Developmental implications of child maltreatment: Rorschach assessment of object representations

  • David Joubert University of Ottawa
  • Linda Webster University of the Pacific


Child maltreatment is associated with a variety of negative psychological, social and health outcomes. It is particularly important for healthcare professionals to assess psychosocial functioning in children and adolescents in foster care, in order to facilitate optimal levels of adjustment in this population. The relative validity of two developmentally-based scales applied to Rorschach data, the Primitive Object Relations scheme (Kwawer, 1979) and the Developmental Object Relations Scale (Ipp, 1986), was investigated in a sample of 71 youth in foster care. Results from dimension reduction analyses suggest that the POR captures specific elements of primitive object relations, characterized by themes of vulnerability of self boundaries, self-absorption and preoccupation with integrity of the self. Dimension reduction for the DORS revealed three clusters of items suggesting specific developmental challenges centered around themes of proximity-seeking vs distancing, dependency vs counter-dependency and maintenance vs dissolution of self-other boundaries. The scales showed distinct patterns of association with outcomes: primitive modes of relating were associated with insecure attachment organization, adaptive difficulties and externalizing behavior problems, whereas conflicts around dependency on the DORS were linked to internalizing and adaptive problems. These findings suggest that the POR and DORS tap into distinct aspects of object relations, and can best be used in complement with each other with this population.  

Personality Assessment