The Rorschach

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Presentation given in Clinical Assessment course.
University of West Georgia, Fall 2011.

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  • We could easily spend an entire semester studying The Rorschach Test. As you will soon see, The Rorschach Test is profoundly intricate and evocative in its purpose and application. Since we have already discussed various aspects of assessment related to the test – the nature of apperception, the controversy over its use in legal proceedings and the very precise limitations of its administration in clinical settings, I decided to presume we do not need to cover this material a second time. Instead, I wanted to share with you some of the fascinating aspects of the Test – the most vital material. In short, I designed this presentation with the idea that if any of you never again picked up another assessment or book on psychological testing, then what follows is what I want you to know about The Rorschach.
  • I wanted to begin with a small measure of personal disclosure. The Rorschach was deeply evocative to me – there is something almost alchemic about the transforming of inkblots upon paper into revelation through imagination. It is something I would argue approaches art. To this end, I wanted to share two quotes which I stumbled across in my research – both of which framed my investigation on The Rorschach: its provocative stance as both psychological assessment and instrument of artistic creation. The first considers the argument for its clinical use: “To proceed beyond the limitations of a given level of knowledge the researcher, as a rule, has to break downmethodological taboos which condemn as ‘unscientific’ or ‘illogical’ the very methods or concepts which later on prove to be basic for the next major progress.” – German- American Psychologist Kurt Lewin
  • The second quote is taken from Leonadoda Vinci’s “Treatise on Painting.” Both da Vinci and Boticelli were interested in the study of “ambiguous designs,” and often cited as the progenitors to contemporary apperception studies. “As the master Boticelli stated, such a study is useful because just by throwing a sponge soaked with various colors against a wall to make a stain, one can find a beautiful landscape. If it is true that in this stain various inventions can be discerned,  or rather what one wants to find in it, such as battles, reefs, seas, clouds, forests and other similar things, then surely, this is like the ringing of bells in which one can understand whatever one wants to.  But, even though these smears of color provide you with  inventions, they also show you that they do not come to represent anything in particular. ”
  • As we have previously mentioned, both da Vinci and Boticelli were interested in the study of “ambiguous designs,” and often cited as the progenitors to contemporary apperception studies. There accounts of da Vinci imploring his students to study water stains until they could see various images. I tried to find more information about this but all I could find that was directly sourced to da Vinci was the previous quote from his work. In one retrospective of Hermann Rorschach’s life and work, it was suggested that Rorschach was inspired by an book of poetry penned by German doctor JustinusKerner in 1857. The book was said to be comprised of poems – each one inspired by an accidental inkblot. I should add that this idea is speculative and I could not find a great deal of information to bolster or contradict this idea. Pichot, P. (1984). Centenary of the birth of Hermann Rorschach. (S. Rosenzweig & E. Schriber, Trans.). Journal of Personality Assessment, 48, 591–596.
  • According to Maria Rickers-Ovsiankina, Rorschach’s primary interest was “…getting at the nature of the basic modes of functioning, underlying all of an individual’s psychic activity.” After studying 300 mental patients and 100 control subjects, Rorschach sought publishing of his work. Seven months after getting it published, he died at the age of 37. Upon publication, “Psychodiagnostik” received little attention. The work was described as being a “densely written piece couched in dry, scientific terminology.”Later revisions to the original text improved the scoring system, making the scoring more statistically rigorous. The system developed by John E. Exner remains very popular in the United States. This is the system I drew the majority of my material from, although other systems were referenced. In my opinion, the Exner text is the most exhaustive and complete system with multiple considerations for nearly every aspect of the Test.
  • Considering the controversy surrounding the use of The Rorschach test today, I believe it is important to be reminded of Rorschach’s original view of his own work. Originally, Rorschach proposed the title be “Method and Results of a Perceptual-Diagnostic Experiment: Interpretation of Arbitrary Forms.” Rorschach believed his work had not yielded a test yet – it was incomplete. What he was publishing was a report of findings from his investigation into perception. His colleague and editor, Walter Morgenthaler felt strongly that what Rorschach had written was something far more than an investigation. As Morgenthaler wrote to Rorschach in a letter: “I take this opportunity to include a word about the title of your work. I believe you are being very modest about it. Your subject concerns more than just Perception Diagnostics, much more than that, and all together more than a “mere” experiment.” Morgenthaler then proposed the title of “Psychodiagnostik”Rorschach did not agree – at first – and responded: “It is not just modesty, I have a sense of responsibility for the title. I have brooded a long time about this…but nothing has come forth that has suited me. Expressions such as Psychodiagnostic, Diagnostics of Diseases and Personality, and the like seem to me to go much too far. Perhaps later, when there is a norm created through controlled investigations, such an expression can be used. For now it strikes me as being too pompous.” Rorschach later relented and agreed to the title change, albeit very reluctantly.
  • Now we consider when it is appropriate or inappropriate to administer the test. The nature of the test and what it is designed to examine is critical. As Exner explains, “The Rorschach does not provide data from which answers to all questions can be derived….the data that unfold from the test represent a complex specimen of behaviors that when scored and studied for its apparent idiosyncrasies, can be translated into a series of descriptive statements concerning the individual.” (Exner)Already we see the nature of the data being collected as well as the limitations of the method will significantly reduce its likelihood of being used. Unlike the majority of the assessments we have considered in this class, the Rorscach has a very complicated construct. Technically, it is looking at personality – however, in the words of Exner, the scope of the test is quite wide: “It’s testing everything.” It is best used as part of a battery with as few as two or three tests, but not uncommonly more than five. These numbers are pulled from studies which suggested the most effective uses of the Rorschach complimenting other assessments. The use of multiple tests allows for overlapping, which makes possible “cross-validation” with other tests.
  • Now comes the question we ask in here on a nearly daily basis: Who should use this test? Exner proposes three prerequisites to even considering administering the test. The first is a basic understanding of people and the notion of personality. “Rorschach interpretation always proceeds with the objective of developing an understanding of the person as a unique individual…should prompt any interpreter to strive for an integration of findings about characteristics…in a manner that highlights individuality as much as possible.” Secondly, there should be a good working knowledge of psychopathology and maladjustment. “…an appreciation of how characteristics become liabilities, and how various mixtures of liabilities breed forms of internal and/or external maladjustment.” Finally, and most self-explanatory there should be an understanding of the test itself. On that note, let’s get into the administration of the test.
  • 1. Verbiage – Language and responses given to the examiner2. Sequence – As responses have occurred as reflected in both the substance of answers and the coding (or scoring) of them.3. Structure – Plot of frequencies for nearly 100 variables from which data for more than 60 variables, ratios, percentages and indices are derived.
  • What is interesting about The Rorschach is that in some ways it resembles a strict standardized test in its administration, but in other ways it is completely divergent. Here are some of the noteworthy aspects about the administraton:
  • Seating and position of one’s self in relation to the responder is critical. The examiner is always seated next to a responder, never across from each other. The reasons for this, in considering the nature of the test, are fairly obvious. First, it reduces accidental ‘cues’ from the examiner to the responder which may influence answers. Secondly, it gives the examiner a much better perspective of the cards, something which is invaluable in collecting visual data. When the test is introduced to the responder, the examiner must always ask for the responder’s knowledge of the test. This becomes a bit tricky in that a properly prepared responder will know only what they need to know in order to yield the greatest data while at the same time not knowing too much information which could skew the results. The introduction of the test to the responder is almost always tailored to accommodate the reason for the testing. In short, the introduction should relate to the reason for the assessment. Lastly, the test begins with the very precisely worded question: “What Might This Be?” This is what begins the entire journey.
  • “Time should not be afforded undue weight when administering the test.” Already we see a rather large deviation from what we may have come to expect in assessments. Instead of time as a motivating and framing feature, in the Rorschach it is fluid and unimportant. What is most critical is that the responder be given all the time they need in order to provide fully thought out and complete expressions.The resulting responses from the responder are to be recorded verbatim. Every word is critical. As a result, examiners in Rorschach testing become fluent in Rorschach shorthand, a sample of which is seen here. Whole transcripts of sessions read like these here – with abbreviations allowing for more fluid recording.
  • Now here is the section where I have to reduce how much detail we go into, simply because this section is incredibly intricate and detailed. To give you the most basic overview, data from the responses fall into “clusters.” The first seven clusters relate to basic features of people and are reviewed during the interpretive process. The eighth, situation related stress are reviewed only when there is evidence of situation related stress.
  • Normally, all of the data collected is “processed” cluster by cluster until it has been exhausted. However, the order in which you proceed through the clusters does change quite frequently. The most frequent cause of this is the presence of key or tertiary variables. Essentially, when these are present you can adapt your cluster order so that you are able to get the best order for review. There are twelve identified Key Variables and when present they allow for combining two of three clusters together to yield the most significant information. The Tertiary Variables have no predictive power – essentially they highlight which clusters have the most information but cannot tell you which proceeding clusters will supplement.
  • There are ten cards total in The Rorschach Test. They are intended to be presented in order and at no time should the responder be able to see the cards before they are handed to them by the administrator. Here we see three different perspectives of the first card. The top left card is the original image, as it is presented. The lower left card is a breakdown of the areas of the card and the frequency with which those areas are noted by responders. To the right is a scan directly from Exner’s text, which shows the D and Dd areas. The precise areas which responders focus upon is noted using the D for Common and Dd for Unusual responses. The most popular response to this particular card utilizes the entire area of the card and is denoted with a “W” for whole. The response is “bat” or “butterfly.”
  • Assuming I have not run out of time by this point, I wanted to conclude with a few remarks….in summary, these two quotes provide a good ‘thumbnail’ sketch of what the Rorschach is and what it is intended to provide. “The full value of the Rorschach is realized only from the complete sum of its parts. A neglect of any available Rorschach data, whether quantitative or qualitative, is an abuse of the test and a disservice to the client.” (Exner)“The most outstanding virtue of the Rorschach method is generally recognized to lie in its power for providing an integrated pattern of total personality, and for at once articulating this pattern in specific quantitative ways into a manifold of personality dimensions.” (Rickers-Ovisankina)
  • The Rorschach

    1. 1. The Rorschach A Very Short Introduction to the History, Theory, Administration, and Scoring. Ron Hopkins
    2. 2. Poetic Prelude: Considerations for Art • “To proceed beyond the limitations of a given level of knowledge the researcher, as a rule, has to break down methodological taboos which condemn as ‘unscientific’ or ‘illogical’ the very methods or concepts which later on prove to be basic for the next major progress.” » Kurt Lewin
    3. 3. Poetic Prelude: Considerations for Art • “The person who does not love to the same degree all things present in the art of painting will not be a Universalist; It is the same with the one who does not like landscapes and considers they merit only a brief and simple study. As the master Boticelli stated, such a study is useful because just by throwing a sponge soaked with various colors against a wall to make a stain, one can find a beautiful landscape. If it is true that in this stain various inventions can be discerned, or rather what one wants to find in it, such as battles, reefs, seas, clouds, forests and other similar things, then surely, this is like the ringing of bells in which one can understand whatever one wants to. But, even though these smears of color provide you with inventions, they also show you that they do not come to represent anything in particular. And this painter produced very sad landscapes...............” » Leonardo da Vinci, from “Treatise on Painting”
    4. 4. A Very Brief History of The Rorschach Test • Early Studies in “Ambiguous Designs” and Assessments of Individual Personality • Leonardo da Vinci • Botticelli • Justinus Kerner’s book of poetry (1857) –Poems inspired by accidental inkblots.
    5. 5. A Very Brief History of The Rorschach Test • 1921: Publication of “Psychodiagnostik” – 174 page monograph (183 pages English trans.) • Rorschach studied 300 mental patients and 100 control subjects. • Rorschach died at age 37, seven months after its publication. It received little attention upon publication. • The work was described as being a “densely written piece couched in dry, scientific terminology.”
    6. 6. A Very Brief History of The Rorschach Test • What’s in a Name? • Rorschach’s View of his Work – Rorschach’s Original Title • “Method and Results of a Perceptual-Diagnostic Experiment: Interpretation of Arbitrary Forms.” • “I believe you are being modest…” • “I have a sense of responsibility for the title…”
    7. 7. To Rorschach or Not To Rorschach • When Should It Be Used? – Information Collected • “The Rorschach does not provide data from which answers to all questions can be derived….” (Exner) – Limitations • “…complex specimen of behaviors…can be translated into a series of descriptive statements concerning the individual.” (Ibid.) – Use • Ordinarily used as part of a battery • Part of a “multi-method” approach to assessment. – Scope of the test is wide: “testing everything.” – Overlapping tests allow the R. to possible provide “crossvalidation” with other tests.
    8. 8. To Rorschach or Not To Rorschach • Who Should Use It? – The Three Prerequisites (as proposed by Exner) • Basic Understanding of People and the Notion of Personality • Good Working Knowledge of Psychopathology and Maladjustment • Understanding of the Test Itself
    9. 9. To Rorschach or Not To Rorschach • The Interreleated Data Sets – Verbiage • Language and Responses Given to Examiner – Sequence • “As responses have occurred as reflected in both the substance and the coding of them.” – Structure • “Plot of frequencies for nearly 100 variables from which data for more than 60 variables, ratios, percentages and indices are derived.”
    10. 10. What Might This Be ?
    11. 11. Administering The Rorschach • Seating –Seated next to client, never across from each other. • Introducing the Test –“What do you know about this test?” –“What we are looking for is…” • “What Might This Be?”
    12. 12. Administering The Rorschach • Time – “Time should not be afforded undue weight when administering the test.” • Recording Responses – Everything is recorded, verbatim. – The Rorschach Shorthand • E: “It cb a very pretty flower” • S: “Yes, ths cb the stem & here r the petals.”
    13. 13. Scoring the Rorschach • Clusters (Related to Several Psychological Features) – Affective Features – Capacity for Control Stress Tolerance – Cognitive Mediation – Ideation – Information Processing – Interpersonal Perception – Self-Perception – Situation-Related Stress
    14. 14. Scoring the Rorschach • Cluster Search Order – Changes frequently, often depending upon variables: • Key Variables – Presence of a Key Variable predicts which combination of two or three clusters will yield the most significant information. • Tertiary Variables – Does not have predictive power. Highlights which cluster will yield the most information but does not predict which subsequent clusters will supplement.
    15. 15. “Reading” the Cards
    16. 16. Concluding Remarks • “The full value of the Rorschach is realized only from the complete sum of its parts. A neglect of any available Rorschach data, whether quantitative or qualitative, is an abuse of the test and a disservice to the client.” (Exner) • “The most outstanding virtue of the Rorschach method is generally recognized to lie in its power for providing an integrated pattern of total personality, and for at once articulating this pattern in specific quantitative ways into a manifold of personality dimensions.” (Rickers-Ovisankina)

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