Using the Thematic Apperception Test to Assess Interpersonal Decentering in Violent Relationships

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Interpersonal decentering or role-taking, the ability to see the world from another person’s perspective, normally develops in childhood, but the degree to which a mature adult routinely uses this capacity for a theory of mind, or mentalization, can be considered a personality disposition that facilitates good social relationships. Use of decentering processes may also vary according to the social roles of the people who are interacting in the situation and the activity that engages them. The Interpersonal Decentering scoring system for thematic apperceptive techniques was developed to assess the maturity level of decentering using an implicit assessment method. Violence perpetrators need not decenter if they can control others by threats; domestic violence survivors may rely on decentering to understand, anticipate, and try to control their partner’s violent episodes. This exploratory archival study of 61 assessment clients found that domestic violence survivors and those with no obvious interpersonal problems decentered more maturely, and violence perpetrators decentered less than did those who lacked close relationships or had heterogeneous nonviolent relationship problems. These findings suggest a story-based strategy for collaborative or therapeutic assessment with both perpetrators and survivors.

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