The Rorschach test is an extraordinary method of personality investigation that provides a dynamic way of capturing and understanding the main structural aspects of personality, the characteristics of the person’s approach to experience and intra- and interpersonal dynamics, and the person’s problem solving and emotional regulation patterns. The method, which consists of assigning a definition to an ambiguous and poorly structured image, solicits in the subject an articulated and complex set of both projective factors and cognitive strategies.
Hermann Rorschach (1884-1922), a great fan of playing with inkblots from childhood and painting in watercolors and trompe l’oeil as an adult, he discovered the extraordinary evocative potential of stains at the outset of his psychiatric practice and with infinite passion and patience experimented, in the clinical setting with patients, with countless stains, later selecting a small number of them and writing, on the basis of the experience thus gained, his ‘‘Psychodiagnostik’ in 1921. Unfortunately, early death prevented him from continuing the tireless work of perfecting this psychodiagnostic tool to which he had ‘devoted’ himself with extraordinary dedication and enthusiasm.
Over the following decades, numerous systems of siglature and interpretation have been developed by influential scholars: since the 1930s, in the U.S. environment Marguerite Hertz, Samuel Beck, Bruno Klopfer, Zygmunt Piotrowski, David Rapaport, Roy Shafer, Paul Lerner, and in Europe the great Ewald Bohm, and then Loosli-Husteri, the French school of N. Rausch de Traubenberg, Didier Anzieu, Catherine Chabert, in Italy Rizzo, Parisi and Pes, to name the most important, have created new systems of siglature and interpretation, or further refined and deepened already existing interpretive methodologies. In addition, the possibility of applying the test for a variety of purposes, clinical, forensic, personnel selection, has resulted in a vast experience with a massive mass of data, recorded and coded with very different methodologies and unfortunately not always translatable into each other.
In the 1970s, John E. Exner Jr. with the Rorschach Foundation, in order to overcome the babel of languages in which the Rorschach test was being declined, developed an intense systematization effort that arrived at the elaboration of the Comprehensive System, starting with the comparative study of the profound differences between the existing systems, through research involving hundreds of U.S. clinicians, experts in hospital psychiatry, and leading to the creation of a massive database, thanks in part to the computerized processing of huge amounts of data. This system was later integrated and refined to the fourth edition of The Rorschach – A Comprehensive System treatise in 2003, which has significant innovations over the first System.
The Comprehensive System was created with the ambitious goal of creating a rigorously standardized procedure that is as reproducible as possible, through very precise and reproducible test administration standards and equally precise protocol coding procedures. By means of a very accurate initialing system, which aims to ensure reproducibility and reliability, a Structural Summary is developed, comprising about 150 variables, ratios and derived indices, from which a very complete, articulate and, above all, reliable description of the subject’s personality is derived in the main areas: management and regulation of emotions, interpersonal relationships, self-image, ability to control and tolerate stress, the possible presence of current stress, and cognitive strategies: from the mediation phase of the perceived stimulus, which assesses the adequacy of the reality test, to the processing and elaboration phase, which analyzes the type of effort the subject employs in generating the interpretation of percepts, to the ideation phase, which addresses the modes of thought production and the characteristics of logical processes and associative linkages. Quantitative, structural, rigorously coded analysis is then supplemented with content analysis, sequence of responses and verbalizations, according to the qualitative sensitivity and methodology favored by the clinician. In fact, the Comprehensive System, while devoting special attention to cognitive procedures, aims to be an a-theoretical system, integrating with a qualitative reading of content and oriented to highlight the peculiarities of each subject. In fact, the two perspectives, structural-quantitative and thematic-qualitative, should not be opposed, but integrated together. From their interaction derives the complexity of a multi-level interpretive work that Franco Ferradini, one of the fathers together of Italian psychoanalysis and psychodiagnostics, defined as ‘symphonic,’ because of the contribution of numerous data and different keys that harmonize and complement each other like the instruments of an orchestra in a symphonic score.
Since John Exner’s death in 2006, many Rorschachists trained by him have carried on his outstanding scientific and clinical legacy, continuing his research and practice work with CS. In particular, thanks to a working team led by Anne Andronikof and Patrick Fontan, and composed of Christian Mormont, Noriko Nakamura, Jason Smith, and IRPSI faculty and founders Maria Fiorella Gazale and Daniela Nicodemo, the Comprehensive System has recently undergone a much-needed update, with decisive developments and insights that were presented at the recent ISR-International Society for the Rorschach and Projective Methods congress, held in July 2022 in Geneva. These innovations were also supported by the invaluable contribution of John Exner’s family, who stimulated and collaborated in the continuation of their father’s work by sharing in the evolution and updating of the System within the lines he drew and according to his vision. Thus was born CS-R (Comprehensive System Revised), which updates the system and integrates these innovations, while maintaining consistency and fidelity to the inspiration, scientific rigor and conceptual framework of the founder, as a natural evolution of the System itself, under the sponsorship of the Rorschach Workshops Foundation and the support of the Exner heirs.