What Does A Family Drawing Reveal?

Chapter 5

A Free Course About Interpretation

Institute of Projective Drawings

Family Drawings And Paintings: Why Are They So Important?

Family depictions open a window into the deep layers of the client's personality, providing sudden insight into the deepest, innermost, most basic aspects of psychodynamics and personality functioning.

They can be applied both for children or adults (with certain modifications, discussed in the next post).

They are routinely used for ​the examination of

  • defence mechanisms, traumas and neurotic conflicts,
  • relationship with parents and family,
  • attachment to parents,
  • sexual or physical abuse*,
  • self-image and body scheme,
  • intellectual maturity and level of cognitive development,
  • school aptitude etc.

*For the assessment of sexual or physical abuse, see also the Color Keys Method.

What is special about family drawings is that they convey a condensed emotional experience of the family – instead of a snapshot.

Family drawings or paintings can explain psychological causes of mental illness and symptoms.

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Family drawings compress emotional content, desires, fears and memories related to the most significant people for child.

During the process of emotional compression, the child gives shape to the tension of the experience so that the emotional components of the experience are also compressed in the image.

The primary elaboration of anxiety in a free drawing

A drawing by a five-year-old boy who is terrified of dogs. In the drawing, he depicted a dangerous wolf with his frightening mouth open very wide (Vass, 2012, p. 648)

We do not see reality in the drawing, but how the child experiences the family, how the parents, sibling effect them, what they are missing, what they most need.

Family drawings show how the child experiences the family, how the parents, sibling effect them, what they are missing, what they most need.

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This cannot be revealed by any other method, since a child is usually unable to or unwilling to put these feelings into words.

A family drawing

How these two children experience the family?

In the kinetic family drawing on the left, the individual figures are far from each other, while on the right, they are so close that they overlap. The drawings reveal how the child experiences the family: emotionally remote and cold (LEFT) or close, warm and trustful (RIGHT).

There are several variations of family drawings and each brings something else to the surface.

The Main Three Types Of Family Drawings

  1. Draw Your Family (one’s own family drawing),
  2. Draw A Picture Of A Family (a general family),
  3. Changed family (in some way, e. g. enchanted or animal family).

1. In the case of the first type, ask the child to draw their own family ("Draw your family", e.g. Hulse, 1951, 1952).

2. For the second type say: ”draw a family that you imagine" (e.g. Corman, 1965). This instruction also results in the child illustrating their actual family.

3. For the third type: stay tuned...​

Now It's Your Turn

  • Collect family drawings using the two main instructions: "Draw your family" and "draw a family that you imagine". Compare them!
  • Compare them!
  • What are your thoughts, remarks, experiences on family drawings? Let me know in the comments below!

References:

Corman, L. (1964). Le test du dessin de famille dans la pra que médico-pédagogique. Paris: P.U.F.

Hulse, W. C. (1951). The emotionally disturbed child draws his family. Quaterly Journal of Child Behaviour, 3, 152-174.

Vass, Z. (2012). A psychological interpretation of drawings and paintings. The SSCA Method: A Systems Analysis Approach. Budapest: Alexandra.

In the next chapter: If you mix-up the order of the 8 most important family drawings, they may become uninterpretable. Learn the recommended sequence. Also: How to compare subsequent pictures?

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