Why the Thematic Apperception Test Is Used in Therapy

thematic apperception test
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The Thematic Apperception Test, or TAT, is a type of projective test that involves describing ambiguous scenes. Popularly known as the "picture interpretation technique," it was developed by American psychologists Henry A. Murray and Christina D. Morgan at Harvard University in the 1930s. To date, the TAT is one of the most widely researched and clinically used personality tests.

How the TAT Works

The TAT involves showing people a series of picture cards depicting a variety of ambiguous characters (that may include men, women, and/or children), scenes, and situations.

They are then asked to tell as dramatic a story as they can for each picture presented, including:

  • what has led up to the event shown
  • what is happening in the scene
  • the thoughts and feelings of characters
  • the outcome of the story

The complete version of the TAT includes 31 cards. Murray originally recommended using approximately 20 cards and selecting those that depicted characters similar to the subject.

Today, many practitioners only utilize between 5 and 12 cards, often selected because the examiner feels that the scene matches the client's needs and situation.

Practitioners use their best judgment when selecting scenes in order to determine which might be most likely to elicit useful information from the respondent.

Why the TAT Is Used

The TAT can be utilized by therapists in a number of different ways. Some of these include:

  • To learn more about a person. In this way, the test acts as something of an icebreaker while providing useful information about potential emotional conflicts the client may have.
  • To help people express their feelings. The TAT is often used as a therapeutic tool to allow clients to express feelings in a non-direct way. A client may not yet be able to express a certain feeling directly, but they might be able to identify the emotion when viewed from an outside perspective.
  • To explore themes related to the person's life experiences. Clients dealing with problems such as job loss, divorce, or health issues might interpret the ambiguous scenes and relating to their unique circumstances, allowing deeper exploration over the course of therapy.
  • To assess someone for psychological conditions. The test is sometimes used as a tool to assess personality or thought disorders.   
  • To evaluate crime suspects. Clinicians may administer the test to criminals to assess the risk of recidivism or to determine if a person matches the profile of a crime suspect.
  • To screen job candidates. This is sometimes used to determine if people are suited to particular roles, especially positions that require coping with stress and evaluating vague situations such as military leadership and law enforcement positions.

Criticisms

The TAT is often criticized for not being standardized, meaning there are no rules of administration or formal scoring system. Clinicians often vary in how they administer the test. Additionally, few practitioners use Murray's complex scoring system and instead rely on their subjective interpretation and clinical opinion.

For example, even if clinicians use the same scoring system, they may use different cards or a different number of cards. This makes it incredibly difficult to obtain estimates of reliability and validity,best365体育投注app and almost impossible to compare results.

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