The Ryersonian
April 6, 2005

More than meets the eye, a person's handwriting
can reveal the innermost workings of the mind

An X-ray to the soul

By Katie Rook, Ryersonian staff

People are communicating constantly and by more sophisticated means, but emoticons and catchy punctuation have nothing on the profound expressions of self - believed to be conveyed through cursive.

Reaching beyond the breadth of electronic communication, good old-fashion handwriting can reveal the innermost workings of a person's mind, said Toronto graphologist Annette Poizner.

Everything from curly "q"s, trailing "t"s and dotted "i"s to the amount of space letters take up on a page and the way sentences are laid out can reveal details about the writer.

"The paper is a metaphor for the life space, how people are oriented in space," said Poizner.

"Writing is like an X-ray used to see what's happening inside someone." A graphologist considers it the written trace of each person's preferred rhythm, style and habitual manner of moving.

If, for example, handwriting is written steadily across a blank page in straight lines with equal space between each word, the writer may be organized. A writer who inserts more than one character-width of space between words may be someone who prefers to have space in life.

In graphology written words are divided into the upper, middle and lower zones. Flourishes in any particular zone indicates traits that may be exaggerated in the writer.

Pictures can also be identified in some handwriting. A loose swirl in the lower zone of the letter "y" or "g" can often look like a smile indicating that the writer may have a good sense of humour.

Professor John Cook's hand-writing reveals that he is a "renaissance man," said Poizner.
It is rare to find such flowing, neatly laid-out writing full of well-defined yet attractive characters, she added.

One might have expected this assessment, since the retiring professor is described by former students as unforgettable and earns the uncommon grade of 4.8 out of 5.0 on, a Web site where students nation-wide can grade their teachers.

But a quick glance at a person's scribblings is not enough to complete an accurate personality assessment. In order to make meaningful conclusions Poizner requires clients to write a full page account of their day, 10 of their earliest memories and draw two different kinds of trees. The illustrations give Poizner another form of expression to analyze.

Using these samples and memories, Poizner can observe the metaphorical map each person creates to understand the world.

Everyone should have millions of memories, she said, but when asked for their earliest memories, most people refer to the same handful, using them as a "map of understanding."

"In the field of psychology, a clinician will never use any one test on its own to come to conclusions. The clinician is more assured that findings are meaningful and relevant if the same themes emerge from several different tests," she said.

In some instances, unsound mental health can be identified through handwriting. In fact, Poizner is able to detect everything from strong ambition, intensity level and sense of humour to drug addiction and perfectionist tendencies.

Poizner, who is also a registered social worker, psychotherapist and hypnotist, became interested in graphology on a trip to Israel when she was 26. Inspired by the work of Dr. Meshulom Teller, Poizner committed to studying graphology.

Now, 42, Poizner's knowledge has been used to successfully treat patients who have not responded to traditional therapies. Cases of obsessive-compulsive disorder, anorexia and drug-addiction have responded to her approach, she said.

After finishing a Master's degree in Social Work at Columbia University in New York City and a Doctorate of Education, specializing in Counselling Psychology at the University of Toronto, Poizner founded the Milton H. Erickson Institute of Toronto. There, therapists are trained in clinical hypnosis and theraputic techniques developed by the late psychiatrist Milton Erickson.

But the proliferation of electronic communication may be putting upcoming generations - many of whom will have grown up using a computer more often than a pen - at a slight disadvantage.

Citing handwriting expert, Beryl Gilbertson's research, Poizner worries that typing rather than writing deprives students of important opportunities to expand their minds.

The act of handwriting stimulates many brain centres and involves many skill sets. Practically speaking, it is a workout for the brain, she said.

Poizner laments the trivialization of graphology as a party trick and thinks it is overused as an employee assessment tool. She is also dismissive of light-hearted books that market graphology as a game.

"I would argue that the information derived from graphological assessment provides employers with information that is often not relevant and, more importantly, is far too private to be disclosed in any situation other than the clinical context."

She does allow that document analysis used by criminal investigation agencies is important, but is careful to distinguish graphology and said that sort of work is not her area of interest.

For those interested in unravelling the mystery behind their scribblings, Poizner teaches a number of seminars about graphology and related topics at The Learning Annex. Information is available at or

"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