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Interpretation of the House-Tree-Person (HTP) Psychology Test

The House-Tree-Person (HTP) test in clinical psychology is part of the series of a group of projective tests which help in the assessment of personality traits. The HTP test is also administered to identify mental disorders like schizophrenia. Get to know how this test is interpreted.
PsycholoGenie Staff
Last Updated: Jun 3, 2018
Did you know?
Based on Goodenough's Draw-a-Man Test (1926), HTP was originally a technique to assess children's intelligence.
If we are told to draw some object, we might either shy away (for not being good at it) or we might enjoy the process itself (regardless of our artistic abilities). Whichever way, drawing gives us a sense of revisiting our childhood memories full of such fun activities.

Similar to writing, the act of drawing forms a powerful medium for us to let our emotions out. In fact, as we know, and some of us might even have experienced, that forms of fine art, including drawing, are seen to be stress-releasing activities. Off the mind and onto the paper. This is the knack behind a psychological personality test like the House-Tree-person test. It is like reading our minds from what we have scribbled or sketched on a sheet of paper.
The House-Tree-Person (HTP) Test
This test is a technique developed by John Buck, an early clinical psychologist in 1948, which was later updated in 1969. This, and such other contributions from him are remarkable, especially on the background of his meager and scattered formal training in psychology.
HTP is a projective personality test, wherein a person responds to a given stimuli, and the responses give clues about the person's hidden emotions or internal conflicts. The individual taking the test is asked to draw primary objects like a house, tree, and a person; that's why the name. These drawings render a measure of self perceptions and attitudes inherent in a personality.
The HTP test is adhered to, along with other techniques, in cases where there is likelihood of brain damage, other neurological disorders, or to evaluate brain damage in patients of schizophrenia.

It can be taken by anyone who is 3 years old or above. The test consumes around 150 minutes. The person taking the test is first asked to draw, and then is later questioned based on his/her illustration. Usually, the first phase of drawing is colored using crayons, and then pencil is used for the next phase. The instructions given to the test-taker are quite short and simple. "Draw me as good a house as you can", states it well. Once the picture of a house is completed, the test-taker is asked to draw a tree, and later a person.
Questions
After the test-taker draws objects, the administrator poses some questions to him/her. These help in knowing the reasoning behind how an individual perceives himself and his surroundings.

- Is it a happy house? What is the house made of? Who stays in the house? What is it like at night? Do people visit the house?

- Is the tree alive? What kind of a tree is it? How old would that tree be? Who waters the tree?

- How does that person feel? Is that man/woman happy? How old is that person?
Interpretation
The interpretation of the HTP test is said to be a difficult task. The older version included both, quantitative and qualitative elements for interpreting results. However, the quantitative assessment methods are no more considered appropriate, with the progress in testing methods. So, interpretation relies heavily on subjective reading of the pictorial representations. Every sketch can symbolize many ideas: the level of satisfaction with the house at present, degree of rigidity of the subject's personality, contact with reality, fears or obsessions, intra-personal balance, the person's subconscious picture of his/her development, etc.
Emotional strengths or attributes like self-esteem and confidence can be reflected from how dark or light the lines in the drawing are. Flexibility or rigidity of a personality and the strength of ego can easily be deciphered from the details of the drawing.
Here are some primary attributes associated with these three illustrative objects of a HTP test.
House
Roof: The intellectual side of a person. It is associated with fantasizing and ideation too. Too little focus on the roof may suggest fears of ghosts in the attic.

Wall: An indication of how strong one's ego is.

Doors and Windows: The relation of the person with the world outside. It hints at the receptiveness, interaction with others, and perception about the environment.

Size: If the house is small, it might mean a rejection of one's life at home.

Pathways: Those leading directly to the door exemplify accessibility and openness, unlike when there is no pathway, indicating a closed, solitary, and distant state of mind. A fencing around the house could be a sign of defensiveness.
Tree
Tree Trunk: The inner strength of an individual might be suggested from the tree trunk drawn. A slender trunk and large branches may suggest a need for satisfaction. Dark shadings of the trunk suggest anxiety about one's self.

Branches: These might also hint towards an individual's relation with the external world. A tree drawn without branches might indicate less contact with other people.
Person
Observations about where the person is placed on the page, the amount of detail shown from the drawing, etc., are part of significant interpretations. The person drawn of the same gender is usually taken to be the test-taker himself or herself.
Arms and Hands: Position of the hands, open of closed fists, and specific gestures, if any, indicate behavioral traits.

Legs and Feet: Drawing or not drawing feet, and the stance or the overall body posture is reflected from little strokes of lines, helping gauge inherent emotions like fear.

Face: A lot of details concentrated on the face of the person drawn can be representative of one's desire to present oneself in an acceptable/satisfactory/adequate social light.
This test is not considered to be reliable or valid by many, as it is mainly a subjectively scored personality test. There also are variations in how the test is administered: in one or two phases, all drawings on single or separate sheets of paper, asking to draw two different persons (one of each gender), either using crayon or pencil (not both), different questions asked, etc.

Disclaimer: This compilation is only for informative purposes. Consult a psychoanalyst for the proper conduct and interpretation of an HTP test.