A few months ago when reading ‘I Hate You – Don’t Leave Me’, by Kreisman and Straus, I came across mention of the Thematic Apperception Test (TAT), which is a ‘projective psychological test’ aimed at revealing underlying motives, concerns, thought patterns and the lens through which an individual sees the world. The test involves eliciting associations to stimuli which are ambiguous (for example, a picture or an inkblot) and creating a story around them. According to Kreisman and Straus, the responses from borderline patients often describe more ‘bizarre’ or more ‘primitive’ images than the responses of certain other groups of ‘patients’. The image included here, is an example of the type of ambiguous picture used in the TAT.
I chanced upon this at around the same time I first discussed a dream within a therapy session. More recently, I have been reading about psychodynamic psychotherapy (the type of therapy I am undertaking), in which the stories we tell, as well as the dreams we describe and the metaphors and symbolism that we employ, can all be used to access our unconscious minds.
Fascinated by the concept, I decided it might be fun (and hopefully informative!) to try an online version of the test, involving a single image, even though I believe that strictly speaking, ‘proper’ use of the TAT involves analysing responses to a number of different stimuli. I found such a test here, on the website of the University of Texas, which involves looking at a picture for a couple of minutes and writing whatever story comes to mind. Part of the test is that one should write continuously for a period (10 minutes in this particular test), in order to minimize the impact of ‘conscious thought’ on whatever story the unconscious mind might be trying to tell.
I should emphasize that this is not a fully rigorous use of the TAT, and I should also mention that reliability and validity of the TAT are both debated in academic circles. However, in as much as a response to a picture counts as a ‘story that we tell’, I think this is an interesting exercise from a psychodynamic perspective, and in some countries, it is widely used as part of a psychodynamic approach. Just as in dream interpretation, I am sure that there many different ways to construe stories written in this manner, and many different interpretations are possible, none of which are ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. I found it both an interesting and a useful exercise, which, much like a dream, took elements of my conscious experience, and fashioned it into something that revealed underlying thoughts and beliefs not previously tapped into. The online test itself ‘scores’ responses and gives an average score, compared to ‘typical’ male and female responses, in areas such as ‘positive emotions’, ‘negatives emotions’, ‘need for power’ etc. Personally, I found these scores less informative or useful than thinking about what my story might be telling me, that my conscious mind was concealing from me.
I would like to post the story that I wrote as part of that online test, but on the off-chance that a curious reader might also be interested in ‘taking the test’ and possibly even in sharing their story, I will do so in a separate post next week. If you do take the test and blog post your story, please do let me know – I would be interested in reading, and in seeing a different tale emerging from the same ambiguous image! In the meantime, enjoy your TAT – I can guarantee it’s more fun, more interesting and more informative than the plethora of Facebook quizzes out there (we’ve all taken them, haven’t we?!) that claim to assess your personality on the basis of your favourite food, or seek to match you to a ‘Frozen’ character…..