Table of Contents

Understanding Projection Therapy: Overcoming Inner Conflicts

projection therapies

Clinically Reviewed by: Dr. Robin Campbell, LMFT, PHD

Projection Therapy

Projection therapy delves into the intricate world of psychological projection, a concept deeply rooted in the defense mechanisms we employ to cope with mental health issues. Often, individuals resort to defensive projection to shield themselves from their own insecurities and low self-esteem. Projection as a defense can manifest in biased person perception, where we attribute our own negative traits and unpleasant feelings to others. This blog explores how such projections stem from past trauma and inner conflict, influencing our interpersonal relationships and interactions with the outside world. By understanding the various defense mechanisms, including complimentary and negative projection, we can begin to move toward conscious awareness and healthier ways of coping with the unconscious mind.

What is Projection?

Projection is a psychological defense mechanism where an individual attributes their own unacceptable thoughts, feelings, or impulses onto someone else. This process allows a person to avoid acknowledging aspects of themselves that they find distressing or uncomfortable by perceiving these traits in others instead.

Key aspects of projection include:

  1. Defense Mechanism: Projection is used unconsciously to protect oneself from feelings of anxiety, guilt, or other negative emotions. By attributing these feelings to someone else, the individual can avoid facing them directly.
  2. Attribution to Others: The person believes that others possess the thoughts, feelings, or impulses that they are projecting. For example, someone who is angry at their friend might accuse the friend of being angry at them instead.
  3. Common in Various Situations: Projection can occur in a wide range of scenarios, from everyday interpersonal interactions to more intense emotional experiences. It is often seen in relationships where conflicts or insecurities are present.
  4. Examples:
  • A person who is unfaithful to their partner might accuse their partner of being unfaithful.
  • Someone who is envious of a colleague’s success might accuse the colleague of being envious of them.
  • A person with feelings of hostility might perceive others as being hostile toward them.


Understanding projection can be helpful in recognizing when one is attributing their own feelings to others and can provide insight into personal conflicts and interpersonal dynamics. In therapy, addressing projection can aid in increasing self-awareness and improving relationships.


Projection in Everyday Life

Projection in everyday life manifests in various ways, often subtly influencing how we interact with others and perceive situations. Here are some common examples:

  1. Blaming Others: If someone feels guilty about a mistake they made, they might project this guilt by blaming others for similar mistakes. For example, an employee who missed a deadline might criticize a coworker for being late on a different task.
  2. Insecurity and Jealousy: A person who feels insecure about their own abilities or achievements might project these insecurities onto others by assuming others are envious or critical of them. For instance, someone might accuse their friends of being jealous of their new job when, in fact, they feel inadequate in their role.
  3. Relationship Conflicts: In romantic relationships, projection can lead to misunderstandings and conflicts. For example, if one partner feels neglected or unappreciated, they might accuse the other partner of not caring, even if the other partner is unaware of these feelings.
  4. Assumptions About Motives: People often project their own motives onto others. For instance, a person who is manipulative might assume that others are trying to manipulate them as well. This can lead to distrust and strained relationships.
  5. Parental Projection: Parents might project their own unfulfilled dreams or anxieties onto their children. For example, a parent who always wanted to be a doctor might pressure their child to pursue a medical career, assuming the child shares the same desire.
  6. Workplace Dynamics: In the workplace, projection can affect teamwork and leadership. A manager who feels uncertain about their leadership skills might project this insecurity by micromanaging employees and doubting their competence.
  7. Social Interactions: Projection can occur in social settings, where individuals might project their own social anxieties onto others. For instance, someone who feels self-conscious about their appearance might assume others are judging them, leading to social withdrawal or defensive behavior.


Recognizing projection in everyday life can help individuals gain insight into their own behaviors and improve their relationships with others. By acknowledging and addressing these projections, people can work towards healthier and more authentic interactions.


What is Projection Therapy?

Projection therapy, also known as projective psychotherapy, is a therapeutic technique that involves exploring a person’s inner thoughts, feelings, and experiences by having them project these onto external stimuli. This method is often used in psychodynamic therapy and other therapeutic approaches to help individuals gain insight into their unconscious mind.

Here are some common forms of projection therapy:

  1. Projective Tests: These include tools like the Rorschach Inkblot Test and the Thematic Apperception Test (TAT), where individuals are shown ambiguous images and asked to describe what they see. Their responses are believed to reveal underlying thoughts, feelings, and conflicts.
  2. Art Therapy: In this approach, individuals create art, such as drawings or paintings, to express their emotions and thoughts. The art produced can provide insights into their inner world and can be discussed with a therapist to uncover deeper meanings.
  3. Role-Playing: This involves individuals acting out scenarios or taking on roles that reflect their inner experiences. Through role-playing, people can explore and express emotions and conflicts that may be difficult to address directly.
  4. Sandplay Therapy: In sandplay therapy, individuals use a sandbox and miniature figures to create scenes that represent their inner world. This nonverbal form of expression can help uncover and address unconscious issues.


Projection therapy aims to bypass the defenses of the conscious mind, allowing individuals to explore and address deep-seated issues in a safe and supportive environment. It can be particularly useful for individuals who have difficulty articulating their thoughts and feelings directly.


Prevalence of Projection Therapy

Projection therapy is not as widely prevalent as other therapeutic approaches, but it is a recognized technique used within certain frameworks, particularly psychodynamic and art therapies. Its usage is more common among therapists who focus on uncovering unconscious processes and exploring deep-seated emotional issues. While not mainstream, projection techniques are valued for their ability to provide insights into a person’s inner world and facilitate self-awareness. However, due to the subjective nature of interpretation in projection therapy, its application is often combined with other therapeutic methods to ensure comprehensive treatment.


Key Components of Projection Therapy

Projection therapy involves several key components that facilitate the exploration of unconscious thoughts, feelings, and conflicts. These components help individuals project their inner experiences onto external stimuli, making it easier to uncover and address deep-seated issues. Here are the key components:

  1. External Stimuli: The use of ambiguous or neutral stimuli, such as inkblots, images, or creative materials, onto which individuals project their thoughts and feelings.
  2. Interpretation: The therapist interprets the individual’s projections to gain insights into their unconscious mind. This interpretation helps to uncover hidden emotions, conflicts, and desires.
  3. Nonverbal Expression: Encouraging nonverbal forms of expression, such as drawing, painting, or using figures in sandplay, to allow individuals to project their inner experiences without the constraints of verbal communication.
  4. Safe Environment: Creating a safe and supportive therapeutic environment where individuals feel comfortable expressing themselves and exploring their inner world.
  5. Self-Reflection: Facilitating self-reflection and self-awareness by helping individuals understand their projections and the underlying issues they reveal.
  6. Therapeutic Alliance: Building a strong therapeutic relationship based on trust and empathy to support individuals through the process of projection and interpretation.
  7. Integration: Helping individuals integrate the insights gained from projection therapy into their everyday lives, promoting personal growth and emotional healing.


How Does Projection Therapy Work?

Projection therapy works by leveraging the psychological defense mechanism of projection to help individuals explore and understand their unconscious thoughts, feelings, and conflicts. Here’s a step-by-step outline of how it typically works:

Introduction and Preparation:

  • The therapist explains the concept of projection therapy and how it can help.
  • A safe and supportive environment is established to ensure the individual feels comfortable and open to the process.


Use of External Stimuli:

  • The therapist presents neutral or ambiguous stimuli, such as inkblots (Rorschach Test), thematic pictures (Thematic Apperception Test), or materials for creative expression (art therapy, sandplay).
  • These stimuli serve as a blank canvas onto which the individual can project their inner thoughts and feelings.


Projection Process:

  • The individual interacts with the stimuli, interpreting or creating something based on their perception and imagination.
  • For example, in an art therapy session, they might draw or paint a scene that reflects their inner emotional state.
  • In a projective test, they describe what they see in an ambiguous image or inkblot.


Observation and Interpretation:

  • The therapist observes the individual’s responses and creations, noting themes, patterns, and emotional tones.
  • The therapist interprets these projections, looking for underlying issues, conflicts, and unconscious material.


Discussion and Insight:

  • The therapist discusses the interpretations with the individual, helping them to understand and gain insight into their projections.
  • This discussion aims to uncover hidden emotions, desires, fears, and conflicts that the individual may not be consciously aware of.


Self-Reflection and Awareness:

  • The individual is encouraged to reflect on the insights gained from the projection process.
  • This reflection helps to increase self-awareness and understanding of their internal world.


Integration and Processing:

  • The therapist supports the individual in integrating these new insights into their everyday life.
  • This might involve exploring how the unconscious material relates to their current thoughts, behaviors, and relationships.
  • Therapeutic techniques and strategies may be employed to address and resolve any identified issues.


Ongoing Therapeutic Work:

  • Projection therapy is often used alongside other therapeutic methods to provide a comprehensive approach to treatment.
  • Regular sessions and continued exploration help the individual to make lasting changes and improvements in their mental health and well-being.


Projection therapy is particularly useful for individuals who have difficulty articulating their thoughts and feelings directly, as it allows for expression through more indirect means. It can be effective in uncovering and addressing deep-seated emotional issues and fostering personal growth and healing.


Goals of Projection Therapy

The primary goals of projection therapy are:

  1. Uncover Unconscious Material: Reveal hidden thoughts, feelings, and conflicts.
  2. Increase Self-Awareness: Help individuals understand their inner experiences and emotional responses.
  3. Facilitate Emotional Expression: Provide a safe space for expressing difficult emotions non-verbally.
  4. Resolve Inner Conflicts: Address and work through unresolved issues and psychological defenses.
  5. Promote Personal Growth: Foster self-reflection, insight, and integration of new understanding into daily life.
  6. Enhance Therapeutic Relationship: Build trust and empathy between the therapist and individual to support the therapeutic process.


Benefits of Projection Therapy

Projection therapy offers several benefits, making it a valuable tool in psychotherapy. These benefits include:

  1. Uncovering Hidden Emotions: Helps individuals reveal and understand emotions and conflicts that are not easily accessible through conscious thought.
  2. Nonverbal Expression: Provides a means for expressing thoughts and feelings that might be difficult to articulate verbally.
  3. Increased Self-Awareness: Encourages greater insight into one’s own psychological processes and behaviors.
  4. Emotional Release: Allows for the safe expression and release of repressed or suppressed emotions.
  5. Therapeutic Insight: Facilitates deeper understanding and interpretation of the individual’s issues by the therapist.
  6. Conflict Resolution: Assists in identifying and resolving internal conflicts and psychological defenses.
  7. Personal Growth: Promotes personal development and emotional healing by integrating new insights into everyday life.
  8. Enhanced Creativity: Encourages creative thinking and problem-solving by engaging with imaginative and symbolic forms of expression.
  9. Safe Exploration: Provides a supportive and non-threatening environment for exploring difficult or traumatic experiences.
  10. Improved Relationships: Helps individuals understand and improve their relationships by addressing underlying emotional issues and projections.


Duration of Projection Therapy

The duration of projection therapy can vary widely depending on several factors, including the individual’s needs, the complexity of their issues, and the therapeutic approach used. Here are some general considerations:

  1. Short-Term Therapy: Some individuals may benefit from short-term projection therapy, which can last for a few weeks to a few months. This approach is often focused on addressing specific issues or gaining quick insights.
  2. Long-Term Therapy: For deeper, more complex issues, projection therapy may be part of a long-term therapeutic process, lasting several months to years. This allows for thorough exploration and resolution of deep-seated conflicts and emotions.
  3. Session Length: Individual therapy sessions typically last between 45 to 60 minutes. The frequency of sessions can vary from weekly to bi-weekly, depending on the treatment plan.
  4. Integration with Other Therapies: Projection therapy is often integrated with other therapeutic approaches, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) or psychodynamic therapy, which can influence the overall duration of treatment.


Ultimately, the duration of projection therapy is tailored to the individual’s progress and therapeutic goals, with ongoing assessment and adjustment by the therapist.


What Addictions or Mental Health Disorders are Treated Using Projection Therapy?

Projection therapy can be used to treat a range of addictions and mental health disorders by helping individuals explore and understand the underlying psychological issues contributing to their symptoms. Here are some specific conditions that can be treated using projection therapy:



Substance Abuse:


Behavioral Addictions:

  • Gambling addiction
  • Internet and gaming addiction
  • Shopping addiction
  • Eating disorders (binge eating, compulsive overeating)
  • Sex and pornography addiction


Projection therapy can aid in emotional regulation for individuals struggling with addictions.


Mental Health Issues and Disorders

Anxiety Disorders:

  • Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)
  • Social anxiety disorder
  • Panic disorder
  • Specific phobias


Mood Disorders:


Personality Disorders:

  • Borderline personality disorder
  • Narcissistic personality disorder
  • Histrionic personality disorder


Trauma-Related Disorders:


Obsessive-Compulsive and Related Disorders:

  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Body dysmorphic disorder


Stress-Related Issues:

  • Acute stress disorder
  • Chronic stress


Interpersonal and Relationship Issues:

  • Marital or relationship conflicts
  • Family dynamics and conflicts


Projection therapy can help build emotional resilience in individuals with mental health disorders.


Benefits of Projection Therapy in Treating These Conditions

  • Uncovering Unconscious Material: Helps individuals reveal hidden thoughts, feelings, and conflicts that contribute to their addiction or mental health disorder.
  • Emotional Expression: Provides a safe space for expressing difficult emotions non-verbally.
  • Self-Awareness: Increases insight into one’s psychological processes and behaviors.
  • Conflict Resolution: Aids in identifying and resolving internal conflicts and psychological defenses.
  • Personal Growth: Promotes self-reflection and integration of new insights into everyday life.
  • Therapeutic Insight: Facilitates deeper understanding and interpretation of the individual’s issues by the therapist.


Projection therapy also facilitates self-discovery, helping individuals uncover aspects of themselves they were previously unaware of.

While projection therapy is not a standalone treatment for these conditions, it can be an effective component of a comprehensive therapeutic approach, often used in conjunction with other methods like cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), psychodynamic therapy, and medication management.****


Treatment Plans

Treatment plans that incorporate projection therapy are often multifaceted and tailored to meet the unique needs of each individual. Here’s an outline of a comprehensive treatment plan that includes projection therapy along with other therapeutic approaches and interventions:

1. Assessment and Diagnosis

  • Initial Evaluation: Conduct a thorough assessment to understand the individual’s psychological, emotional, and physical health. Building a strong therapeutic alliance during this phase is crucial for accurate evaluation and effective treatment planning.
  • Diagnosis: Identify any mental health disorders, addictions, or underlying issues that need to be addressed.


2. Setting Goals

  • Collaborative Goal-Setting: Work with the individual to set realistic and achievable goals for therapy. Goals may include reducing symptoms, improving coping skills, and gaining insight into unconscious processes. Setting goals can also help achieve emotional insight, which is crucial for understanding and managing emotions effectively.


3. Therapeutic Interventions

Projection Therapy:

  • Techniques Used: Employ projective tests (e.g., Rorschach Inkblot Test, Thematic Apperception Test), art therapy, and other creative methods to explore unconscious material. Projection therapy encourages emotional expression by allowing individuals to project their feelings onto ambiguous stimuli, facilitating a deeper understanding of their emotions.
  • Frequency: Sessions may occur weekly or bi-weekly, depending on the individual’s needs and progress.


Complementary Therapies:

  • Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT): To address negative thought patterns and behaviors.
  • Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT): For emotion regulation and distress tolerance, particularly in personality disorders.
  • Psychodynamic Therapy: To explore deeper psychological conflicts and their origins.
  • Mindfulness and Relaxation Techniques: To reduce stress and improve emotional regulation.


4. Medication Management

  • Evaluation by Psychiatrist: If medications are indicated, a psychiatrist will evaluate and prescribe appropriate FDA-approved medications. Psychotropic medications can play a crucial role in conjunction with projection therapy to manage symptoms effectively.
  • Regular Monitoring: Continuous monitoring of medication effectiveness and side effects, with adjustments as needed.


5. Supportive Therapies

  • Group Therapy: Participation in group therapy sessions to gain support and feedback from peers. Group therapy provides emotional support by allowing individuals to share their experiences and learn from others in similar situations.
  • Family Therapy: Involving family members to improve communication and address familial issues contributing to the individual’s condition. Family therapy offers emotional support by fostering a supportive environment where family members can express their feelings and work together to resolve conflicts.


6. Skill-Building, Education, and Self Reflection

  • Psychoeducation: Educating the individual about their condition, treatment options, and strategies for managing symptoms.
  • Life Skills Training: Developing practical skills for daily living, stress management, and relapse prevention. Projection therapy can also help improve emotional intelligence by allowing individuals to better understand and manage their emotions.


7. Monitoring and Evaluation

  • Regular Progress Reviews: Regularly review the individual’s progress towards their therapeutic goals. Regular progress reviews help maintain emotional stability by providing a clear understanding of improvements and areas needing attention.
  • Adjustments to Treatment Plan: Make necessary adjustments to the treatment plan based on the individual’s progress and changing needs.


8. Aftercare and Relapse Prevention

  • Continued Support: Establish a plan for ongoing support after the initial treatment phase, which may include continued therapy sessions, support groups, and regular check-ins. Aftercare plans also play a crucial role in supporting emotional well-being by providing a structured environment for individuals to process their experiences and emotions.
  • Relapse Prevention Plan: Develop strategies to prevent relapse, including identifying triggers and creating a plan for coping with potential setbacks.


9. Integration into Daily Life

Application of Insights: Help the individual integrate the insights gained from projection therapy and other therapeutic interventions into their daily life. Integrating insights from therapy promotes emotional healing by addressing underlying issues and fostering a deeper understanding of oneself.

Sustaining Changes: Encourage the practice of new skills and behaviors to maintain improvements and promote long-term well-being.


Projection Therapy Statistics

Efficacy in Psychodynamic Therapy: Studies indicate that psychodynamic therapies, which include techniques like projection, can be effective for various mental health conditions, with reported long-term benefits and symptom reduction.

Art Therapy Outcomes: Art therapy, which often uses projection techniques, has been shown to reduce symptoms of anxiety, depression, and trauma. Patients report improved emotional expression and insight.

Patient Satisfaction: Individuals undergoing therapies that include projection techniques often report high levels of satisfaction, citing the therapeutic process’s depth and the insights gained.


Is Projection Therapy Right For You?

  1. Comfort with Creative Expression: Are you open to using creative or symbolic methods like drawing, storytelling, or interpreting images to explore your feelings?
  2. Desire for Deep Insight: Are you interested in uncovering and understanding unconscious thoughts and emotions that may be influencing your behavior?
  3. Complex Emotional Issues: Do you have deep-seated emotional conflicts or trauma that might benefit from exploring through projection?
  4. Therapist Compatibility: Do you have access to a therapist trained in projection techniques and feel comfortable working with them?


If you answer “yes” to these questions, projection therapy may be a beneficial approach for you. Consulting with a mental health professional can provide more personalized guidance.


Does Insurance Cover Projection Therapy?

Insurance coverage for projection therapy can vary depending on your specific insurance plan and the way the therapy is categorized. Here are some key points to consider:

  1. Therapy Type: Projection therapy is often part of broader therapeutic approaches like psychodynamic therapy or art therapy. If these therapies are covered by your insurance, projection therapy may be included.
  2. Licensed Providers: Insurance is more likely to cover therapy sessions provided by licensed mental health professionals, such as psychologists, psychiatrists, or licensed clinical social workers.
  3. Medical Necessity: Coverage may depend on the demonstration of medical necessity, meaning the therapy is needed to treat a diagnosed mental health condition.
  4. Pre-authorization: Some insurance plans require pre-authorization for certain types of therapy. Check with your provider if this applies.
  5. Out-of-Network Providers: If the therapist offering projection therapy is not in-network, partial coverage or reimbursement may still be possible, depending on your plan.


Common Insurance Types

  1. Employer-Sponsored Health Insurance: Often provides mental health coverage as part of comprehensive health benefits.
  2. Individual Health Insurance Plans: Plans purchased through the Health Insurance Marketplace or directly from insurers may include mental health services.
  3. Medicaid: State and federal program that offers mental health coverage for low-income individuals and families.
  4. Medicare: Federal program for individuals 65 and older or with certain disabilities, which includes mental health services.
  5. TRICARE: Health care program for military personnel, retirees, and their dependents, covering mental health services.
  6. Student Health Insurance: Offered by universities and colleges, often includes mental health coverage.
  7. Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs): Employer-provided programs that offer limited mental health services, including therapy.



Overcoming projection and the many defense mechanisms we use requires a conscious effort to stop projecting our own negative qualities onto others. By addressing our own issues and past experiences, such as feeling abandoned or dealing with a cheating spouse or difficult co-worker, we can begin to heal. Online therapy and private practice sessions offer spaces for honest conversation and taking responsibility for our own life. By recognizing examples of projection in different scenarios and exploring concrete evidence from social psychology and Sigmund Freud’s work, we can stop projection and improve our self-esteem. Ultimately, this journey helps us replace painful emotions with positive projection, fostering healthier interpersonal relationships and a more authentic self-awareness.


Seeking Treatment? We Can Help!

At New Hope Healthcare, as an in-network provider we work with most insurance plans, such as:


If you or a loved one are struggling with mental health challenges or substance abuse, reach out to New Hope Healthcare today. Our team of compassionate professionals is here to support your journey towards lasting well-being. Give us a call at 866-799-0806

projection therapies

Frequently Asked Questions

Projection therapy is a psychotherapeutic technique that involves helping individuals project their unconscious thoughts, feelings, and conflicts onto external stimuli, such as ambiguous images, art materials, or role-playing scenarios. This process can reveal hidden aspects of the psyche and facilitate self-awareness and emotional healing.
Projection therapy works by using neutral or ambiguous stimuli to elicit projections from the individual. These projections are then interpreted by the therapist to uncover unconscious material. Techniques may include projective tests (like the Rorschach Inkblot Test), art therapy, sandplay therapy, and role-playing. The insights gained from these projections can help address underlying emotional issues and conflicts.

Projection therapy can be used to treat a variety of mental health conditions and addictions, including:

  • Anxiety disorders
  • Depression
  • Personality disorders
  • PTSD and trauma-related disorders
  • Substance abuse and behavioral addictions
  • Interpersonal and relationship issues
Projection therapy can be effective, especially when integrated into a comprehensive treatment plan that includes other therapeutic approaches like cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and medication management. It is particularly useful for individuals who have difficulty articulating their emotions and for uncovering deep-seated psychological issues.
Coverage for projection therapy can vary depending on the insurance plan and how the therapy is categorized. Often, projection therapy is part of broader therapeutic approaches such as psychodynamic therapy or art therapy, which may be covered by insurance. It is essential to check with your insurance provider regarding coverage specifics, pre-authorization requirements, and potential out-of-pocket costs.

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