Introduction to uncover unconscious feelings and motives. Due to


Projective testing entails having clients respond to ambiguous stimuli, such as
imagery or words, in order to uncover unconscious feelings and motives. Due to the
unstructured and ambiguous nature of the test, the client is able to freely
project themselves onto the stimulus (Anastasi,1976). The underlying hypothesis
of this method is to measure personality subtly and indirectly. The spontaneity
of the results can reveal apprehension, needs, internal conflict, coping styles,
and various interpersonal aspects. This type of testing intends to examine deep-seated
motives and can be useful in understanding certain aspects of an individual. However,
I am tentative regarding the extent to which projective tests can be used to
make conclusions regarding one’s personality.


Projective tests is widely applied in the therapeutic setting or during
personnel interviews. It has a basis in psychoanalysis, which proposes that thoughts
and impulses hidden in the unconscious are often the root of problems. Freud proposed
exploring the unconscious through free association, in which individuals talk about
what comes to mind in the spur of the moment. This would reveal basic
determinants of personality or psychopathology. The Islamic concept of the nafs
is in line with the psychoanalytic view of personality which is comprised
of the  Id, Ego, and Superego. Nafs-al
Ammara Bisuu represents one’s negative desires and tendencies
(Qur’an 12:53), similar to the notion of Id,
which functions solely on the pleasure-seeking principle. The reproachful soul (Qur’an
75:2) can be defined in terms of the Ego and Superego which attempt to mediate the
Id. Due to the connection of these concepts, projective testing is a relevant method
to the Muslim psychologist and can surely aid in pinpointing one’s struggles
with the nafs.

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Expressive tests are
mostly administered to
children, in which drawings of non-human beings like animals potentially reveal latent
fantasies, and a drawing of the child’s family can allow therapists to
interpret relationships based on the position of certain relatives. Another method which facilitates projection is the sentence
completion test. The Rorschach Inkblot Test, introduced in 1921 by Swiss
psychiatrist Hermann Rorschach, is the most widespread
projective test. The client is asked to describe a series of 10 symmetrical and
complex inkblots stains which are in black-and-white or colour. Responses are scored
in terms of interpretation of the content, the spot the client focuses on, or determinants
like colour and shape. Another factor which is taken into account is the
client’s demeanour while answering. The Rorschach test has various scoring
methods aiming to provide objectivity, however this is limited as many
psychologists interpret the test according to their subjective impressions.


A popular and more reliable alterative is the Thematic Apperception
Test, developed by Henry Murray in 1930. It is less ambiguous than inkblot
tests as it involves a series of pictures that display persons in particular
settings. The client is asked to describe the scenario, including the
characters thoughts and feelings. TAT examiners then look for recurring themes
that may reveal needs, motives or interpersonal relationships (Hilgard et al., 1975). However, research reflects that a client’s preoccupation with
certain themes are not always acted upon in overt behaviour: a shy person with aggressive
retellings may never act on these impulses. Therefore, TAT can provide a sample
of behaviour, and particular story themes are only meaningful when considered
in light of other situational factors.

Projective tests can reveal conflicts which the client may not have
verbalized previously, and therefore, provides the psychologist with the
opportunity to take note of these issues. However, they are considered less
reliable than objective psychological assessments. This is due to the risk of
interpretive bias, and the fact that subtle differences in phrasing from
examiner’s can influence the client’s responses. Another criticism is that
results may be based on a client’s most recent experiences, as opposed to their
innermost subconscious. Critics propose that in so far as drawing conclusions, test
results are not entirely valid, as responses are susceptible to the client’s
mood at the time. An advantage is the tests ability to bring certain emotions
to the fore. Additionally, contrary to objective tests, there is a lower chance
of faked responses due to the ambiguity of stimulus. However, despite implementation
of the Comprehensive System’s for objectivity, the Rorschach test still falls
short in terms of reliability and validity (Lilienfeld, 2005). TAT has proved
relatively reliable in measuring motivation and aggression. However, there may not
always be a correlation between expressions of aggression during the test and
actual overt behaviour (Anastasi, 1976).


The Islamic perspective of psychology acknowledges the influences
of al-ghayb (unseen) on the soul. These unseen forces can affect one’s mental
state and behaviour. Furthermore, Islamic psychology takes into account internal
conflict brought about by the waswas of Shaytaan as well as one’s
own nafs. Projective tests provide a means of analysing the unconscious,
and can encourage self reflection. The Rorschach and TAT have more standardized
methods of interpretation than free association and dream interpretation. Furthermore,
the Rorschach is not dependent on a client’s literacy level and has
cross-cultural applicability. However, Muslim clients may show differences in
responses compared to Western norms. The TAT may show scenarios that are not
relatable or easily comprehended to those who are unfamiliar with Western
cultures or settings. S. Lilienfeld (2005) presents evidence that inkblot test results
of minorities may differ from the norms, and in addition, TAT administers may over
diagnose psychological disturbance.


Therefore, despite the useful information gleaned from these tests, they are
not appropriate to use as a standalone to make diagnosis or draw solid
conclusions regarding personality. Projective tests certainly prove useful in
providing a starting point, as it does detect conflicts and emotions. However, the literature examined reveal that results are
tentative at best. Due to this reason, I conclude that although these methods
of personality assessment is useful, it is not the only way to understand a
client’s personality type. The diagnosis would be more reliable if used in a
battery for a comprehensive overview of the client’s personality. In addition,
if a standard of norms for scoring is developed for Muslims or non-Westerners,
the effectiveness of interpretations regarding personality and motives may be
more accurate and beneficial.

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