BEYOND THE RORSCHACH: drama therapy & projective techniques

Echo and Narcissus by John William Waterhouse. 1903.

There is a story of two dogs. Both at separate times walk into the same room. One comes out wagging his tail while the other comes out growling. A woman watching this goes into the room to see what could possibly make one dog so happy and the other so mad. To her surprise she find a room filled with mirrors. The happy dog found a thousand happy dogs looking back at him while the angry dog saw only angry dogs growling back at him. What you see in the world around you is a reflection of who you are.

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I recently found these words on a friend’s Facebook page and was reminded of CANY’s work.The story speaks not only to how we look at the world but also what is reflected back to us when we play a part in our own story. The mirror in the story is a projection for the dogs. As an object it remains the same while what is perceived within it is drastically different for each dog. It is this mirror that our clients come face-to-face with in a CANY drama therapy group while the group itself becomes a microcosm of how the clients perceive the world, typically one filled with trauma. The creative group process, however, allows for a fuller exploration of experience, not only investigating what we put out into the world but also why. In trauma treatment we learn to ask the question “what happened to you?” versus “what is wrong with you?” In hearing the story above, I wonder the events the angry dog has experienced to cause him to project a world that is growling back at him. What is he protecting himself from?

As I write this post, I am concurrently creating a CANY training workshop entitled, Drama Therapy and Projective Techniques. Most drama therapists are schooled in the use of projective techniques during training. Mask and art work, as well as sand tray techniques are just some of the projective devices that drama therapists regularly employ. CANY is no exception. We have and continue to use projective techniques in our weekly groups. However, with the adoption of a trauma-informed stance in recent years, the nature of our techniques has changed. We use less “stuff” with our clients, allowing the life stories that our clients bring into the room to serve as the foundations for a parallel drama to evolve.

Rorschach image example

Rorschach image example

When you think about projective techniques, what likely comes to mind is a bunch of inkblots that when interpreted reflects an individual’s state of mind. This projective assessment, known as the Rorschach test, was created in the 1920s by Swiss psychologist Hermann Rorschach. In this test there are ten cards, mostly black and white but some in color and the subject is asked to describe what they see in each card and is scored accordingly (“Projective Techniques:, 2015), assessing the personality characteristics and emotional functioning of participating individuals.

Perhaps closer to CANY’s story-making process is the Thematic Apperception Test (TAT) created by Henry Murray in 1935, which asks subjects to look at a series of twenty pictures of people and to construct a story from those images. Advocates of the TAT notes its potential to tap into a subject’s unconscious, revealing repressed aspects of personality, motives and needs for achievement (“Thematic Apperception Test”, 2015).

TAT image example

TAT image example

Recently invited to write a post on the CANY process for the NADTA blog, I found that what emerged in my writing was the notion of the parallel story; a story that is created by the group that mirrors shared aspects of the group’s individual trauma narratives while providing enough distance to allow those clients to play in and with the story. This is our Rorschach. This is our TAT. Except that we work in action.

Although the parallel story encompasses all three of CANY’s core principles: creativity as health, metaphor as healing tool and group as therapeutic agent, the second one is the primary focus here, relying, as it does, on the group’s collective unconscious (the realm of metaphor) to create the parallel story. It should be noted that for many CANY clients, experiences of societal trauma are as defining as individual adversity. The story and the metaphors that inhabit it serve as a powerful projection of the group experience. The metaphorical story serves as the inkblot here but instead of focusing on the clients’ interpretation of an image as a sign of health or lack of it, CANY group leaders encourage participants to use their own life experiences to define and create their own inkblot through action. There is no right way to understand the metaphorical realm of the drama. By allowing group members to project multiple experiences and meanings onto one story, there is more freedom. Ultimately, the creation of a parallel story allows group members the opportunity to alter what has and will happen, generating endless possibilities. And with possibilities comes an increased likelihood that we might be able to look back into our own mirror and see something new reflected back, even if before there has always been a growling dog!

HL headshotnew

Heidi Landis, CANY Associate Executive Director

Reading

Projective Techniques. (2015). Retrieved from http://psychology.jrank.org/pages/506/Projective-Techniques.html#ixzz3VbBpopYt

Thematic Apperception Test. (2015). Retrieved from http://www.minddisorders.com/Py-Z/Thematic-Apperception-Test.html

(All images retrieved from public domain)

1 Comment

  1. What a wonderful post! Every time I have experienced your process it has always reminded me of an elegant drama therapy session – a full container of action, metaphor, and reflection. Loved the story! It gave me pause. Many times the “growling dog” is a result of the vicarious traumatization that seeps and embeds in our being (no matter how much we surround and protect ourselves with white light). I find that most therapists that enter trauma work have been touched by this in their lives. The power of joining in and holding the various stories together helps to lift and lighten the load together giving new meaning to “United we stand…”
    Keep up the wonderful work!
    Allyn Sitjar, RDT, LCAT

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