How to understand drawings and paintings: Online course by Prof. Dr. Zoltán VASS

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What Does A Family Drawing Reveal?

Institute of Projective Drawings

Family Drawings: Why Are They So Important?

Family depictions open a window into the deep layers of the client's personality, providing sudden insight into the deepest, innermost, most basic aspects of psychodynamics and personality functioning.

They can be applied both for children or adults (with certain modifications, discussed in the next post).

They are routinely used for the examination of

  • defence mechanisms, traumas and neurotic conflicts,
  • relationship with parents and family,
  • attachment to parents,
  • sexual or physical abuse,
  • self-image and body scheme,
  • intellectual maturity and level of cognitive development,
  • school aptitude etc.

You can find  art therapy techniques here as the Nonexistent Animal Technique or the Draw-A-Couple Technique.

What is special about family drawings is that they convey a condensed emotional experience of the family – instead of a snapshot.

Family drawings can explain psychological causes of mental illness and symptoms.

Family drawings compress emotional content, desires, fears and memories related to the most significant people for child.

During the process of emotional compression, the child gives shape to the tension of the experience so that the emotional components of the experience are also compressed in the image.

The primary elaboration of anxiety in a free drawing. A drawing by a five-year-old boy who is terrified of dogs. In the drawing, he depicted a dangerous wolf with his frightening mouth open very wide (Vass, 2012, p. 648)

We do not see reality in the drawing, but how the child experiences the family, how the parents, sibling effect them, what they are missing, what they most need.

Family drawings show how the child experiences the family, how the parents, sibling effect them, what they are missing, what they most need.

This cannot be revealed by any other method, since a child is usually unable to or unwilling to put these feelings into words.

How these two children experience the family? In the kinetic family drawing on the left, the individual figures are far from each other, while on the right, they are so close that they overlap. The drawings reveal how the child experiences the family: emotionally remote and cold (LEFT) or close, warm and trustful (RIGHT)

There are several variations of family drawings and each brings something else to the surface:

The Main Three Types Of Family Drawings

  1. Draw Your Family (one’s own family drawing),
  2. Draw A Picture Of A Family (a general family),
  3. Changed family (in some way, e. g. enchanted or animal family).

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1. In the case of the first type, ask the child to draw their own family: "Draw your family" (e.g. Hulse, 1951, 1952).

2. For the second type say: ”draw a family that you imagine" (e.g. Corman, 1965). 

3. For the third and most important type: stay tuned...

Now It's Your Turn

  • Collect family drawings using the two main instructions: "Draw your family" and "draw a family that you imagine".
  • Compare them!
  • What are your thoughts, remarks, experiences on family drawings? Let us know in the comments below!


Corman, L. (1964). Le test du dessin de famille dans la pra que médico-pédagogique. Paris: P.U.F.
Hulse, W. C. (1951). The emotionally disturbed child draws his family. Quaterly Journal of Child Behaviour, 3, 152-174.

Vass, Z. (2012). A psychological interpretation of drawings and paintings. The SSCA Method: A Systems Analysis Approach. Budapest: Alexandra.

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  • Prof. Zoltan Vass, PhD is University Professor of Psychology and Head of the Faculty of the Psychology of Visual Expression, Károli University, Budapest.
  • He has published over 20 books and 400 scientific articles in 7 languages.
  • His method of Seven-Step Configuration Analysis (SSCA) awarded several scientific prices.
  • On SSCA, 7 scientific symposia were organized.
  • It has led to the establishment of 3 accredited clinical trainings and a postgraduate faculty with a total of 1622 participants.
  • It is taught or referenced in 152 courses in Hungary, Transylvania, Germany, France, Russia, China, Israel etc.

International appraisals of the SSCA Method

Prof. Dr. Diane Waller MA(RCA) DPhil, FRSA, OBE

Emeritus Professor of Art Psychotherapy, Goldsmiths, University of London

“This is an extraordinary work
different from the work already in the public domain in that it proposes a new, much more complex approach to the interpretation of drawings and paintings"

“It opens up avenues
on the long-debated efficacy of projective drawing as diagnostic and therapeutic tools"

Prof. Catherine T. L. SUN

Professor & Head, Department of Counselling and Psychology, Hong Kong Shue Yan University

Prof. Dr. Carlos R. Hojaij

Clínica Psiquiatria Biológica Brasil, São Paulo

“Fantastic (!!!) ... No doubt it does deserve a world wide publication, for it will be very useful to so many professionals researching and working in art therapy and any one interested in expression and psychology"

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online course:

Institute of Projective Drawings