Quantifying Complexity: Personality Assessment and Its Relationship With Psychoanalysis.

Anthony D. Bram, PhD and Jed Yalof, PsyD



The fields of personality assessment and psychoanalysis have an entwined history and share much in common, notably an appreciation of the importance of understanding a person with complexity and depth, including the role of unconscious (or implicit) psychological processes. Personality assessment (or diagnostic psychological testing) offers a complement to psychoanalysis’ primarily idiographic approach by integrating it with a nomothetic one; that is, applying quantitative methods to determine in what ways and to what extent a person is similar or different relative to normative data. It is surprising, then, that contemporary psychoanalysts are largely unfamiliar with the field of personality assessment and seldom refer their patients for evaluation to assist with diagnostic formulation and treatment planning. In this article, we offer practicing analysts (1) a general description of the ways that testing can assist diagnostically, (2) an introduction to categories of psychological tests that sample functioning under varying conditions or from different vantage points, (3) a survey of assessment research that has provided empirical validation of key psychoanalytic concepts, (4) a window into the assessment process as it is applied clinically, and (5) cases to illustrate when and to what benefit analysts might consider referrals for testing. Examples include use of testing in instances when a new patient reports a history of repeated treatment failures; when patient and analyst are embroiled in a protracted impasse; and when a fine-tuned assessment of analyzability is warranted.


Anthony D. Bram, PhD, is a psychologist and psychoanalyst in private practice in Lexington, MA, where he conducts psychological testing, psychodynamic and cognitive-behavioral therapy, and psychoanalysis with children and adults. Dr. Bram is a Clinical Instructor in Psychology in the Department of Psychiatry at Cambridge Health Alliance/Harvard Medical School and is on the faculty of the Boston Psychoanalytic Society and Institute.


Psychoanalytic Inquiry. 35, 74-97, January 2015.

Link to Online Publication [available and can be downloaded in the library]


Previous Posts:

Mary Anderson, PhD (2015) The Conscious Heart: On the Act of Creation and the Compassionate Teachings of Art. Harvard Divinity Bulletin. Vol 43, No 1-2, pp. 21-31.

Michael J. Young, MPhil; Ethan Scheinberg; Harold Bursztajn, MD (2014). Direct-to-Patient Laboratory Test Reporting: Balancing Access With Effective Clinical CommunicationJAMA. 312(2): 127-128.

Steven H. Cooper (2014).The Things We Carry: Finding/Creating the Object and the Analyst’s Self-Reflective Participation. Psychoanalytic Dialogues, 24: 621-636.

Donna Fromberg, PsyD (2014). Trouble in the Family: The Impact of Sexual Boundary Violations in Analytic Institute Life. In Deutsch, Robin A., ed. (2014) Traumatic Ruptures: Abandonment and Betrayal in the Analytic Relationship. New York, London: Routledge, 163-175.

Rita K. Teusch, PhD (2014). Courtship Letters of Freud and Martha BernaysJournal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 62/2: 325-343.

Don R. Lipsitt, MA, MD (2015) Hypochondriasis and Somatization Disorder: New Perspectives.In Hoyle Leigh, Jon Streltzer, eds. Handbook of Consultation-Liaison Psychiatry. New York: Springer, pp. 317-333.

José Saporta, MD (2014). Psychoanalysis Meets China: transformative dialogue or monologue of the Western voice. In David E. Scharff and Sverre Varvin, eds. Psychoanalysis in China. London: Karnac, pp. 73-90.

John C. Foehl, PhD (2014). A Phenomenology of DepthPsychoanalytic Dialogues, 24:289-303.

Malkah Tolpin Notman, MD (2014). Reflections on Widowhood and Its Effects on the Self. Psychodynamic Psychiatry: Vol. 42, No. 1, pp. 65-88.

Click here to see the full archive of featured papers. All articles are available in the library.