Family Portrait Test
     By Dr K.Loganathan

1. Introduction.

Access Testing involves the systematic explorations of the Unconscious in each one of us. Instead of waiting for dreams and such other natural phenomena related to the Unconscious  to erupt into our consciousness, we use the ACCESS Tests as a way of securing the same elements ALREADY THERE in the mind  for a scientific study along the principles of Hermeneutic Science.  And in this we avoid verbal testing as linguistic articulations quite often involves the active EGO so that there is considerable self regulation of the responses so that the contents that are related to unconscious may be suppressed and repressed. Drawing tests have the advantage of minimizing self interference so that we get an authentic picture of the contents of the unconscious. The disadvantage is quite obvious: being pictorial the message  cannot be DIRECTLY understood as in the case of the verbal. The drawings are PICTORIAL TEXTS that are essentially SYMBOLIC and frequently METAPHORICAL and hence problematic. The form of science also becomes Hermeneutic Semiotics, quite different from the experimentally  and quantitatively oriented positive sciences with their own logic

So far I have developed the New Baum Test and Family Portrait Test as species of Access Tests  for developing this science into a respectable area  of rigorous science. I found that the Baum Test (BT) was not that sensitive when it comes to young children. The tree seeing experience  is not sufficiently  matured to disclose the forms of the unconscious. Since the parents ans self are most immediate to the strongly ego egocentric children. It occurred to me that the FAMILY PORTRAIT TEST(FPT) may be more appropriate for young children. My experience has confirmed this and now I use FPT with children  upto the age of 12 or so. In fact there is no clear cut age limit for these tests. The use of both are recommended  especially for children and adolescents.

On How to Conduct FPT

1. Take an A4 sized paper and draw lines in the middle both vertically and horizontally so that you get 4 quadrants equal in size. Name the top left quadrant A, the right B and bottom left C and right D. These orders are important and one should follow this order in giving instructions on what to draw.

 a)  For the quadrant A : Draw a picture of your mother
b) For B : draw a picture of your father
c) For C: Draw a picture of yourself as of now
d) For D: Draw a picture of yourself when you are big, grown up etc

a)The language of these instructions must be that with which the child is most familiar which in some cases may not the mother tongue. Some additional explanations can be given so that the UNDERSTANDS what is required of him.

b) Be patient and refrain from interfering with the child's drawings. Some children may take a long time and you may lose patients. You can urge on but make sure you DO NOT interfere with the child' expressive behavior. The child must be given maximum freedom to express himself from out of himself so that the TRUTH about him emerges for us to picture TEXTS that he draws.

c) Don't avoid the sequence suggested. It is always the mother first and only then the father. The mother is more important to the normal child than the father and requesting him to draw mother opens up readily the desire to express himself.  The self portrait as of now is more readily understood than that of the future. In fact I encountered many problems in making this last instruction understood by the young children. It is found difficult because most children especially the young ones do not yet have the historical way of thinking. The time consciousness is confused especially when it comes to the notion of future.

With these precautions we have now in front of us all the data in the form of TEXTS to unravel the hidden mysteries surrounding the psychology of the child which is centered on his relationships with his parents. The mother and father in serving as sources of self attachment  unleash various cognitive processes that comes along mixed with feeling of various sorts. The portraits drawn disclose the EMOTINAL make-up of the child particularly in relation to the parents which in turn facilitate or hinder the different types of cognitive processes. We can a idea of all these provided we INTERPRETE the texts accurately. The challenge is here and some guidelines on how to do this will described next.


We shal now provide some guide lines for interpreting the portraits drawn by children. It is hoped that these guide lines will be use to parents, teachers , counselors and others dealing with children.

A]The Deletion Operation

The portrait is a production arising through the exercise of a variety of skills that we shall cognitive operations.  These are facilities available to the child and which are exercised or made use of in the production of the portrait. What are manifest in the portraits are general patterns of cognitive behavior so that we can assume that the operations disclosed in the portraits are in general the kinds of operations the child exercises in its perceptual processes and hence understanding.

The perceptual is the primordial and what is drawn is reflective of what is seen and hence how the child SEES in general. Now in this the DELETION OPERATIONS are the most worrying for they show an ABSENCE and hence a defect or LACK in the cognitive facilities  the child exercises in general. Any deletion means INCOMPLETE SEEING and hence only a partial understanding. This means the LEARNING is delimited somewhat  so that in general the performance of the child in the school, for example, will not be as good as we would wish. There may or may not be brain damages (which require more advanced testing of perceptual processes) but we shall be concerned only with the EMOTIONAL factors that may the underlying causes.


A severe case that requires immediate attention is where there are deletions in all the FOUR portraits and in which all the body parts except the face are deleted. Even in the face drawn the ears nose eyes and so forth are deleted. I came across such drawings among children whose parents fought violently and got divorced. The witnessing of violent quarrels, the lack of LOVE and ATTENTION because of separation of the parents deprives the child the emotional security without which the child would not DARE TO SEE the world with confidence. There is a tendency to AVOID contact and involvement for FEAR of some kind  and they result as DELETIONS in the portrait.

b ]

Now deletions may be only partial and these may be available on both parents or only on Mother of Father. One of the cases that I studied very intensively involved the deletions of HANDS for father but not for mother. This correlated with  the lack of  arithmetical and computational abilities of a male child (about 4 yrs old) The absence of hands in drawing of the father indicates the absence of ATTACHMENT to the father , a psychic distance of a kind so that the cognitive processes elicited by the Masculine Father Figure are absent in the child. The child excessively attached to mother who tended to be overprotective lacked the confidence and courage to tackle the non-emotional and computational abilities. It looks as though the Mother and Father activate different types of psychic operations, the mother the affective and the father the cognitive.  The absence of attachment to the father, a psychic distance of  a kind brings about a poverty of the cognitive and because of the computational kinds of learning are hampered somewhat.

C] Now the other body parts that may be deleted are the legs. The case I studied  involved the deletion of the legs of the mother but not the father. The legs are related to activities, to work and so forth. In the case that I studied even though the mother was a working lady the child did not re does not want to see her that way though he sees the father that way. The mother along with this was also seen as gruesome, somewhat fiendish. The child wants the mother to tend to his needs  therefore does not want  her to work. It is sufficient that father works and earns enough. This may be an expression of the egocentrism of the child but however along with seeing  the mother fiendish may lead to hatred of the mother in the unconscious. And this lead to a variety of problems during adolescence, a dislike for the mother the root causes of which may be unknown to him.

D ] Another worrying case involves the deletion of HEAD in the portrait of the child himself. He has beheaded himself/herself with disastrous consequences  for the cognitive growth of the child. The case I studied involved a young Punjabi girl, 12 yrs old,  and whose parents separated  after a serious of violent quarrels that the child happen to witness. This lead to a hatred of herself, a hidden desire to die , to commit suicide etc. The child begins to live HEADLESS and mechanically, without any interest in anything. This results in psychic atrophy, a total disinterestedness and absence of motivations for anything. And of course this results in poor performance in the school and that's the reason she was brought to be for analysis.


a]  Early childhood is characterized by the absence of what Piaget calls Formal Operational Thinking viz. Logical thinking in which contradictions in the reasoning processes are perceived. Piaget notes that this competence surfaces only about the age of twelve or so among children who have healthy cognitive development. In my studies I have noted that this competence may be delayed somewhat and there are children who are incapable of this even at the age 18 or so. I found also that the concepts of manam, buddhi akangkaaram and siththam of ancient Tantric psychology can be used for a better understanding of Piaget's thery of  Cognitive Development. Manam can be equated with the sensory-motor stage  akangkaramwith that of pre-operational stage , buddhi with concrete operational stage and ciththam with formal operational stage. For details see my ThrineRith theLivu (Tamil) available in the Dravidian Philosophy Campus. What additional information FPT provides is the enormous importance of the emotional relationship a child has towards his/her parents for a healthy cognitive development. This factor seems to override the others. Therefore it becomes enormously important to find out the real structure of the affective i.e. the feelings and emotions a child has towards his parents. The Mother and Father have a differential effect on the growth of the child which I suspect  is related to the Natham/Yang/Sun/Animus  principle (the Father) and Bindhu/Yin/Moon/Anima principles( the Mother)

b] Two aspects of the portraits of the parents are important in connection with this: I) the SIZE of the portrait and the II) the EXPRESSIVE factors that are symptomatic of the affective relationship. Now with regard to size I found that the BIGGER the SIZE the CLOSER the emotional tie . For example if the portrait of the Mother is LARGER than that of the Father, it means the mother is emotional CLOSER to the child than the father. Under normal circumstances this is alright but when the Mother is excessively attached to the child so much so that the influence of the Father is minimal, it may affect the psychic structure of the child. The child may grow up to be timid , unadventurous,   non-independent  and so forth, traits that are necessary to mastering knowledge of various kinds. This may be related(requires deeper and more systematic studies) to differential hemispherical functions. The tie to mother may develop the Right hemisphere while that to the Father the left hemisphere. Both sides of the brain must be made active in order for the child to master the demands made on him in kindergarten or even in the primary schools.

C] The expressive factors are such things as anger  tension and so forth. When the Mother or Father is drawn as fiendish, devilish , in intense anger and so forth , it is a sign that the child is unhappy and there is HATRED of a kind deep inside. When such negative emotions go checked and uncorrected, not only it hampers healthy cognitive development but also may erupt as irreconcilable hostilities during adolescence and later periods. It must be mentioned that such emotional attitudes so easily made manifest in FPT is rather difficult to pint point otherwise. Parents simply complain that the child is unruly, difficult to handle and annoying and so forth. The Test easily pictures for us the nature of the emotions and take appropriate steps to correct them before it is too late.

a] The child very early in life builds up a self image that provides the VALUE system in terms of which he/she judges and behaves. The child has his/her  OWN value system which only later becomes similar to the adult value system within which he/she  grows up. The socialization process  is at work right from the beginning providing the stimuli for building up his/her own self image. The self portraits drawn by the child in C and D allow us to access the  self images in a GRAPHIC way and which very informative provided we know how to interpret them. A normal child will show the following features:

i. If a boy then the self images will be imitations of Father and if a girl then that of Mother. This is healthy as one of earliest development related to self images is sexual differentiation and sexual identity that Freud studied so extensively. Confusion in sex identity is a fundamental confusion and ought to be avoided   if found.

ii. When the child sees himself HAPPY and CHEERFUL especially in D, rest   assured that everything is okay. The child is mentally healthy and has an orientation to the future that is positive. He/she will be dynamic and enthusiastic and under normal circumstances a good learner as well in the school.  There is a POSITIVE IMAGE of himself/herself well implanted and would unconsciously and judgements and behavior.
 b. ] And over and above the positive we have considered there are may be NEGATIVE IMAGES which deserve immediate action. I following important in this respect.

i. The self images in C and D may be very small indicating lack of self-confidence and on the whole to tendency to withdraw and exist mechanically. There is lack of enthusiasm  for living as such, a general disinterestedness that makes the a poor learner in the school. There is NO FUTURE ORIENTATION, a goal in life no matter how unrealistic and so forth.  There are a number of factors contributing to this. When the home and other institutions the child comes into contact with is EXCESSIVELY NEGATIVE, a child may develop along these lines. Extreme poverty of the home and isolation from active social interactions with relatives and friends may also be cause.
ii. Another symptom of negative self-image is the off-center positioning of the portraits, shifted either to the extreme left or right. This indicates problems  in social adjustment, a tendency to AVOID sociation of whatever kind. Outwardly it may appear a shyness and reluctance but really a FEAR of some for interacting with others.

Concluding Remarks.

It is extremely gratifying to note widespread interest  in Access Testing the membership of which is now truly international and cross-cultural. It is hoped that the descriptions of FPT we have given, though only brief, will provide enough substance to test their own children or children with whom they come into contact either as teacher or counselors. It must be mentioned that there are limits to FPT as well as distinct advantages. In problematic cases I recommend the use of Baum Test as well. Soon we will begin a series of articles on this extremely interesting Access Test.