavior, or the imagination, the situation causing the conflict.

What do you do when a client gets intensely in a hypnosis session?  

What do you do if you feel overwhelmed and aren’t sure what to do? 

The following four steps can help put you back in charge of your hypnosis session when the client dives into an abreaction. An abreaction is no big deal.  It’s a way of releasing some of the internal pressure.  But what if the client starts freaking out?  What if it seems like the client is spiraling down?  What if they’re getting worse?  What do you do?  

Get them out.

What do you do if the client starts freaking out and you start freaking out?  Get them out. Use the following four easy steps to get the client out of their immediate level of distress.

  1. Speak calmly and firmly.
  2. Tell them to open their eyes. And look at you.
  3. Don’t touch them.
  4. Restore balance before you proceed.

If the client opens their eyes, and they’re still freaking out, realize they’re stuck in a memory.  You can bring them back into the here and now by asking questions that help them to associate into present time and space.  For example, ask:  What day is this?  Where are you right now?  What time is it?

Take Charge!

When a client is in the midst of an abreaction, taking charge and taking control is critical.  Realize that if the client is feeling overwhelmed, it’s too much for them.  They don’t feel in control.  Somebody needs to be in control to protect the client.  And that somebody needs to be you.  

If you don’t know what to do, or the abreaction takes you by surprise, or you’re just not prepared for the intensity, the best thing to do is to just get the client out.  That's your default setting.

1. Get them Out

The Subconscious Mind’s Prime Directive is to protect.  So, that needs to be your primary concern. Help your clients to understand that their Subconscious Mind is designed to take care of them.  

The client needs to know that there’s nothing wrong with them and that their Subconscious is doing exactly what it was designed to do. Let them know that you know what to do. You know how to work with the Subconscious Mind.  You can help them to get the relief they want.  Their Subconscious just stepped in to avoid a perceived threat.  The problem is that the Subconscious Mind doesn’t know the difference between real and imagined.  So, when that picture or memory came to mind, it responded as if it were real. 

The Subconscious Mind must respond that way because it doesn’t realize the client isn’t in that past situation, anymore.  So, always respect the Subconscious Mind’s need for safety.  Taking charge and taking control are about providing safety.

The Subconscious Mind doesn’t track time the same way as the Conscious Mind.  As far as it’s concerned, it’s all still happening now.  When a client abreacts this tells you that a memory came to mind that has not been processed to completion.  It’s still active in that person’s life.  This is because there is something about that event that is still unresolved.

The Subconscious Mind wants the same thing you do.  It wants the client to be safe and to feel better.  It just doesn’t have a choice.  It must protect.  And sometimes, it will do so in ways that we don’t like.  But if you try to override that Prime Directive you won’t get very far.  You’ll run into resistance.   You’ll feel frustrated.  The client will struggle unnecessarily.  And it could even make things worse.  So, work with the Subconscious Mind by putting safety first.

Remember, if it feels like it’s too much for either you or the client, it probably is.  Get them out so that you can prepare the client to revisit the past in a controlled way.  If you make sure the client is ready to take the next step forward you’ll find your work a lot easier.

2. Restore balance before continuing.

Get the client settled down so that they’re breathing more rhythmically.  Then, once they’re more calm, process what just happened. You have no idea where they just went, so you need to find out.  Then, process what just happened in hindsight. This means use past-tense language.

Something happened to trigger them.  Working in past-tense will help to reduce the overall “charge.”  This can be helpful because you can teach the client that they are creating this response. It’s not what just happened that’s the problem.  It’s that they’re judging themselves for losing control.  They’re feeling kind of crazy because they don’t know what just happened.  It came out of nowhere.  This just adds to the anxiety they’re already feeling.  So, clear all this stuff before you proceed any further.

An abreaction can feel scary to the client.  The feeling just seemed to come out of nowhere.  So, once your client realizes that they’re okay, reframe what just happened in a positive light.  Use this as evidence that their Subconscious Mind really wants to get this problem resolved.  Let them know they’re in the perfect place to do that.

When a client goes into overwhelm, you now know what to do.   Get them out.  Bring them back into the here and now so that you can restore balance.  Then, once they know they’re okay, clear what just happened in hindsight, using past-tense language. Once you have restored balance, and cleared the event in reflection, the next step is to prepare the client for the next step.  If you prepare in advance you won’t end up with a crisis on your hands.

You can restore balance very quickly with tapping.  If you don’t yet know tapping, just use autosuggestion.  It’s very effective because the client is participating in their own healing.  And when the person makes a statement about themselves, to themselves, it has more power than anything you might suggest to them.

To help restore balance, have the client repeat or tap on positive suggestions that reinforce the truth.  For example:

  • “I’m okay.”
  • “I’m still here.”
  • “I’m safe now.”
  • “I know I’m okay because ….”

3. Find out what just happened.

Once the client has settled down, and is breathing rhythmically, find out what just happened.  You can then deal with it in retrospect by continuing to tap on “what just happened.”

What just happened? Nothing.  They had a thought.  

Thoughts come as images.  So, a picture came to mind.  Something about that picture acted to trigger the feelings.  And that's what set them off.  It acted as a trigger.  Basic stimulus-response.

Pictures and images are connected to memories.  So, the client is bringing up a memory of an event that is over and done.  But the Subconscious Mind doesn’t realize this.  Because the Subconscious Mind doesn’t know that it’s over, the client reacted as if they were still in that situation.  This is essentially what a flash-back is like.  It’s something from that past that, in the person’s mind, is happening all over again.

4. Work in past tense.

Regression hypnosis is a controlled approach to revisiting the past event.  By taking the client back into a traumatic event, and having them revivify the event, the client can discover what’s left undone and finish it.

Using past-tense language is a technique that allows the client to get some distance from whatever was freaking them out.  It also allows you to keep the client in the event so that you can help them to release the emotional charge. As the client taps, guide them through a series of statements that acknowledge what just happened.  For example, “I was thinking about (this) / and it made me feel (scared) / And NOW I feel (okay). . ." This helps the client recognize that something happened to trigger the emotional response.  

Usually, it was a thought.  Help the client make the connection between that thought and that feeling.  This helps the client to recognize the power of their own thoughts and take responsibility for how they feel. Help them to realize that, even though a moment ago they had that thought, and it make them feel (scared), they’re okay now.  This brings them more fully into the present moment.  

Once they accept that they’re okay. it will reinforce the sense of being in control. You can then guide the client through a series of statements to affirm the fact that they’re safe now and that the event is in the past.  For example, “I’m okay / It’s in the past / I made it through / I’m safe now / So I can relax.”

Also, realize that the client may be judging themselves for losing control.   That just adds to their anxiety.  If so, address that. Acknowledge that it’s there. Whatever it is, bring it to light and then release it.

So that's it. When a client abreacts, recognize that the client's Subconscious Mind is expressing a need for safety.  It’s doing exactly what it was designed to do, which is keep the client safe by avoiding threat. That's good.

The fact that the threat is in the past hasn’t registered, yet.  As long as that event is unresolved, the threat continues to exist.  And the client’s Subconscious Mind will continue to try to protect.  

The purpose of the regression work is to put the past in the past.  So, work with the Subconscious and get it working with you.  That’s how you’ll get those stellar results that you're capable of.

About the author 

Wendie Webber

With over thirty years of experience as a healing practitioner, Wendie brings a broad range of skills to her approach to regression to cause hypnosis. She combines a gentle, yet commanding way of presenting with a thorough, clear and systematic approach to helping healing practitioners to make sense of regression hypnotherapy.