Introduction to Psychodynamic Assessment
Assessing the specific aspects of personality can be as controversial and complex as the theories themselves. Because the majority of our our actions are dictated by the unconscious, a bigger struggle was faced by psychoanalytic and psychodynamic theorists: How to find out what even the patient himself doesn’t know.
The following two sections describe the theory behind psychodynamic assessment as well as specific techniques used. Keep in mind as you read this chapter, that many other types of assessment exist. In fact, of the major types of personality assessment techniques, projective techniques remain the most controversial and the most open to interpretation.
The Basis for Projective Techniques
Freudian and Neo-Freudian psychology emphasized the importance of understanding unconscious information and bypassing strong defense mechanisms in order to help a person heal. treatment is often focused in insight, or creating a deeper understanding of motives, beliefs, and drives.
If you remember from previous sections, Freud believed that there were only two distinct drives that motivate every person: sex and aggression. These drives, often buried deep in the unconscious, direct the majority of our everyday behavior. If we are to change these behaviors, according to psychoanalytic and dynamic thought, we must understand not only what they are but where they come from as well.
The problem, however, is that this information is hidden even from the individual. Even if he or she wants to access it, there are defenses in the way that seem to function beyond the conscious will of the person. No matter how much they want to remember something, no matter how hard they try to access this hidden information, it remains buried.
One of Freud’s main defense mechanisms is called projection: the projecting of one’s own unconscious and often anxiety provoking impulses onto a less threatening person or object. In other words, a person who has an unconscious need for aggression may become actively involved in crime prevention and may criticize violence. What they are really doing, according to Freud and others, is seeing this tendency in the self, acknowledging it and the associated anxiety and then throwing it outside the self to relieve anxiety. The person can now criticize or attack the self without the associated anxiety.
The idea of projection prompted many psychoanalytic and psychodynamic theorists to devise ways of accessing the buried information by allowing the patient to project it somewhere else. This resulted in the birth of the projective techniques of assessment.
The basic idea is to provide neutral and non-threatening stimuli to a patient and then ask them to interpret ambiguous pictures, fill in the blanks, make associations, or tell stories. If the theory of projection is true, then the clients will project their own unconscious impulses onto the non-threatening stimuli, allowing the assessor to interpret and move the patient toward increased insight. The next section provides a description of the main types of projective techniques.