Dear Therapist:

I once used the services of a graphologist to gain some insight into myself and my challenges. I sent in my handwriting and a drawing, and I received a short reply with some advice, basically that I am living in a way that I exert myself very strongly, striving to force myself to be something I am not, and I must stop living with my illusions and focus on being myself and achieve according to my ability in order for me to be happy and successful.

I feel that there is some truth to this "diagnosis." I am very ambitious, and I am a big dreamer. I am always comparing myself to other successful people and pushing myself to be like them, and then getting disheartened when I think that I am failing. So, I want to know, first of all, what are the panelists’ opinions on graphology, and more importantly, does the issue I described have a clinical term, and what can I try to do about it?

 

Response:

I don’t know enough about graphology to speak to it on an in-depth level. I don’t believe that graphology is an accepted science. For one thing, evidence of its value in analyzing characteristics appears to be all anecdotal. When evidence is simply based on stories and individual experiences, it is impossible to ascertain to what degree these are accurate and whether they are typical. While I may hear ten testimonials pointing to the validity of a particular graphologist’s analyses, I don’t know whether the testimonials are true. Even if they are, I don’t know whether the descriptions are tainted by personal feelings, expectations or preconceived notions. In addition, I don’t know whether there are ten (or five hundred) other people who have had negative experiences.

I don’t believe that graphology is in any way regulated by a government agency. This supports the notion that it is not considered a real science. The studies and reports that I have seen all seem to support the idea that personality cannot be predicted or in any way analyzed via handwriting analysis. (I’m sure that there are studies that show otherwise, but improperly controlled studies can show whatever the researcher wants them to.) Even if some people were somehow genuinely able to identify certain personality characteristics based on handwriting, the lack of schooling, licensing, and regulation allows for no way of determining a particular graphologist’s abilities, expertise, or rate of success.

It is well that you placed the word “diagnosis” in quotes. Not only is the graphologist not qualified to diagnose, but is assessment is very generic. I challenge you to find someone for whom the graphologist’s words—and your self-description—do not ring true. It is standard practice for charlatans of all stripes (palm readers, soothsayers, card readers, mystics, etc.) to begin with a generic statement that applies to almost everyone, then elaborate based on the subject’s responses.

do have a term for the issue that you described. It’s called “human nature.” As mentioned, none of the thoughts and feelings that you (or the graphologist) described is a foreign concept. Who doesn’t want to grow and become more successful? Who isn’t ambitious in at least one way? Who doesn’t compare themselves to others? Who isn’t bothered by failure? Normal human nature allows for these thoughts and feelings—as long as they are not excessive. If someone obsesses about something, or is consumed by it, this may indicate an issue that should be dealt with, perhaps in therapy.

Regardless of whether graphology is genuine or if the graphologist you saw is a hack, the real question is: Can you use the “assessment” to help you? Once you’ve acknowledged some of your underlying feelings and motivations, can this help you to better understand yourself, leading to more adaptive ways of approaching issues and life in general. In other words, if your experience with the graphologist can help you in some way, who cares whether it’s a valid science? As with most experiences, if you parse the helpful from the useless, you can use it to your advantage.

Yehuda Lieberman, LCSW

 psychotherapist in private practice

 Brooklyn, NY   |   Far Rockaway, NY

 author of Self-Esteem: A Primer

 www.ylcsw.com / 718-258-5317