SAY A PSYCHOLOGIST
is showing you the first of ten cards in the Rorschach inkblot
test. Perhaps you see a foxs head, a bat, or a butterfly.
Thats good. The more straightforward, the better. Its
okay to be creative if you can justify your response. But whatever
you do, dont groan, get emotional, or make irrelevant
comments. Dont put your hands on the cards to block out
parts. And dont say you see nothing but an inkblot.
advice on how to achieve a normal score on a Rorschach test
is given by the Fathers Rights To Custody (FRTC)
organization, which assists fathers involved in court custody
battles. The FRTCs position
on the use of the Rorschach test is that it is an inappropriate
and unreliable test for use in the context of a child custody
evaluation, the organization says on its Web site.
value of the Rorschach inkblot test, a projective personality
test that has been widely used for more than eight decades,
is being questioned by more than just disenfranchised fathers.
In recent years, academics also have attacked the Rorschach,
saying that it lacks scientific validity.
O. Lilienfeld, associate professor of psychology at Emory, recently
co-authored articles in the American Psychological Societys
journal and in Scientific American questioning the use of the
Rorschach test and other projective tools in clinical and legal
could lose custody largely on the basis of their Rorschach responses,
Lilienfeld says. Some clinicians use the Rorschach by
itself to make diagnoses. The scientific evidence does not support
controversy made the front page of the New York Times science
section, pitting critics against supporters of the Rorschach.
Whats in an Inkblot? asked the headline. Some
Say, Not Much.
arent simply academic skirmishes over methods of interpretation:
Lilienfeld and others are genuinely concerned about how these
tests are appliedor misapplied, as the case may be. The
Rorschach tends to overpathologize, he says, meaning
it is more typical for a normal person to score as pathological
than vice versa.
diagnoses can have devastating consequences. As the most popular
projective test, the Rorschach is administered to hundreds of
thousands of people each year. In a survey of American Psychological
Association members, 82 percent said they used the Rorschach
occasionally and 43 percent frequently.
Results are used as an aid in diagnosing mental illness, deciding
child custody and criminal cases, and evaluating prisoners
he has never had a private practice, Lilienfeld administered
the Rorschach numerous times while in graduate school at the
University of Minnesota (a fact about which I now have
some guilt, he says), and had a full course in its scoring
and interpretation. I cant say I found it especially
helpful, he says. Administering and scoring it probably
heightened my skepticism.
Rorschach inkblot test was developed in the 1920s by Hermann
Rorschach, a young Swiss psychologist who got the idea from
a popular European parlor game that involved making inkblots
and telling stories about them.
all projective tests, the Rorschach presents viewers with ambiguous
images and asks them to interpret the images, thereby eliciting
their thoughts, fears, motives, and fantasies. The ten symmetrical
inkblots used in the test (five contain color, five are black
and gray) are always the same, given in a specific order, and
are supposed to be kept secret from the public to ensure spontaneous
answers that give clues to peoples personalitiesand
Rorschach originally came under fire in the 1950s and 60s
because it lacked standardized procedures for its administration
and scoring. In the 1970s, experts came up with the Comprehensive
System, a detailed set of instructions for delivering the test
and interpreting the responses.
Lilienfeld and like-minded colleagues, including James M. Wood
of the University of Texas at El Paso and Howard N. Garb of
the University of Pittsburgh, say that even the revised version
of the Rorschach still falls short on two important criteria:
reliability and validity. Reliability is a measure of a tests
capacity to produce similar results no matter who interprets
or grades the responses. Validity means the tests
results would be consistent with other tests that measure the
it comes to projective techniques, you often cant make
strong scientific or empirical claims, Lilienfeld says.
And you should either be able to show that they work,
or be open with clients that youre not using scientific
B. Weiner, a clinical professor of psychiatry and behavioral
medicine at the University of South Florida and president of
the International Rorschach Society, says the Rorschach test
is widely used around the world by competent professionals to
detect disorders like schizophrenia and depression and there
are abundant journal articles and research supporting it. Three
or four people are churning out all these articles saying they
dont think the Rorschach is any good, he says, but
they arent giving an even-handed review of the literature.
agrees the Rorschach test alone shouldnt be used to make
determinations of child custody or other legal matters. Nor
should any other single test. Thats not what its
for, he says. It is intended to identify aspects
of how people function. Its helpful because it can identify
things people dont talk about.
of the Rorschach score responses on more than a hundred characteristics,
including whether the viewer looked at the whole blot or just
parts, whether the detected images were unusual, and whether
images were seen in the blot itself or in the white background.
Projective tests like the Rorschach, the Thematic Apperception
Test (cards with drawings of ambiguous situations, mostly featuring
people), and the Draw-A-Person (clients are asked to draw a
person of the same sex and the opposite sex) can take hours
to administer and score, and rely heavily on examiner interpretation
and, in some part, intuition.
and his colleagues say until better projective tests are constructed,
clinicians would do well to stick to methods that have been
proven both valid and reliablesuch as self-report questionnaires
like the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory-2 and structured
if the Rorschach is used solely as a therapeutic tool, there
is still potential for abuse, Lilienfeld cautions. People
coming in to psychotherapy are vulnerable, he says. They
are looking for solutions, for answers to problems, and desire
to believe that therapy will yield important truths.
the Rorschach test can, as claimed, provide an X-ray of
the mind. But, asks Lilienfeld, whose mind: that of the
client or the examiner?