Revisiting the Usefulness of ‘Projective Techniques’ in Therapy

As a psychological tool, Projective techniques have been in use for decades, and their usefulness has been championed by those such as Harold Pepinsky, who has been described as a “pioneer in the counseling profession.” In short, projective techniques are used in the therapeutic context “as a means to advance the counseling relationship and to maintain an understanding of clients.”

Projective tests have gotten a bad rap recently. As the field of psychology advanced, there was a growing trend to emulate the hard sciences (like physics) and thus an emphasis on “objectivity”. The “subjective” nature of projective testing, so it was reasoned, was clearly inferior (i.e., not as ‘objective’) as say the MMPI’s assessment of personality. While some would argue that something is objective when it is quantifiable, there are thosewho argue (quite well I might add!) that “objectivity is the fruit of authentic subjectivity.” But that is a topic for another article

As Clark points out, an array of projective techniques are available for therapists and it remains important to point out that counselors have found the use of these techniques useful for many decades. Some specific projective techniques include:

Rorschach Ink Blot Test

Thematic Apperception Test

Sentence-completion tests

• Picture Arrangement tests

• Expressive (e.g. “human drawing”)

The leading idea about projective techniques, according to Clark, is that these “techniques are based on a client’s unique frame of reference…” He continues: “Certain psychological variables are discernable in early recollections that serve to generate hypotheses about the dynamics of an individual’s personality.”

In other words, projective techniques help establish a relationship between the client and counselor and provide information about the client that can be useful for treatment planning. For example, regarding human-figure drawing, Clark notes: “For most clients, the counselor’s request to draw a picture of a person is a relatively nonthreatening starting point for fostering the counseling relationship.”

Other above-noted projective techniques, such a sentence completion, “provide a concrete task for a person and an opportunity for the counselor to observe the client in a writing effort,” Clark writes. “Interaction between the client and the counselor occur once again with this projective method, and individuals respond with varying degrees of interest.” Clark notes, too, that specific clients, like adolescents, may respond well to this specific projective technique.

Clark illustrates that “questionable psychometric qualities, infrequent training experiences, and the obscure characteristics of the devices has limited [projective techniques] use by counselors.” However, he still calls for a reevaluation of projective techniques in therapy. Clark’s position remains based on Pepinky’s work, which, although put forth almost a century ago, may still be applicable.

Finally, has the time come for frequent use of -projective techniques as a legitimate practice? According to Clark, the answer to that question is a clear “yes,” and perhaps a new generation of counselors and therapists may want to take a second look at projective techniques.


Clark, A. J. (1995). Projective techniques in the counseling process. Journal of Counseling and Development, 73, 311 – 316.

Brooke Lamberti

Brooke Lamberti is a content writer based out of Scranton, Pennsylvania. She received a Bachelor of Science in Psychology from Marywood University, and has prior career experience working in social work and domestic violence advocacy. She has a passion for writing and helping others.

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