Rorschach Training Programs Newsletter, Vol. 1, No. 2, May-June, 2009

[This newsletter was originally published and distributed via e-mail on May 28, 2009.]


  • A tribute to John Exner, PhD
  • A note on Comprehensive System Coding
  • Comprehensive System Interpretation advice

By Barry Ritzler, PhD

A tribute was paid to John Exner at the Society for Personality Assessment (SPA) Meeting in Chicago this March. John was the subject of the Hertz Memorial Lecture held each year in honor of a “past great” in the field of personality assessment. John gave the first Hertz lecture in 1994, also in Chicago in honor of Marguerite Hertz herself. Marguerite was present at the lecture – the only honoree to be alive when the lecture was given.

This year, the lecture was presented by four of John’s former colleagues – Phil Erdberg, representing all who had had professional collaboration with John (Phil was unable to attend the meeting so his remarks were read by Greg Meyer); Irv Weiner, a close friend of John’s and an associate during the development of the Comprehensive System and the establishment of Rorschach Workshops, Inc.; Don Viglione, who had been one of John’s students and who later became a collaborator on the development of the Comprehensive System. I spoke as a colleague who was associated with John during the later years of his professional career – from 1990 to 2006.

We all spoke of John as “a boss, a mentor and a friend.” We mentioned his generosity and strength of character and gave several anecdotes that seemed to interest the audience. In addition to citing many of his strengths, I mentioned perhaps his most serious flaw which was his male chauvinism. I recalled that when he taught content analysis, he always cautioned “do not strain your milk” – an obvious chauvinistic statement. But I also reminded the audience that John was a man who grew orchids as a hobby. Also, as far as I knew, he treated women with charm and respect. I said that many women in the audience – my wife included – felt the same way about him that I did – we loved him. I ended by saying that if anyone wanted to see how he felt about at least one woman they should read the dedication poetry at the beginning of all of John’s volumes on the Comprehensive System – his dedication to his wife, Doris.

In conclusion I said that perhaps the greatest tribute we can give to any departed colleague is to say we truly miss him. And we do.

John, we miss you.


Remember, when we code a Rorschach according to the Comprehensive System, we try to pay attention only to the way the individual has articulated the responses. We try to ignore all other characteristics of the individual. Later, when we do interpretation, we take these characteristics into account, but not during the coding. (These characteristics include age, background, current life situation, cultural orientation, gender, etc.)

Also, while coding, we code as much as we can with the First Viewing articulation of the response before we use the Inquiry information. This is because we are concerned that the actions of the examiner during the Inquiry will change the original response. When the First Viewing and Inquiry information do not agree, we usually go with the First Viewing. If something comes late in the Inquiry, after considerable activity by the examiner, we may not code it.

Finally, coding is most effective when we read the response out loud. This method helps us hear the response more completely. It may seem awkward at first (I tell my students not to do it on the New York subway), but it pays to use this approach.


In subsequent Newsletters, more will be said about coding and interpretation, but the most important thing to remember about interpretation is that it is standardized. This means that for every protocol we interpret, we must use Tables 3 and 4 and the page on the “Order for Reviewing Variables within Each Cluster.” This assures that two psychologists will go through the data in exactly the same way.

Also, the more we know about an individual, the more useful the Rorschach information. Do not hesitate to use data from other valid assessment procedures (like the MMPI-2), believable background information, information regarding the individual’s current life situation, etc.

Finally, do not “strain your milk” – that is take from the Rorschach only the information that previous research provides for each individual variable. Do not over-interpret.