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1. (in Aristotelian literary criticism) the purging or purification of the emotions through the evocation of pity and fear, as in tragedy
2. Psychoanal the bringing of repressed ideas or experiences into consciousness, thus relieving tensions
3. purgation, esp of the bowels
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005


release of emotional energy, producing relief from tension. The term is most specifically used in PSYCHOANALYSIS where it describes the process in which repressed memories and emotions are brought into consciousness, sometimes involving transference to the analyst. In thus making them explicit, and the patient reexperiencing them consciously, they are depowered and the personality becomes freer.
Collins Dictionary of Sociology, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2000
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



a term used in ancient Greek philosophy and aesthetics to designate the essence of aesthetic experience. The concept dates back to Pythagorean philosophy, which urged the use of music for the purification of the soul. According to the Stoics, Heraclitus spoke of purgation by fire. Plato taught that catharsis was the freeing of the soul from the body and from passions or pleasures. Aristotle spoke of the educative and purifying significance of music, through which man gains relief and is purged of his emotions and desires, experiencing an “innocent joy.” In the absence of further clarification, Aristotle’s famous definition of tragedy as the purging of emotions (Poetics, ch. 6) has given rise to controversy over what is meant by catharsis. G. E. Lessing interpreted it ethically; the 19th-century German scholar J. Bernays defined it in medical terms as something that brings relief; and the German E. Zeller saw it as a purely aesthetic phenomenon. Science has been unable to definitively resolve the problem of the essence of Aristotelian catharsis, since it is unclear whether catharsis ought to be understood simply as the elimination of particular emotions or as their harmonization. The Austrian doctor and psychologist S. Freud used the term to designate a method of psychotherapy.


Losev, A. F. Ocherki antichnogo simvolizma i mifologii, vol. 1. Moscow, 1930. Pages 728–34. (Contains bibliography.)
Akhmanov, A. S., and F. A. Petrovskii. Introductory essay in Aristotle, Ob iskusstve poezii. Moscow, 1957.
Boekel, C. W. van. Katharsis. Utrecht, 1957. (Bibliography.)


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


Release of tension by releasing deep-seated emotions or reliving a traumatic experience.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Scientific & Technical Terms, 6E, Copyright © 2003 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.