The Forest Test and its Place in Psychoanalysis
Hindrances and annoyances that take away our happiness, entrenched fears, values that govern our choices and behavior. The forest test tries to clarify and interpret many of these issues based on the approach from which it was designed: relational psychoanalysis. According to this theory, our psychological suffering is rooted in underlying issues that we must bring to light in order to heal the hurts and move forward.
For those who have not heard about this relational test, we should first say that it isn’t in any way conventional. The forest test doesn’t have enough reliability and validity to be part of normal clinical practice. However, we cannot rule out its relevance within the context and the theoretical framework from which it was created. It is, without a doubt, worth taking into account.
The forest test is a projective test which can reveal the fears, hindrances and deepest interests of each patient.
Relational psychoanalysis is a way of carrying out a modern type of psychotherapy, which has advanced psychoanalysis as we know it. Its main objective is to promote the emotional development of the human being. To do this, it must deal with those hindrances and blockages that limit us and cause us pain. In this approach, and only as an example, the classic id, ego and superego concepts are left to one side.
What the relational psychotherapist wants to do is to “rebuild” the patient. With this in mind, he will guide him so that he can interact with, and relate to, his environment in a healthier way. He will train him to be able to observe the world fearlessly from every angle. In addition, he will help him to travel to those darker areas of his mind that he has never dared to enter before. Because of this, the forest test is a good stepping stone from which to start to get to know a patient’s underlying characteristics.
What does the forest test evaluate, and what is its origin?
The forest test, rather than evaluating a competence or ability, aims to look into a person’s emotional world. In our blog we have already spoken on more than one occasion about the so-called projective tests. One such example is the tree test or the family test. These are essentially psychological instruments that serve to complement an evaluation.
On their own, and applied exclusively, they can never be a valid form of evaluation. Other strategies are needed such as interviewing, observation and other psychological tests with proven reliability and validity. All of this is in order to reach an adequate diagnosis, or a starting point to start the procedure from. Within the relational psychoanalysis approach, this test is used more than any other for the following reasons:
- It reveals the emotional state of the patient.
- It lets us see possible unresolved childhood conflicts, and the burden of the past in the person’s present.
- You can see strategies for improvement.
- It brings out strong values.
- Important people in the patient’s life are revealed.
- It brings out the person’s fears
- It shows their personal wishes and expectations.
The forest as a tool in psychoanalysis
The forest is a scenario with a very clear mystical-emotional component in any culture. Carl Jung himself explained this in his book “The archetypes and the collective subconscious“. He showed that in these scenarios you can find out hidden dangers and fears in our lives. In a way, traveling through them sometimes means a return to that ancestral past where we rediscover the deepest part of our beings.
In psychoanalysis, the forest is considered as the reflection of the subconscious. It is that symbolic relationship that sometimes manifests itself in our dreams, where many of our phobias arise. These include the fear of darkness, of sinking or falling into a hole, or the fear of insects or wild animals.
“The clearest way to reach the universe is through a wild forest.”
How is the forest test applied?
The forest test starts with a visualization. The therapist guides the patient in each question, and then points out the conclusions that come from their replies. The test is simple. All that is needed is to create a comfortable and safe environment so that the person can carry out that inner journey naturally.
The first step is to invite the patient to visualize a forest. A quiet setting surrounded by trees, in which the patient walks alone. Once they can see themselves there, the analyst will ask the following questions:
- Are the trees very sparse? Is it a dense, twisting forest or is there a certain order?
- Can you walk with ease, or do you have to overcome many obstacles?
- Is it day or night?
- Is the forest healthy or is it burnt down or dying?
- While you are walking along, you find a key. What will you do with it?
- Keep walking and you meet an animal. What animal is it? Does it threaten you? Are you afraid as to approach to stroke it? You then arrive at a cabin. You knock on the door and someone opens it. Who is that person?
- Lastly, visualize yourself entering that cabin. You are inside and everything has suddenly disappeared. Everything is blank for a few seconds, because you are arriving at another place. Tell me where that place will be. Tell me what you see and how you feel.
The questions that make up the forest test can give shape to a very revealing inner journey. If the patient collaborates and performs the exercise effectively, and feels involved, then the analyst will obtain a lot of useful information.
We can get an insight into their emotional state by the shape and state of that forest (if it is burned, if it is nighttime etc). We will be able to see the hidden fears, the most important people in his life, and their most important scenarios. This information, when combined with interviews and other tests, can be of great use to relational psychoanalysis therapists.