An Empirical Study of Seriously Disturbed Suicidal Patients

J. Christopher Fowler, Mark J. Hilsenroth, Craig Piers

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22 Scopus citations


Aspects of unconscious processes in a group of seriously disturbed psychiatric patients are examined in an effort to predict near-lethal suicide attempts and explore psychoanalytic formulations of suicide. The Rorschach Inkblot Test, the most widely used projective measure in suicide research (Bongar 1991), was chosen for its potential to shed light on specific unconscious processes. Psychic states commonly associated with suicide were measured by psychoanalytic Rorschach analog scales and then subjected to a progression of statistical analyses in order to predict future occurrence and lethality of suicide attempts. On the basis of a priori hypotheses, the authors developed a suicide index comprising four psychoanalytic Rorschach signs that predicted, with considerable accuracy, which patients would later make near-lethal suicide attempts. The best predictors were unconscious processes indicative of penetrating affective overstimulation, disturbance in the capacity to maintain adequate ego boundaries, and depressive affective states characterized by a morbid preoccupation with death and inner decay. These findings provide empirical support for several well-known formulations of the unconscious motivations for suicide.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)161-186
Number of pages26
JournalJournal of the American Psychoanalytic Association
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2001

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Clinical Psychology


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