L. Szondi

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New approach to the Szondi Test

 Innovation essay, Diffusion of Szondi´s ideas. by Anne Gayral.

(Translation by Leo Berlips, as I am not a professional translator I hope you will have tolerance with the imprefections of this translation. LB)

 Leopold Szondi (1893 - 1986), Hungarian, with a medical formation, specialised in Neuropsychiatry. Teaching psychopathology, his research related to heredity and genetic theories. His work is primarily founded on genealogical investigations.  

Founder of the psychology of destiny, also called «Analysis of Destiny», he works out an instinctual system and develops an instrument, that he initially called « the experimental diagnosis of the impulses » ,which was very quickly baptised thereafter, like so many others, in the name of its creator.  

Going back to 1947, the question is how is it possible that the Szondi model is so little known and used ? Indeed, the audience is limited but remains however long-lived.

There are certain centres of which the most famous is the C E P. (Center of Pathoanalytique Studies) in Belgium, and keeps in contact with the University of Louvain.  

In France, we count the G.E.R.S.A.G. ("Group of Studies and Szondi Research" for appliction of Graphology); groups of studies and research were constituted in the towns of Dijon and Besancon.

In Montpellier, the " Groupe d#Etudes Szondiennes" will reach its 10 years of existence. Their review Fortuna (17 numbers published to date) testifies to their activities.

(In the meantime many more centres have been created, in Russia, the Ukraine, in Roumania, Brésil and Japan. LB)

 Leopold Szondi defines his method as «a test which is used for the exploration of the constitutions and mechanisms of individual drives » (L. Szondi, p.23).

 As a non-verbal test, it consists of a choice of photographs without the need to explain ones preferences or rejections. In the preferences of the individual, the drive dynamics will be expressed. The latter is the result and the expression of his forces and weaknesses. The interpretation of these dynamics informs us about the instinctual reserves, which the individual can appeal to and on his potentialities to use them.

 The photographed faces have as a function to make the subject react to figures, which express very particular and precise features. The mode of action of the photographs is based on the fact that any perception or representation of a movement awakes, in the person who perceives it, the tendency to the same movement. Each portrait has an evocative character. The test makes possible the exploration of this resonance capacity of the subject.

 Each face, by reflecting a psychopathological entity, can be considered as an entity and in connection with the effects of specific disease, became the reflection of a specific "modus vivandi" (way of living) , which has invaded the existence of the person.

 The same tendencies are present in us all, but their relative forces and the relations, which they maintain between them, vary from one individual to another and from one moment to another in the same person.

 The distinction "individu morbus" / "individu sano" is reflected on a quantitative level. The term of pathology is used when an instinctual field causes tension and the Ego does not exercises (anymore) its role as a referee.

 The various aspects of the personality are approached through the four vectors of the Szondi's drive diagram:

S(exual) vector

P(aroxysmal) vector

Sch(izofrenia) Egov.

C(ontact) vector

h and s

e and hy

k and p

d and m

 S - P - Sch - C

The vectors Sexual (S) and of Contact © reveal the drive movements by which the world is invested in the most immediate way (in the literal sense of the term, i.e. without mediation). These vectors, known as peripheral, translate the relation of the subject to the world, at the same time as a sexual- and as a social being. It concerns is the area of the object relationship.

 The Contact (or Circular) vector reflects the way in which a subject stands in the world, how he maintains himself, without being carried away by the sensations which he experiences. It is the insertion of the individual to his surroundings. It is the relation with the others which is at stake. It indicates the relation of the individual to the world. It concerns the quality of the relation: oral (m) or anal (d).

The question of preserving what one possesses or to move towards another object is posed on the level of factor (d).

The factor (m), shows how the subject reacts to the need to cling to the objects, to withdraw pleasure and support from it. It is the vector of environment, sensations (mood LB), in connection with the world around.

 The Sexual vector relates to the relation with the body. It has to do with the «Attitudes of the subject to his/her body, attitudes which become sexual in a strict sense only by combining them with the components of the other vectors. It is by way of the mediation of the contact (drive) by which it will make the connection with the other bodies» (A. De Waelhens, p. 309).

 The factor (h), the Eros factor, governs any connection or formation of bonds. It is the factor of sensuality, erotisation and erogenisation of the body, it expresses the need for tenderness.

 The factor (s) is responsible for the destruction of the object bonds. It is the general actor of the body activity, of the investment in the muscle system. It concentrates on the possession of the body as an object. It is the vector of the world of perceptions.  

The Paroxysmal (P) and Schizophrenic (Sch) vectors, are called central vectors, and express a more inner activity. ("experiment davantage une intériorité" = what happens inside"). They express the position of the subject on the instinctual needs, which emanate from the two other vectors. They indicate the way in which the instinctual movements are be handled and worked through by the subject on a more interiorized mode. By these central instinctual tendencies, the subject is protected against the peripheral instinctual dangers (how this is done will be an important point of interpretation).  

Szondi designs the vector P as a defence mechanism, against the external dangers on the one hand, and the interior dangers on the other hand. It informs us on the components of the emotional control. (corresponds somehow to the activity of the Super Ego. LB). It is the relation with the other, which is concerned.

It shows his capacity to accept the other as an individual, either by the conscience of guilt (e); or by what can compromise the relation with others the need (hy): a) to impress and to be admired by the others or to shamelessly exhibit oneself to the other or instead b) to hide, or to dissimulate.

The factors (e) and (hy) refer, on a purely essential base to " a human community which founds rules and laws and organises thereby the social life of men ". (M. Legrand, p.71). The paroxysmal drive mediates (intervenes in) the way of discharge of the drives.  

The Ego vector (Sch) is the central authority; its theoretical elaboration is the keystone of the Szondi architecture. It structures the other vectors: it has as a function to elaborate the other impulses, to subject them to its own processes and to transform them. It is the place of the defence mechanisms in regard to the instinctual dangers represented by the other vectors, but also in regard to those which are his own.  

The reactions of the subject in this vector testify to a tendency to "selfrealisation" (implement one self, express oneself). By this the Ego takes position in relation to itself, in such way that it constitutes and develops (cultivates) itself by the interaction with the outside.

"The person is concerned about which qualities constitute (make up) his Ego. It is during the debate, which starts when meeting reality, that it at the same time forms itself by entering in relation with itself." (Mr. Legrand, p.74).  

It is about the dimension of the subject. It is the relation with oneself (rapport de soi à soi) which is posed; the style of the person in her/his "being-in the world", and even her/his essential expression.  

It is the vector of the relation to oneself and to reality. The function (p) refers to the auxiliary "being", with the register of the representations, the setting in scene of its relations to the others.

The tendency (k), refers to the auxiliary "to have", tends to delimit the Ego, and aims at separating itself. It is the tendency to create norms, to capitalise, to transform. In reference to the cardiac movements, Szondi speaks about ego-diastole and ego-systole. The first term indicates the need (p) which works in the direction of the unbounded expanding of the Ego; the second, concerns the tendency (k), in the direction of a contraction in order to make the Ego free of any dependence.  

The Sch vector, is the dialectical one between the extension of the conscience of the desires (p) and the restrictive function of the (k) tendency; between the need for increasing the Ego and that of its contracting.  

The Szondi test is a tool, which allows an objective evaluation of the instinctual tendencies which it reflects. It gives an appraisal of the instinctual investment through the analysis and dialectical inter- and intravectorial interpretation. This test reveals the quantitative distribution of the need tensions in the personality, as well as the way in which the individual will treat and manage them.

It reflects the personality as a dynamic unit which undergoes multiple and constant variations by the accumulation and the discharge of various need tensions.

 Although easy to use and to score, the principal difficulty lies in the qualitative interpretation of the results. Indeed, this is not based on easy to read tables, or easy decoding, as for other tests, but rests on interpretation (mise en concaténation) of the various signs obtained. The qualitative reading claims the use of a dialectical way of interpreting.  

To limit the use of the test of Szondi to a pathological «framework » only, would be to reduce the possibilities that it offers. Indeed, one of the interests of the test resides in the fact of being able to seize the personal dynamic.

 Our use of the Szondi test on a population of sportsmen, practising on high altitude, enabled us to follow the instinctual modifications in connection with the physiological transformations of the organism. We could see how each subject, starting from his own personality, reacted on the transformation of his environment, and sought an adaptation.

It provided us with «a cartography » of the instinctual tensions and the psychic mechanisms used by the individual to fight against these internal imbalances caused by an external source of danger, during a stress of hypoxic nature.

Our work made it possible to show the sensitivity of the paroxysmal vector. This confirms the assumptions of Szondi on the relevance of this vector to represent emotional control. This vector is an indicator of the emotional regulation, emotional control which the individual exercises when put into a stress situation, which he cannot objectively control. The psychodynamic changes are made apparent.

In the same line E. Brunel continued a research on the topic of tattooing. It establishes a distinction between two types: "the economic tattooing", which relates to the response to a conflict, and the "mosaic tattooing" when the subject is in a dimension where his body becomes the object of an aesthetic treatment (adaptation). The application of the Szondi test guides and clarifies this study, and made it possible to show the specific drive constellations characteristic for each definite category.  

Certain vectors are favourable to spotlight the difference, and particularly the vector of Contact, where the failure of structuration formed the basis for the problems of the tattooed subject.

  • «The economic tattooing» points out top the incapacity of the subject to separate, and tattooing then takes value of a challenge against the loss. Its reading, between metaphor and metonymy, testifies to what it comes to safeguard.  
  • For the subjects registered in the joint group «tattooing-mosaic », the test of Szondi translates a greed to secure a maximum of highly appreciated objects in order to have the safety that the possession gives. The subject is dissatisfied and always seeks another object without knowing what. He tends continuously to transform his entourage, to which his body is attached by projection: searching for new objects. He has the illusion that somewhere exist an object likely to satisfy him and thereby opening the way to creativity and inventiveness.  

The difficulties observed on the level of the peripheral vectors do not make it possible for these the subjects to reach a more matured and well structured Ego.

The act of tattooing constitutes a way of discharge of the instinctual needs expressed in the affect vector.

 These two examples of application testify to a possible use of the Szondi method from a non pathological viewpoint. The test results can e.g. be questioned from an operotropic (occupational interrest) viewpoint and allows the highlighting of the psychic mode of operating used by a subject.  

The interest of an interpretation according to this vieuwpoint appears within the framework of a study relating to any group of individuals carrying on the same activity (professional, sporting or different), The unit of the sample consists in the characteristics of a common choice: the practising of the activity in question.  

The operational value, such as we tried out, makes it possible to consider many prospects for the use of the Szondi test in fields not yet exploited. The Szondi approach provides a model of comprehension of the anthropological fact and its various transpositions in the conducts and representations. It makes it possible for the clinician to change his viewpoint giving him a theoretical frame of reference, a different model of understanding.  

However, with the reactions to Szondi´s ideas we meet a typical example of resistance to crossing af threshold of innovation. Among the resistances, we can retain those which have to do with the material by which the photographs are made up, their anthropometric quality, as well as such blaming the initial genealogical references.  

The mentioned examples of applications can be a way of answering the most severe criticisms. One of the solutions which make it possible that Szondis ideas can emerge is to contribute with results, to transmit them, and presenting the Szondi model to the students.  

For those who grant credit to this technique, one of the solutions is to organise themselves in a network, in order to work with and to exchange information and to look further into the various possibilities that the Szondi theory offers.  

The "Groupe d#Etudes Szondiennes of Montpellier" is an example of a strategy worked out to innovate "the Szondi tradition".




(This article was intended for a review, in which the readers don't know Szondis theories)

c 1996-2000 Leo Berlips, JP Berlips & Jens Berlips, Slavick Shibayev