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Quantifying Complexity: Personality Assessment and Its Relationship with Psychoanalysis

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The fields of personality assessment and psychoanalysis have an entwined history and share much in common, notably an appreciation of the importance of understanding a person with complexity and depth, including the role of unconscious (or implicit) psychological processes. Personality assessment (or diagnostic psychological testing) offers a complement to psychoanalysis’ primarily idiographic approach by integrating it with a nomothetic one; that is, applying quantitative methods to determine in what ways and to what extent a person is similar or different relative to normative data. It is surprising, then, that contemporary psychoanalysts are largely unfamiliar with the field of personality assessment and seldom refer their patients for evaluation to assist with diagnostic formulation and treatment planning. In this article, we offer practicing analysts (1) a general description of the ways that testing can assist diagnostically, (2) an introduction to categories of psychological tests that sample functioning under varying conditions or from different vantage points, (3) a survey of assessment research that has provided empirical validation of key psychoanalytic concepts, (4) a window into the assessment process as it is applied clinically, and (5) cases to illustrate when and to what benefit analysts might consider referrals for testing. Examples include use of testing in instances when a new patient reports a history of repeated treatment failures; when patient and analyst are embroiled in a protracted impasse; and when a fine-tuned assessment of analyzability is warranted.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: January 9, 2015

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