The Inkblots: Hermann Rorschach, His Iconic Test, and the Power of Seeing

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Dr. Philip Keddy Philip Keddy, PhD, an adjunct faculty member in the Clinical Psychology Program, drew from his extensive experience to review Damion Searls' book, The Inkblots: Hermann Rorschach. His Iconic Test, And the Power of Seeing. The review was published in the Bulletin of the International Society of the Rorschach and Projective Methods.

Please see the review in its entirety below, reprinted here by permission of the International Society of the Rorschach & Projective Methods.

Bulletin of the International Society of the Rorschach and Projective Methods
No. 27, 2017

Searls, Damion (2017).
The Inkblots: Hermann Rorschach.
His Iconic Test, And the Power of Seeing. New York: Crown.

Reviewed by Philip Keddy, Ph.D., Wright Institute, Berkeley, California.

Surprisingly little had appeared in any language about the fascinating Hermann Rorschach and the history of his test - especially for the general reader - before this book arrived. The psychiatric historian Henri Ellenberger had written a 51-page monograph that first appeared in the Bulletin of the Menninger Clinic in 1954. A second psychiatrist, Wolfgang Schwarz, began researching Rorschach’s life in 1946 and planned a full-length biography. Schwarz was only able to publish a 10-page paper in the 1966 edition of the journal Rorschachiana before his death. Searls contacted Schwarz’s widow and obtained a copy of a 1000-page manuscript and much other material that was not in the Rorschach Archives in Berne. This was just one way that Searls thoroughly researched his subject. Searls is not a psychologist but was able to work im German. He approached the often-controversial inkblot test from a cultural perspective and, as he said, “without an ax to grind” (p. 305). In the process, Searls gained an excellent grasp of the strength and limitations of the inkblot test. The result is a beautiful book with a balanced perspective.

Rorschach’s life and premature death is described in the first half of the text, accompanied by a lovely selection of photographs and illustrations. Rorschach died of peritonitis from a ruptured appendix in 1922. He was age 37 and had just seen his book about the inkblot test, Psychodiagnostics, published the previous year. Searls gives a compelling account of both Rorschach’s personal and professional life. Rorschach’s mother died when he was 12, and his father when he was 18. When he was 25, Rorschach married the Russian medical doctor, Olga Shtempelin.

Searls also addresses the relationship between what Rorschach preferred to call “introversive/extratensiveness” and what Jung called “introversion/extraversion.” Searls concluded that in the end Rorschach’s and Jung’s definitions of these concepts “converged” (p.156). I think Searls is correct about this point. I say this having done research with my collaborators that came to the same conclusion. I presented this research at the annual convention of the Society for Personality Assessment in 2014. For both Rorschach and Jung, these concepts were more phenomenological than behavioral (Keddy, Edberg & Signer, 2014). As the Jungian analyst John Beebe wrote, while it is commonly assumed that Jung’s types were referring to types of people, he was really referring to types of consciousness (Beebe, 2017,p.145).

In the second half of his book, Searls brings us right up to the present day with the test. He depicts leading figures in the use of it and adds interesting sidelights such as the relationship between the inkblot test and film noir. Searls met with Stephen Finn and discusses the collaborative/therapeutic approach of discussing test results directly with the client. He also discusses Gregory Meyer, Joni Mihura and the Rorschach-Performance Assessment System that was introduced in 2011 (Meyer, Viglione, Mihura, Erard and Erdberg, 2011). Searls mentions the meta-analytic study of the validity of Rorschach variables performed by Mihura, Meyer, Dumitrascu, and Bombel (2013). This is the paper that resulted in a very vocal group of critics of the Rorschach revoking their call for a ban on the use of the test.

Searls takes some minor missteps, such as when he writes that Exner “disavowed the computer approach by the end of his life” (p.254), or when he says that “no research has been done on the color in the Rorschach for half a century” (p.306), but these are technical points which do not detract from the overall considerable interest of the book.

The book ends with the bonus of a brief and poignant essay on Rorschach’s character, written by his widow and translated by Searls. There is much to enjoy and learn in this book for both those who know the test and for the general reader.

Beebe, J. (2017). Psychological types: An historical overview. In Beebe, J., Energies and patterns in psychological types: The reservoir of consciousness. New York: Routledge.
Keddy, P., Erdberg, P., & Signer, R. (2014, March). Can Rorschach and Jung be reconciled? The introversion: extraversion controversy. In P. Erdberg (Chair), Symposium (of the same title) conducted at the annual convention of the Society for Personality Assessment, Arlington, VA. ( A summary of this research can be found in this Bulletin, under Historical Note, n.24, 2014, p.13)
Meyer, G.J., Viglione, D.J., Mihura, J.L., Erard, R.E. & Erdberg, P. (2011). Rorschach Performance Assessment System: Administration, coding, interpretation, and technical manual. Toledo, OH: Author.
Mihura, J.L., Meyer, G.J., Dumitrascu, N., & Bombel, G. (2013). The validity of individual Rorschach variables: Systematic reviews and meta-analyses of the comprehensive system. Psychological Bulletin, 139, 548-605

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