Defensive Flexibility and Its Relation to Symptom Severity, Depression, and Anxiety

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Numerous studies have examined which individual defense mechanisms are related with mental health, and which are linked with psychopathology. However, the idea that a flexible use of defensive mechanisms is related to psychological wellbeing remained a clinical assumption, which this study sought to test empirically. A total of 62 (N = 62) outpatients participated in the study and were assessed with the Symptom Checklist-90R and the Social Adjustment Self-rated Scale. A subsample of 40 participants was further assessed using the Hamilton Depression (HAMD-21) and Anxiety scales (HAMA-21). The first therapy session of all participants was transcribed and rated using the Defense Mechanisms Ratings Scales (Perry, 1990b), and the Overall Defensive Functioning (ODF) score, which indicates the maturity of one's defensive functioning, was computed. An indicator of flexible use of defenses was also calculated based on the Gini Concentration C measure. Results showed that defensive flexibility, but not ODF, could predict anxiety scores. Symptom severity was predicted by both ODF and defensive flexibility, although in directions opposite to our predictions. Results suggest that defensive flexibility captures another aspect of an individual's functioning not assessed by the ODF, and that it is a promising new way of documenting defensive functioning.

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