Psychoanalytic therapeutic tools: Rorschach on the BBC

Psychology in the news

An interesting BBC news article entitled “What’s behind the inkblot” (BBC news; 25th July 2012) provides a nice summary of the history and story behind Rorschach’s inkblots (according to the article Rorschach did not design them for their current use as either a test of personality or a therapeutic tool) and discusses issues with both the reliability and the validity of this particular projective test.

AQA A: AS Unit 2 – Psychopathology

In AS Unit 2 (AQA A) students will come across a range of therapies based on the different approaches to explaining and treating “abnormality”. Their study of Psychodynamic, or Psychoanalytic therapies more specifically, is likely to involve an exploration of the many tools used by Psychoanalysts to gain insight into the unconscious mind of the client. One of these tools, featured in some AS textbooks is the use of projective tests, including the Rorschach ink blots.

In the Psychology classroom

The following 5 ideas are suggestions of how this article, and the related Radio 4 broadcast, might inspire classroom practice.

Starter: subjectivity and objectivity

As a lesson starter display one of Andy Warhol’s paintings inspired by the inkblots. Explain that it is a piece of art and ask students what they see. Students are likely to expect this to be a subjective exercise and may reveal quite elaborate interpretations. Use this as an opportunity to ensure students understand the difference between subjectivity and objectivity in order to transfer this understanding to the research process.

Starter: inkblot stories as a creative thinking tool

Ask students to create an inkblot (provide folded paper and ink) then ask them to devise a story based around their inkblot. Tell students that this is a creative thinking exercise and encourage them to develop their stories. They could also make up a story for an ink blot created by a class mate. Ask students if they think this process has revealed anything about them and their inner workings. Use this discussion to introduce the idea of inkblots as a therapeutic tool.

Introducing psychodynamic therapy tools

Following either of the previous starter ideas, ask students which approach might employ this type of tool in the therapy process. If students have understood the 4 approaches they have learned about in this topic area they should be able to identify the Psychodynamic Approach as the correct answer, even if this is by elimination of the other 3 approaches.

Reading and writing about Psychology (AO2)

Ask students to read all or selected extracts of the article, focussing on reliability and validity. They could use the ideas they come across to complete a piece of AO2 writing to continue this starting line which identifies the problem:

A weakness of psychoanalytic therapy is that therapists often rely on tools to reveal the unconscious, which lack reliability and validity”.

Students should contextualise what they have learned about the issues with the inkblots to justify and elaborate (perhaps even counter criticise) the criticism. This is a challenging exercise in application of knowledge, making a criticism relevant and writing to show skills of analysis rather than regurgitating rote learned textbook strengths and weaknesses, devoid of understanding.

It doesn’t really matter whether your students will actually use this as a criticism of the therapies in an exam, as they may be many other more salient points to make, but the thinking and writing skills developed here have the potential to be transferred.

Budding Psychologists: beyond A level

Those students with a particular flair or interest in Psychology may find the Radio 4 broadcast (“Dr Inkblot” also aired on 25th July 2012) interesting as it gives an insight into the man behind the test, although it does focus on the inkblots as a personality test and not as a therapeutic tool so make clear to students this is beyond the scope of the course.

The broadcast makes reference to the popularity of the inkblots in Japan and the US (they have fallen out of favour in the UK). The inkblots are used for a variety of purposes in Japan and the US including as a tool for marriage counselling and an assessment of whether a parent is fit to have custody of their children. Those students with a broad interest in Psychology may like to consider why tools such as this might be more ”fashionable” at different  times and in different places and discuss the applications given the pros and cons of the tool itself.


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