The House-Tree-Person Personality Test

The House-Tree-Person Personality Test

Last update: 10 December, 2021

The house-tree-person (HTP) personality test allows the analysis of certain characteristics. They’re the conflicting areas within us, the feelings we have, and the projection of ourselves. In other words, what we consider as our own and what we place outside of ourselves.

This test may seem like ‘child’s play’, but it’s also helpful for adults. In fact, it’s used both in clinics and psychological consultations as well as the psycho-pedagogical offices of schools.

The house-tree-person personality test

In order to carry out this test, the subjects are asked to draw a house, a tree, and a person on a white sheet.

The test aims to show which are the most common conflicts and, at the same time, the most ‘hidden’ within us.

Thanks to the drawings of these simple everyday objects, the therapist is able to verify elements of the personality of their patient. In fact, although we don’t realize it, when drawing a house, a tree, and a person we bring out elements that, for various reasons, are stored in our unconscious.

It isn’t necessary to be a Picasso or a Dalí to pass the test, but the analysis involves finding certain keys in the drawing itself. You might wonder what such a drawing can communicate. In fact, it suggests the ‘I’ in relation to a family environment (such as a house or a tree) and people close to us.

These tests are also known as projective tests, in this case, expressive projective tests. They originate from the psychoanalytic field. Indeed, this test involves the projection of the patient’s own inner situation.

Martínez and Sarlé (2007) point out that “projective tests aim to explore the personality or some specific aspect of it in its relationship to the global context, but with the clear purpose of reaching the deepest levels of it, including the unconscious”. The authors also emphasize that “they reveal the position of the person with respect to the surrounding world, social events, their attitude in difficult life situations or their moral behavior”.

The two phases of the HTP test

The study goes beyond merely drawing a house with a tree and a person next to it. Indeed, it shouldn’t be taken lightly. However, in the first instance (non-verbal or creative), the patient is, indeed, asked to draw a picture of these three elements.

The therapist is likely to suggest that they draw in the most natural way possible. Furthermore, that they should forget as much as possible the surrounding context and the subsequent analysis of their drawing.

While the person is drawing, the analyst takes the opportunity to pay attention to their attitudes, words, and anything else that they demonstrate. For example, frustration, anger, joy, or any other emotion.

Once they’ve done their drawing, it’s time for the next stage. In this second phase, the patient has to tell a story, using the three main verb tenses (the past, the present, and the future).

The patient may also be asked to answer a series of questions. These are already established in advance by the specialist. This serves to motivate the patients who have a harder time expressing themselves or children who don’t yet have the ability to tell a story.

The ins and outs of the HTP test

Psychologist analyzing a girl's drawing
The test is designed for people over eight years old and there’s no maximum age. In fact, anyone can participate in the test and be analyzed.

Adults may find it a little strange to attend a consultation with an analyst and be asked to draw a picture. However, the results are always interesting. The consultation should take place somewhere quiet with no distractions, where the patient feels comfortable. The therapist’s office is usually ideal because it also provides privacy.

The therapist provides all the necessary materials like paper, pencils, and an eraser. The patient is allowed to erase, but the therapist takes into account how they do this. For instance, completely erasing the picture once it’s finished has one meaning. While only erasing a part of it with the intention of improving it has a different significance.

The HTP test lasts approximately between half an hour and an hour. This depends on how long it takes the patient to draw and tell the story. Of course, it also depends on their predisposition and whether the analyst decides to ask questions at the end.

The process of the HTP personality test

Drawing of a family

The logic is simple. The personality test is based on the belief that many feelings, past or present, as well as future desires, can be expressed through drawings.

Each image means something different. The house projects the present family situation. The tree represents the patient’s deepest or inner concept. The person is a kind of self-portrait or self-image that includes their consciousness and defense mechanisms.

The therapist also analyzes the location of each object on the sheet. For example, if the drawing is very close to the upper edge, it’s related to dreams and imagination. If it’s on the lower edge, it relates to the material world. What’s captured on the right is linked to the future, in the center to the present, and on the left to the past.

The therapist also evaluates each item’s size, the pencil strokes (which can signify firmness or weakness), and clarity of the drawing. Furthermore, each part of the house, the tree, and the person has a meaning.

Interpreting the drawings

We won’t mention the meanings here, just in case you do a test yourself and are tempted to cheat. However, we’ll give you a guideline of the interpretable elements in the test.

The house

As we mentioned earlier, the house is associated with home, family, and relationships with others. For example, the ceiling represents spiritual life and a connection with fantasy. The walls symbolize personality and firmness of character. The floor relates to the notion of reality. Furthermore, elements such as the number of doors and windows, if they’re open or closed, or if there’s a fireplace, also have specific meanings.

The tree

The drawing of the tree refers to those things that are so deep in the conscious that they might be approaching the plane of the unconscious. Aspects such as the trunk are related to feelings of belonging and adjustment. The canopy is associated with the patient’s social self-image, and the branches represent their level of satisfaction with this image. The roots signify foundations, security, and self-confidence. Details such as including fruits or omitting leaves also have significance.

The person

Finally, the drawing of the person is deeply linked to self-concept and self-esteem. Each of the parts of the body has an interpretable dimension that accounts for affective, sexual, communicative, and social levels. For example, the hands refer to affectivity and the legs signify the drawer’s contact with reality. The arms relate to their adaptation and integration to the world and to their relationships with others.

In this personality test, like all projective tests, the quality of the information obtained will depend on the attitude with which the patient faces the task. It’ll also depend a great deal on the skill of the analyst in differentiating between elements that are relevant from those that are not.

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