1: Introduction to Psychodynamic Assessment
2: Theory Behind Projective Tests
3: Specific Projective Tests
Tests used in Psychodynamic Assessment
are several commonly used projective techniques that
were derived from Freudian and Neo-Freudian
Theories. These projective techniques are
gaining more and more research support as they
become more standardized and researched, but they
are still open to a lot of different
interpretations. Ideally, most psychologists
see these tests as a way to gain information about
an individual although they recommend they be used
in conjunction with other assessment techniques.
Rorschach is the most commonly used projective technique.
The test consists of ten white cards with blots of
ink on them in either black, black and red, or multi
colored. These inkblots were originally random
in design and these have been maintained although
much research has gone into each card.
you've ever looked to the sky and saw images in the
clouds, then you can appreciate the idea behind the Rorschach.
If the cards have no specific shape (see example to
the left), just like the
clouds, the shapes we see are projections from our
unconsciousness. In other words, it is not
uncommon for children to see bunny rabbits, kitty
cats and monsters in the clouds. These images
represent their needs for life and love as well as
their underlying fears about death and aggression.
research that has taken place with the Rorschach
cards has produced a standardized protocol,
eliminating the biggest criticism of projective
tests. They have also helped us develop
standardized interpretation which allows for more
congruency between evaluators. The standardization
allows us to compare the results of one person's Rorschach
to another's, and while it is the most accepted
projective technique, it continues to lag far behind
more commonly used assessment devices such as the
Thematic Apperception Test (TAT) was developed by Henry
Murray, a student of psychoanalytic
thought. The TAT consists of numerous cards
with black and white and grayscale pictures.
These pictures where chosen for two reasons.
First, they are ambiguous to some extent and portray
emotion and thought without specifying
details. An example would be a silhouette of a
man looking off into the distance. While there
is obvious emotional and intellectual activity, the
details are not revealed.
they correspond to the major themes of
psychoanalytic thought, such as the oedipal complex,
where the son develops an attraction for the mother
and then identifies with the father. There are
relationship cards and several that portray both
sexual and aggressive undertones without depicted
actual violence, aggression, or sexual
TAT probably comes in second after the Rorschach in
terms of its use and research as a projective
test. Individuals being tested are asked to
tell a story about each card, including what led up
to the picture, what is happening in the present,
and how the story will end. The basic premise
is that unconscious themes will begin to develop
relating to specific types of cards or to the test
in general. These themes can then be interpreted
and used for further exploration.
House-Tree-Person test (H-T-P) requires no specific
materials and is not standardized at all. The
assessor tells the individual to draw a picture of a
house, a tree, and a person. Once completed,
he may ask the individual to tell a story related to
each picture, including the who, what, where, how,
and why's of each.
methods of interpretation are utilized, and
depending on the assessor's training and theoretical
approach, different interpretations can arise.
Like most projective techniques, it's strength lies in weakening the defenses and getting a
clearer picture of the unconscious.
was one of Freud's favorite techniques and on the
surface sounds quite simple to use. Freud
would sit in his chair behind the patient so as not
to allow any projection to occur. He would
then allow the patient to talk, without interruption
or guidance, for an extended period. Freud
would take notes, analyze themes, and piece together
aspects of the unconscious that peak out.
might provide a topic for this free association,
such as 'mother' or 'anger' and then sit back to
allow the patient to freely associate. Without
pressures, anxiety, or fears, the aspects of the
unconscious are more free to show themselves.
Interrupting or guiding the patient would therefore strengthen
the defenses and push the unconscious impulses back
favorite of Psychoanalytic therapists, dream
interpretation allows the assessor to find themes
and hidden meaning in the patients dreams.
Freud believed that all dreams consist of manifest,
or obvious content, and latent, or hidden content.
manifest content of dreams are the story like
details that we share with others. For
example, dreaming of flying would include details of
how it came about, who was there, where the person
flew, how fast, how high, etc. The latent
content consists of bits and pieces of the
unconscious that seep out while we are asleep and
our defense mechanisms are their weakest. The
dream of flying may represent a deeper unconscious
need for freedom, a fear becoming too grounded or stuck,
or perhaps even an expression of one's sexual
impulses. The interpretation afforded a
specific dream can vary dramatically and most agree
that using this technique in conjunction with other
information is its only ethical use.
Association tests can take many forms as there is no
single accepted list of words. Simply put,
when using this type of test, the assessor would
read a list of words, asking the participant to
write down the very first thing that comes to mind
after each. The object is to bypass defense
mechanisms that are at play and get to the
unconscious before these defenses have a chance to
you might guess, there are some words that are
common on such a test, mother, father, and sex being
at the top of this list. There is research on
word association tests but since there is no
standard form, the efficacy of such has not been
determined. Like many of the projective
techniques, it may be that this assessment provides
some quality information that, in the very least,
can inspire further investigation.
assessment can take numerous form but the main idea
behind it is the completion of partially completed
sentences. Items on such a test might look
like the following:
best friend ____________________________.
worse childhood experience was
a test such as this is somewhat simple to
manipulate, and that is a recognized negative.
However, many see this assessment as a means to get
information that may not be at the surface level or
to prompt an individual to think about something
that he may have forgotten or suppressed. The
Incomplete Sentences tests also work well with
children, some say even better, because they tend to
be more honest and less wise as to the purpose of