A Psychological Interpretation of Drawings and Paintings. The SSCA Method: A Systems Analysis Approach

ABOUT Zoltán Vass

Zoltán Vass
Contact e-mail: dr.vass.zoltan@gmail.com   Zoltan Vass is Associate Professor of Psychology with habilitation at Institute of Psychology, Károli Gáspár University of the Reformed Church in Budapest, Hungary. He is the Head of Department of General Psychology and Methodology and Head  More...



Psychotherapists customarily use drawings in diagnostic and therapeutic contexts, hence Zoltan’s recently published A Psychological Interpretation of Drawings and Paintings is a valuable sourcebook to behold.


In this book, Zoltan Vass presents the Seven-Step Configuration Analysis (SSCA), a systematic approach to the objective evaluation of projective drawings and paintings. The SSCA uses an artificial intelligence model, based on Zoltan Vass’s cumulative research.


The SSCA intentionally deviates from a mechanistic approach to the interpretation of projective drawings, believing that there is always much more than meets the eye. Pedagogically, SSCA begins with a step-by-step approach to assist users to come to grips with the basic principles of comprehending drawings and paintings. Imbued within these first steps are practical methods of interpretation, as well as imbedded stimuli to heighten one’s senses to selectively observe what is important in the pictures. Furthermore, attention is also drawn to the drawer’s/subject’s creative/testing behavior to make sense of his/her overall attitudes.


All in all, the SSCA is able to effectively and efficiently pinpoint for the therapist the psychological essence of a picture. Zoltan Vass’s book is not only a valuable addition to the collection of books on projective drawing, it opens up avenues for the conducting on empirical research 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

Originally, this book was written to provide students at the university seminars with a written version of what they heard there. However, as the successful first edition showed, the book is useful for anyone interested in the psychological understanding of pictures. The new edition includes many improvements, new methods (56 techniques instead of 37) and also theoretical novelties (e.g. context and communication analysis, phenomenological and semantic maps). The book is the result of many years of work and applying them in practice also requires a great deal of time. Yet it is worth the effort, because today the psychological analysis of drawings and paintings has become a specialisation like many other disciplines. The message of the work is a system theoretic point of view. We should deal with the entire system of our understanding that includes the subject(s), the examiner, the picture and the context. Pictorial phenomena disclose their true meanings only in this system. We can no longer attribute meanings to isolated features, only to configurations. Though older handbooks also mention this principle, they do not provide a concrete method. In contrast with them, this book describes a practical solution: the SSCA method. At the same time, this work is a practical handbook and study guide which aims to teach the psychological understanding of pictures. The reader will find many exercises, sample analyses, and more than 1,000 pictures selected from a collection of some 35,000 in all. Scientifically speaking, the book introduces three main novelties resulting from my expert system models: (1) a new taxonomy of items, (2) new interpretations of the old and new items and (3) the method of the seven-step configuration analysis.

It contains a thorough demonstration of the potential of a systemic approach to the analysis of pictures, allowing to use free pictorial productions as a tool of evaluation and research. The Systems Analysis Approach, considering a singular production within its whole personal and situational context, is accurately exposed with the help of a step by step approach to six complementary techniques of analysis. The theoretical considerations of the author are based on his personal experience as well as on a thorough review of the literature existing in the field of projective drawing. 

Last not least, the explanations concerning the six complementary methods of analysis are given in a very didactical manner and the different procedures are illustrated with the help of a great number of practical exercises and concrete examples, helping students getting familiarized with the methodology of rating and interpretation. 

Thus, the book is a good demonstration of the interest of the “hermeneutic circle “, which is the specific approach to truth in the human sciences, creating meaning by a permanent fluctuation between the whole configuration and pertinent details. 

This book will be of great interest for our students in arts therapies and arts psychotherapies and I will recommend it to them.



Prof. Dr. Lony Schiltz

Head of Research Unit in Clinical Psychology (Hôpital Kirchberg, Luxembourg)

Head of studies of the DESS en Art thérapie de l'Université du Luxembourg