Psychological evaluation is a current procedure, used in many contexts with children and adults alike. Testing is a part of that evaluation and that’s where and when we’ll find the projective tests. However, it’s important to remember that they are an auxiliary method and can never give us a diagnosis by themselves.
Projective tests are inserted in a complete psychological evaluation and can’t be used as a definitive portrait of an individual. By itself, a projective test can’t tell us who a person is or what they are thinking.
How do I decide among them?
It’s important to know exactly how they work and the answers they might, or might not, provide you with, so you can choose properly what the best option for you and your patient, actually is, taking into consideration the evaluation’s goals. The truth is that some tests actually complement each other (such as Rorschach and TAT for adults) and you should choose carefully what and which ones you’ll use and apply both when the situation requires it.
Are they truly accurate?
You’ll probably find many different opinions about projective tests, but, the better answer for this question is that it “depends on what you’re looking for”.
Projective tests show us a life’s reality, but it must be analyzed within that person’s context to make any sense. The same answer might have different meanings to different people with different lives and experiences, so you can’t make a projective test and expect to know a person solely based on the outcome. Actually, you should know your patient, have some sort of clinical relationship with them and maybe then, the projective test may have some validity.
The answers you’ll get during the test, as well as the behavior the subject will exhibit during its application (for example, trying to create a distance or, otherwise, giving the test an excessive meaning and living the situation with too much intensity – everything counts) are an interesting manifestation of the way that particular person interacts with and interprets the world around them.
The information given by projective tests together with other information from different sources will allow us a better apprehension of the psychic functioning of our subjects.
Sounds good, but… what about my patient? How would he or she experience it?
This is one of the first questions you should ask yourself. You know your patients well enough to realize the impact this kind of test will have on them (if you don’t, then probably now is not the time), and, thanks to that, you can evaluate if it’s a good option or if it will do more harm than good. Of course, this is different when you’re facing a mandatory evaluation…
So, I’ll present you with three delicate situations you might find yourself in and that can prevent you from reaching your goals.
You can have in front of you, a person that will live the test like if they were still in school taking some crucial final exam. This is not good for the evaluation as the person will not be relaxed and will probably lie or omit something in their answers whilst lost searching for the best answer in order to get “good grades”.
The most common difficulty however, is what I’d call the suspicious patient. It’s normal to find some mistrust in a patient under evaluation (this also tends to say something about the person), but you should try to change this feeling. Trust is important for accurate results.
And, the last one: the subject that uses the test as a way of expand, sometimes totally and uncontrollably opening themselves up. This kind of patient will use the test to say everything that comes to his mind, no matter what it might be. The test will function as an excuse for them to free themselves and say whatever they want, without filter. Again, it says something about the person and this kind of behavior cannot be ignored.