Roschach Exprt No. 1: "When someone shows you an inkblot and asks you 'What is this?' there's really only one answer that's correct. It's an inkblot . . . If someone says, 'That looks like the way I felt the day my father died,' well, WOW. That's a really interesting response. Now no one's ever said that to me. I just made it up. But I could do a lot with that."
Rorschach Expert No. 2: "It's a kind of violation of the personality. So people are afraid of it, and they laugh at it."
Rorschach Expert No. 1: "I've heard some pretty weird things: 'Fabulous flights of flaming flaminingos.' . . . It's a very mysterious process. No, that's a bad word. It's a funny process that takes place." p
For the next four mind-searching days, the Capital Hilton will be home for 300 psychiatrists and psychologists convening for the 10th International Roschach Congress. The people who administer the famous inkblot personality test look like conventioneers of any species -- perhaps with a few more brards than usual. They take notes furiously at workshops, like the one concerning the case of the regressive and/or infantile middle-aged League of Women Voters' member. The case was batted around in the same manner congressmen fight over a conplicated amendment. (As it happened, a spirted debate did develop between the regressive group and the infantile group, of which more later).
The test, a sort of spyglass on the soul, is an engima that makes people giggle or sweat. It is deceptively simple. A psychologist asks a patient to look at a series of 10 standard inkblots and describe what he or she sees. The responses are recorded, then coverted into intricate scores that look like hieroglyphics to the layman and seem best intended for a computer. In fact, some are. The result, either by computer or by trained psychologist, is an interpretation of a personality that one Roschach specialist called so accurate as to be "frightening."
Psychologists who administer the test say their friends call it pornography and witchcraft.
"It's a little scary," psychologist Susan Gridley said during the congress. "People don't want to think that some one can predict something about their behavior and personality they can't understand. If I ask you a question about yourself, you can sort of guess why. If I show you an inkblot, you don't know."
The particular purpose of this congress is to catch up and collaborate. The last one was in 1977 in Switzerland, and there have been volumes of research since then. More than 100 papers will be presented in the next few days, many with titles like "From Inkblots to Dreams," "The Psychodiagnostic in the Suicide" and "Genital Symbolization and Male Transsexualism."
There is also time for schmoozing. Like any professional group suddenly lumped together, inkblotters relate to each other. As Gridley, a 35-year-old clinical practitioner from Tampa, Fla., put it: "Really INTERESTING PEOPLE. 've never seen another person who was a turkey." Archie Bunker?
Things people have seen in the inkblots butterflies, dragons, two Ku Klux Klansmen with rifles, a rabbit with snakes coming out of its eyes, atomic explosions, genitalia, the Cookie Monster, angels, Santa Claus, witches, crabs, elves, otters, clouds, bagpipes, altars, dancing bears, buried treasure, Archie Bunker riding a motorcycle. Game Plan
Hermann Rorschach, a Swiss psychoanalyst, developed the test in 1921. He was not as original as you might think, stealing the concept from ""Blotto," a popular turn-of-the-century European parlor game. Participants bought sets of inkblots from the corner drugstore, then hauled them out for the evening's entertainment. Some made up poems around them; others played charades.
"Blotto" was also a popular game in the wards of Rorschach's hospital. When the patients played, the doctor noticed that the schizophrenics reacted differently. From there, Rorschach developed 25 standard inkblots, basing the testing and interpretation on the works of Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung. The reaction: skepticism. In fact, there were so many skeptics that Rorschach couldn't find a publisher until he came upon a tiny outfit that had the means to print only a portion of the 25. Rorschach picked 10, and there you have it.
There have been ups and downs since. Although the inkblots are generally regarded as one of a number of tools of useful personality analysis, critics still say they measure only "mental states." And Dr. J. E. Exner, the congress' program chairman, admits the years from 1950 to 1970 were not good ones. Too much reaching, he said, toward psychoanalysis.
"So if you saw a tree," Exner explained, "they wanted to turn it into a phallic symbol -- 'Aha, he's got a sexual preccupation!' But maybe even Freud would say it's a tree."
In its 60-year history, the Rorschach has been given, says Exner, to a variety of the great and the terrible. All the Nazi war criminals. Jack Ruby and Gary Gilmore, the convict who wanted to be executed and was. "It wasn't a very exciting Rorschach, to be honest," explained Exner, who said he has seen it. "It's kind of bland. Looks like a little boy."
Exner says David Berkowitz, the "Son of Sam," took the Rorschach, too. So did Albert Einstein, although the records are said to have been destroyed. John F. Kennedy took it because he was curious. "Looked good," said Exner, who said he saw that one, too. "Rich, creative and well-organized." Case & Clash
And now for the League of Women Voters' member in her forties. She is an authentic case. She plays tennis once a week. She is a housewife, married to a successful man. She is quite intelligent and attractive. She says she has sex twice a week and has several close friends. She thinks her husband has a mistress and that he is trying to kill her.
She was admitted to a hospital and given a Rorschach test. In a Wednesday workshop, 100 psychiatrists and psychologists were provided with her responses typed on mimeographed sheets. Four of the participants -- from Switzerland, the United States, France and Belgium -- presented their analysis. The Rorschach jargon was heavy and the methods of interpretation highly varied. But the results were the same.
From Dr. K. W. Bash, a white-haired specialist from Switzerland: "Two landscape responses, 10 percent, one each of anatomy and plant, and two responses depicting mythological figures . . . the reality index is 4, which is on a pathological level, just below the borderline . . . then we find some other innocuous details that are suspicious. Elves, animals playing or exposing themselves. . ."
His conclusion: "Intellectual paranoia, probably very deeply resentful of her husband's success . . . and suffering from lack of employment of her own superior intellectual facilities. Rigid self-control, and threatened by loss of it. . ."
From Dr. Nina Rausch de Traubenberg, a strong-spoken specialist from France: "You have to take into account the denial of aggressivity, and the denial of sexuality."
From Dr. Meyer Timsit, a specialist from Belgium who spoke through translators: "She's in a regressive state of a quasi-psychotic style . . . narcissistic and analytic . . . because of the depression caused by the separation [in the hospital, away from her husband], she has an outburst of desires. Perhaps it's the middle-age crisis."
And from Dr. Exner, a leading Rorschach researcher: "If I were her husband, and there is apparently a marital problem, I think I would be very tired being around her for a long time. She would be too intense. . . To me, she is a very childish person. This poor lady has to grow up. She's 44 years old, and she's still 10. I would invite her to a party because she would be lively, but I don't want to work with a woman like this. And I certainly don't want to be married to her."
After a break, the questions and professional sqabbling began. Dr. Timsit thought the subject's regression was temporary, Dr. Rausch de Traubenberg disagreed with Dr. Timsit, Dr. Bash thought she was more regressed than infantile, and Dr. Exner thought she was indeed infantile.
Several participants raised their hands and other theories. George Meissler, a 50-year-old psychologist from Philadelphia who lives in a contemporary town house with cathedral ceilings, and whose major traumatic event in childhood was the death of his grandfather, wanted to know about the case study's father.
"Was she daddy's little girl?" he inquired."If you want to get Freudian, I got there." The Death Dance
Yesterday, the Rorschach experts studied the case of a young woman who quite accidentially drove over her husband and killed him. After several weeks of mourning, she went back to work, appearing fine under the circumstances. After four months, says Exner, she "went crazy" -- acting disoriented, talking to herself. She entered a hospital, was treated, then released after one week.
Nine months later, she unraveled again. Only worse, this time becoming so disoriented that she couldn't understand simple commands. She was given a battery of tests, among them the Rorschach. Her responses were especially revealing.
To Fig. II: "It must be a violent dance, like a death dance where only one person remains. They've been at it a long time, and at least one, maybe both, are bleeding. . ."
To Fig IV: "It's all black and ugly like death, like a big figure sort of looming there. . ."
And to Fig. X: "This reminds me of my husband's wake. . ."
"No one helped her to grieve after the accident," explained Exner. "People kept on saying, 'You're doing so well,' reinforcing that. Even the damn therapist didn't pick that up during nine months of treatment." Restriong Balance
Case study of a Rorschach specialist:
Marguerite Hertz, 82, Cleveland psychologist and leading Rorschach specialist.Raised in Washington Heights, in Manhattan, the daughter of a sheet glass salesman. Married a lawyer who became a common-pleas court judge. Moved to Cleveland.
But why the psychology? Why the Rorschach?
"I had a son that I didn't understand," she said. "As a matter of fact, I was originally in foreign languages. He was a tantrum child. I decided I knew French, I knew Spanish, I even knew French Provencal. But I didn't know how to bring up my child."
She brought him up fine. Hertz was a psychology professor for 20 years at Case Western Reserve University. She is still completely fascinated by the Rorschach.
"You want to know the truth?" she said. "We live in a cockeyed world. There's a lot of economic turmoil, emotional panic and social disintegration. With 10 little inkblots, maybe I can help restore balance in an unbalanced world."
Her favorite case was a young boy she saw when he was 16, still seriously upset about the death of his father some time earlier. "He was diagnosed as being seriously ill. According to the psychiatric reports, there was little hope. They felt he was going to become a psychotic. But on the basis of the Rorschach alone, I serially gave positive prognoses -- because of the strength of the Rorschach records.
"Last summer, I met his mother. And I found that after 10 years, he had been to Yale, had graduated and taught at Yale. He's married and has children and apparently is well-adjusted." Tequila and Theories
What a participant of the International Rorschach Congress does at night:
Has dinner. Wednesday night, six women Rorschach specialists from Argentina were making plans outside the Hilton's Federal Room to go to either El Bodegon or El Tio Pepe. Meanwhile, one Swiss and three American clinical psychologists were having two manhattans and two tequilas with fruit juice in the Hilton's bar.
"My mother wanted me to be a real doctor, but I can't stand the sight of blood," said Jane Fong, a 39-year-old clinical psychologist practicing in Virginia and Northwest Washington. "I wanted to work with real people after I couldn't pass my quantitative analysis test. I got a C-minus."
"Anybody who gets a C in quant," said Susan Gridley, the Tampa psychologist, "is doing okay." She was very understanding.
"We're the kinds of people," she explained a little later, "who other people came to talk to."
"I can't support that," countered Stephen Friedlander, a clinical psychologist from Knoxville, Tenn., who's studying the Rorschach and outstanding college students.
"A number of the people I knew that I studied with," added Jane Fong, "I would not go to talk to."
"Well," sighed Gridly, "there are -- everywhere."
"It's [the Rorschach] the most powerfully revealing and artistic diagnostic instrument I've ever seen," said Fong.
"There are even occasions," added Friedlander, "once or twice a year, when I'm feeling upset about something, that I'll sit down and look at the Rorschach. It has a unique ability to summon thoughts that are far from consciousness and to free you from the immediate situation in which you're immersed."
Pretty soon the bill came. Friedlander went off toward his dinner plans, and the other three headed for Gusti's. Portrait of a 'Pusher'
Another case study of a Rorschach specialist:
Sophia de Slullitel, 59, president of the Rorschach Association de Rosario. Second of four children. Older sister lives in Chile. A younger brother is an engineer, a younger sister a choreographer. Grew up affluent in Buenos Aires, the daughter of a Jewish Romanian immigrant who was an insurance executive and a passionate reader of Freud and Adler. She read them, too.
Attended the University of Buenos Aires, receiving a BA in literature. Taught psychology in Rosario. Married, two children, one grandson. Slim, well-dressed, attractive. Describes herself as introspective, easy-going, spirited, "a pusher."
"When I was in the university," she said, "I always liked Greek tragedy. It had something to do with the inside world, passions and drama." How to Show & Tell
A popular misconception about the Rorschach test is the belief that if you say figure VI is a bearskin rug, then you're more normal than if you say it's male genitalia. Not so. Some sexual responses on some cards are deemed not inappropriate. Besides, there are 121 variables in the test, and your personality is determined not only by what you see on the card, but how you look at it.
And how long you look at it. Exner explained yesterday that the human eye comprehends the content of the card in 900 milliseconds, but doesn't respond with an answer until five seconds have elapsed. During those four silent seconds, sometimes as many as seven or eight thoughts about the card are reviewed, then discarded. The average number of responses is about 20, or two per card. It takes about half an hour to administer. The Chair
Dr. Exner, a Long Island University professor with a crew cut and thin mustache, is also a man who knows how to talk to the nonspecialist. Maybe that's why he's program chairman and spokesman.
A few of his comments on the ink-blot:
"You can look at these things until hell freezes over and you're not going to change very much in the way you take the test.
"The best assessment you can get of a person is to get a really good, accurate history. If you have that, thank you very much. You don't need a test. But the problem is, you can't always get that history.
"Occasionally, you'll get somebody who -- WHOOOOOSH -- and away they go."
And yesterday, while Exner was talking to reporters during his lunch hour, a woman from the Capital Hilton asked: "Can I get you anything?"
"A Tanqueray gin on the rocks with a twist," he replied.
The Hilton, not missing a public relations trick, promptly announced a drink to be offered during the duration of the congress. Composed, to absolutely no one's surprise, of Tanqueray gin and a twist. It's called The Inkblot.