The failure to preserve potential space in dissociative disorders: A Rorschach study

by Zeligman, Ruth; Smith, Bruce L.; Tibon, Shira, Psychoanalytic Psychology, Aug 29, 2011.


The current study explores a psychoanalytic conceptualization of dissociation based on Winnicott’s (1971) construct of potential space and Ogden’s (1986) model of using this construct to capture different types of psychopathological states. Following Smith (1990), we apply the Rorschach Reality-Fantasy Scale (RFS; Tibon, Handelzalts & Weinberger, 2005) to Rorschach protocols of 100 patients with severe dissociative disorders (Brand, Armstrong, & Loewenstein, 2006).

Overall, the results support the conceptualization of dissociation as a form of collapse of potential space. When compared with a normative sample, the dissociative patients demonstrated significantly elevated RFS-S scores, indicative of fluctuations between reality-bound and fantasy-derived Rorschach responses, in which reality and fantasy are experienced as parallel, disconnected conditions. Furthermore, the RFS-S significantly added to detecting dissociative disorders, above and beyond isolated Rorschach markers known to be indicative of dissociation. In line with previous research, the results demonstrate the advantages of using the Rorschach in general, and the RFS in particular, for empirically exploring psychoanalytic conceptualizations of psychopathological states. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2011 APA, all rights reserved)


My curiosity about this study stemmed from unfamiliarity with the studies cited, authors of those studies that go back to 1971, terms used, and theories referenced. The title seemed to link dissociative disorders with the Rorschach and I was compelled to chase it knowing that the old ink-blot test of yesteryear has been debunked by many..

See Skeptic disease_of_pseudoscience_and_the_hope_for_a_cure

Below is what I found regarding the above questions.

If you try to reconstruct the basis of this study as well as its conclusions, be prepared to find a lot of information that crisscrosses National boundaries, the Middle East conflict, and decades of psychoanalytical theories.

There is reference to  Winnicott 1971. David W. Winnicott published three books in 1971. I am assuming, from references, that this study sites the book: Playing & Reality, NY Basic Books.


Reality – Fantasy Scale by Shira Tibon, Jonathan E. Handelzalts & Yifat  Weinberger (2005)

RFS scale.html

The Rorschach Reality-Fantasy Scale (RFS; Tibon et al., 2005) is a psychoanalytically oriented diagnostic tool addressed at operationalizing Winnicott’s (1971) construct of potential space. The scale is applied within the model of Rorschach Psychoanalytic Science (RPS; Tibon, 2010). Following Smith (1990), the RFS conceptualizes the Rorschach task as inviting the subject to enter the transitional or potential space between reality and fantasy, and applies Ogden’s (1986) model of different psychopathological states as being revealed by a failure to preserve potential space.

Using Rorschach for Exploring the Concept of Transitional space withing the political context of the Middle East by Shira Tibon, Jonathan E. Handelzalts, & Yifat Weinberger, International of Applies Psychoanalytic Studies, Vol 2., No. 1, 2005. Whurr Publishers, LTD.

The paper presents an application of a new Rorschach index, the Reality–Fantasy Scale (RFS) for evaluating the extent to which educated Israeli Jews and Arabs manifest a similar adaptive and functional ability in preserving psychic transitional space. The RFS is a psychodynamic oriented diagnostic tool, based on Exner’s (1993) Comprehensive System for scoring and interpreting the Rorschach, and designed to operationalize Winnicott’s (1971) concept of potential space.
The scale is based on a paradigm that conceptualizes the Rorschach task as inviting the subject to enter the intermediate transitional space between inner and outer reality. The RFS ranges from –5 to +5, and a score of zero indicates adaptive and functional use of potential space.
The results point to a basic similarity between two groups of Jewish (n = 41) and Arab (n = 14) non-patients both using adaptively inner space between reality and fantasy. These results are discussed in terms of current psychoanalytic thought of relationality, political psychology research, cross-cultural personality assessment, and the empirical study of psychoanalytic concepts.
the first of the blots of the Rorschach inkblo...

Image via Wikipedia

To sum up, the application of Winnicott’s (1971) concept of transitional space to the field of political psychology uses a difficult and elusive psychoanalytic construct that has subjective components and might thus raise questions about many inferences necessary to validate this application.(emphasis by blogger) However, we believe that the ideas revealed in this paper demonstrate how different studies in the field of political psychology might be inspired by psychoanalytic concepts. Based on current psychoanalytic thought of relationality the study explores the intrapsychic and the interpersonal as two overlapping and interdependent domains of experience.

The results show that the ability to preserve potential space in individuals who are members of national groups involved in a long-standing threatening national conflict, would not necessarily be impaired. Using the Rorschach Reality–Fantasy Scale within the cross-cultural context of the conflict in the Middle East, the present empirical findings show Transitional space and the Middle-East conflict 55 that the limited geographical potential space and the threatening outer reality have not affected the inner transitional space of the normative adaptive individuals. The similarity between the Jews and the Israeli Arabs in their
ability to preserve potential space might further suggest the possibility of
rapprochement between these two groups involved in the Middle-East conflict.
A replication study is now being conducted concerning how the current developments in the outer circumstances prevailing in the region would affect the normative individual’s ability to preserve transitional space. It is also suggested to further apply this operationalization of the psychoanalytic construct of
transitional space by the Rorschach to other conflicts between ethnic and national groups around the world.
  • Reality – Fantasy Scale by Tibon, Handelzalts & Weinberger (2005)
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