Interpreting the

If one believes that experience dictates our self-concept and this self-concept dictates our growth and wholeness, then how does a clinician tap into this sense of self? This ethereal quality that lives nowhere but exists within us all changes for the better or the worse with time and embraces our anxieties, joys, resentments, responsibilities, pleasures, and fears.

How does one break through the well-honed defenses that protect us from psychic pain and emerge with an unvarnished view? Art.

Art does not censor or distort. Instead it frees. In its use the disguise of language, developed ever so carefully over a lifetime, is dropped, and in its place a psyche is projected onto a blank piece of paper—a reflection of not only an individual's self-concept but his or her concept of others. A projection of ourselves and our environment as we see it, from our own viewpoint, without any influence from external subjective material. This is the power of art.

Projective testing has always had many detractors, and we review this literature later in the chapter; however, it is my belief that although the unconscious nature of art certainly makes its study difficult such study is by no means impossible.

In that vein, this chapter focuses on projective methods of personality analysis and spotlights three techniques: the Draw-A-Person (DAP), the House-Tree-Person (HTP), and the Eight-Card Redrawing Test (8CRT). I have selected the first two procedures because they are the most frequently utilized of the art projective tests. I include the 8CRT because in my own work with the difficult client this assessment tool has proven to be indispensable for evaluating personality decompensation.

The history of art projective testing can be traced to Florence Good-enough's Measurement of Intelligence by Drawings (1926). In this seminal work Goodenough focused on the human figure as a measurement of intelligence (IQ). However, as time went by "it was discovered that careful study of the individual drawings often yielded rich clinical material not related to the intellectual level of the subject" (Machover, 1949, p. 20). Since this discovery, the Draw-a-Person (DAP) technique was developed as a basis for using the body as a vehicle for self-expression and thus for personality analysis. Machover has stated, "in a significant proportion of cases, drawings do permit accurate judgments covering the subject's emotional and psychosex-ual maturity, his anxiety, guilt, aggression, and a host of other traits" (p. 23).

In the mid- to late 1940s John Buck added a house and tree to the existing DAP assessment and called it the House-Tree-Person (HTP). He chose to add these items for three reasons: "(1) They were items familiar even to the comparatively young child; (2) they were found to be more willingly accepted as objects for drawing by subjects of all ages than other items suggested; and (3) they appeared to stimulate more frank and free verbalization than did other items" (Buck, 1948, p. 3).

Buck believed that his approach would yield both a quantitative and a qualitative analysis of an individual's drawing. A few years after the publication of Buck's HTP, Leopold Caligor developed the 8CRT, which he hoped would provide quantification through the use of successive drawings (content) instead of a mere evaluation of detailed signs. Ultimately, the 8CRT was to consist "of eight interrelated drawings, each a development of the immediately preceding one. (Transparent paper is used so that the subject sees the immediately preceding figure as he draws over it.) In this way change can be observed on a continuum" (Caligor, 1953, p. 356). Regrettably, this art assessment never gained popular appeal; instead, it gave way to the other art projective tests that had come before.

Though not reviewed in this book, other art assessments, such as the Kinetic-Family-Drawing (Burns & Kaufman, 1972b), introduced action into family drawings. Subsequently, Burns (1987) expanded the House-Tree-Drawing technique by including a kinetic component that ultimately produced the Kinetic-House-Tree-Person test in the late 1980s.

Although the techniques described make use of differing directives and methods of interpretation, they have one very important component in common: the interpretation of a general system of symbols and metaphor. These images, when interpreted on verbal and nonverbal levels, lead the clinician toward an intuitive realm of functioning.

Yet it is this intuitive functioning that has eluded researchers who have set out to quantify and qualify the methods of art personality analysis through strict adherence to formal scoring systems. Nevertheless, from the late 1950s to the present day, critical reviews have been available that outline a myriad of problems not just with projective drawings but also with the Rorschach test and Thematic Apperception Test (TAT), to name just a few (Seitz, 2002).

In Handbook of Projective Techniques, Clifford Swensen (1965) outlined a host of researchers who tested the validity of Machover's DAP technique. From a review of this testing, he found that the DAP lacked sufficient evidence for use in clinical work as a singular test but should instead be used concomitantly as one part of a diagnostic battery. It is not surprising that Swensen's review of the literature found a lack of validity and reliability, as he goes on to state:

It must have been evident to the reader, in the presentation of the studies reviewed in this paper, that few of the studies reported were designed to test specific hypotheses of Machover's. Studies which attempt to evaluate the significance of patterns of signs on the DAP appear to be more promising than attempts to evaluate the significance of individual DAP signs. (p. 649)

The one test that Swensen finds promising, with regard to research, is the 8CRT. With the test designed to reveal an individual's masked personality layers, Caligor performed three separate studies. The first was in 1951 to determine an individual's unconscious notion of his own masculinity-femininity identification, where results were ultimately compared to the TAT and Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI). In 1952 he investigated the use of the 8CRT to detect paranoid trends, and in the following year he created a multi-item checklist in the hopes of developing a more objective and quantitative method for evaluating his 8CRT (Caligor, 1952). However, as noted, Caligor's 8CRT has fallen into obscurity, and the only research completed was by the founder of the technique himself.

Throughout his book The Clinical Application of Projective Drawings (1958), Hammer reviews extensive research on various art projective testing, and he sums up problems that face researchers in their attempts to validate the testing as follows:

Projective data is [sic] the product of a multiplicity of variables. In the traditional scientific investigation, one variable is isolated and explored. This is a virtual impossibility in the projective test where a response apparently has many possible origins. Not only is perception involved in the response, which in itself is a function of many variables, but also the process of response is involved. (p. 484)

Presently Zoltan Vass (2002) is developing a computer-assisted screening procedure for use with the Kinetic Family Drawing (KFD) projective test. This approach uses computer algorithms that measure both formal and structural graphic characteristics. In this vein Vass stated:

In a formal-structural point of view, the method described in this study approaches the most demanding methodological requirements (e.g., Swensen, 1957, 1968, 1977; Roback, 1968; Kahill, 1984), which are critical points of the application of projective drawings up to now. As a new and unique approach to the problem, it received positive critiques. (p. 11)

In the end, much of the formal research applied to art projective testing has either relied upon formal scoring techniques, which ignore the subject's own verbal interpretations as well as verbalizations made during the testing process, or centered on testing specific hypotheses as related to personality indicators. In the former case, a strict adherence to scoring techniques revealed a lack of reliability or validity to support the data. In the latter, where select issues relating to personality, pathology, and self-image (to name just a few) were explored in a singular fashion, the data were supported (Hammer, 1958).

Consequently, one must utilize an integrated approach to interpretation that includes the following components: the standardization of the supplies and directives, coupled with a drawing assessment that takes into account developmental issues; structural and formal aspects; translation of the symbols and symbolic abundance of ideas; the subject's free associations to the art product; and information gathered from the clinical interview. As DiLeo (1983) has stated, "the drawing is a personal expression and so is its meaning" (p. 5). As a result, analysis works best when there is a blend of elucidation from the client's own subjective understanding and the use of common interpretive meanings of symbols.

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  • lavinia
    How to interpret art therapy drawings?
    7 years ago
  • guy
    What art therapists interpret the ar tas?
    2 years ago
    How to interpret artwork from art therapy?
    1 month ago

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