How a Simple Drawing Becomes a Counseling Tool

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Psychologists and licensed therapists utilize a full range of tools to help their clients. For example, individual counseling might include a number of sessions in which therapist and client do nothing but talk. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, the therapist might utilize another session to have the client draw a picture and tell a story. Though this might seem childish, the therapist has a specific purpose in mind.

A simple drawing can become a valuable counseling tool when the therapist is employing something known as the house-tree-person (HTP) personality test. To psychologists and therapists who swear by this test, it can help them understand distinctive characteristics and personality traits deeply embedded in a patient’s subconscious.

Relationships & More therapists describe the HTP test as a projective test. This is to say that patients project certain aspects of their personalities in the way they draw. By adding in the practice of telling a story related to that drawing, patients project even further.

Start with a Drawing

Relationships & More says that the HTP test takes between 30 and 60 minutes to complete. It starts with the drawing itself. The therapist asks the client to draw a picture of a house, a tree, and a person on a single piece of white paper. They then observe while the picture is being drawn.

Each element of the picture pertains to a specific part of the personality. The house is associated with family life, the home, and interpersonal relationships. The tree pertains to deeply rooted thoughts and emotions having to do with things like social connections and satisfaction with life. The person reflects how the client views him or herself.

Ask Some Questions

As the client is drawing, the therapist may ask questions. For example, they might ask who lives in the house. The therapist might ask what kind of tree is being depicted or why the trunk is as big as it is. The questions may seem meaningless to the client, but they are very revealing to the therapist. Answers reveal what the client is thinking both consciously and subconsciously.

Tell a Story

Finally, the client is asked to tell a story incorporating the picture that has just been drawn. Typically, the client is expected to use all three main verb tenses: past, present, and future. By analyzing each element of the picture and how it pertains to the story being told, the therapist is able to better understand what makes the client tick.

This is valuable to the therapist in the sense that a better understanding of the client’s personality leads to a better understanding of why they think and feel certain ways. All of this goes into the larger equation of helping a client work through difficulties during individual counseling.

Not a Magic Wand

As with almost everything else in the psychology and therapy realms, the HTP test is not a magic wand for solving a person’s problems. And in fact, it is not universally accepted as being a legitimate therapy. For every psychologist or therapist who swears by the test, there is another who doubts its validity. The HTP test is by no means viewed as settled science in psychology or psychotherapy.

The HTP test is but one tool that a psychologist or psychotherapist might use to better understand patients. To those patients, the test might seem a bit silly and childish. But if it actually yields the results being sought, it could go a long way toward making counseling sessions more productive. In the end, its usefulness is up to therapist and patient.

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