Projective Assessment 

Philosopher Aldous Huxley stated that there is only one question of significance: "who am I, and what, if anything, can I do about it?" Not surprisingly, this question lies at the heart of psychotherapy.  Therapists can use different methods to shed light on the question of identity.  I use projective assessment at the outset of psychotherapy because this form of personality assessment allows me to generate a three-dimensional picture of an individual's strengths, style of relating with others, dominant attributes and challenges.  Projective testing captures something of the uniqueness and individuality of the person.  Further, it explains the underlying structure of the presenting problem and pinpoints the direction for therapeutic intervention.  Protective assessment is extremely useful when dealing with tenacious and long-standing mental health difficulties and also when using a brief therapy model designed to facilitate tangible results in the short term.

Projective assessment requires the client to perform simple pen and paper tasks, which are then given to the therapist to analyze.  Because people are fundamentally expressive of who they are, simple drawing and writing tasks can uncover a great deal of material about each person.

What follows are the directions for preparing projective materials for assessment.  I explain these requirements to clients who seek assessment, but include them here for reference purposes, once individuals have decided they wish to be assessed.

1)  The first task involves writing a one-page handwritten description of "the story of your day in detail."  The idea here is to recount the story of one particular day (probably the day you write the piece).  Please do not write what your typical day looks like.  A specific day is required.  On the back of the page, please write your date of birth and your gender.  Also, I ask for three signatures.  If you have different signatures you use when signing your name you can include them or you can sign the same signature three times.

2)  The next task requires you to draw a tree with as much detail as possible.  Please spend no less than five minutes drawing the tree.  This is not a test of artistic skill.  The less time you spend drawing the tree, the less useful it is for analysis.

3)  The last task is the most detailed.  I ask for a written description of your ten earliest memories.  Please do not look at old pictures or otherwise prime yourself.  The task is to record the earliest memories you can remember - those you can easily access.  These would preferably be memories of events which occurred prior to the age of 8, or later memories if earlier memories have been forgotten.  Most people only have a handful of really early memories that they can access without priming and it is these that I am looking for. 

Please use the following format: first, write out the memory with as many details as possible.  You are detailing a sequence of events that occurred.  Include your approximate age at the time of this memory.  Ideally, the description should run about a paragraph or two in length.  Underneath this text, please write "vivid moment," and then record the moment in the memory to which you are most associated.  If the memory itself is a movie (in your mind's eye) the vivid moment is a freeze frame.  Underneath the vivid moment (which can usually be described in a sentence or two) you should write "vivid feeling."  The vivid feeling is the feeling you had at the time the event occurred.  It is not the feeling you have now when you think about the memory. 

For individuals who have experienced trauma at a young age, I often omit this part of the assessment as it can awaken difficult feelings.  If this is not the case, though, the early memories are extremely useful for showing you the mechanisms that underpin your current situation.




"When the diagnosis is correct, the healing begins."
Carl Jung, M.D.
"I think that true psychotherapy is knowing that each patient is an individual, unique and different."
Milton H. Erickson, M.D.
"The cure is to let the individuality come out and flower in all its particular genius."
Ernest Rossi,
Ph. D.
"Being under sentence of termination doth most marvelously concentrate the material."
David Malan after Samual Johnson