The House-Tree-Person Drawing Test

Published 21 Oct 2016

The House-Tree-Person Drawing Test (HTP) is an exam for estimating self-perception and attitudes of a person through drawings, which act as the ambiguous, abstract or unstructured stimuli. In addition, a projective technique, like HTP, interprets drawings and provides questions that may readily assess the personality of the patient.

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Inspired by Goodenough Scale, John N. Buck developed HTP in 1948 and updated in 1969. To him, houses and trees reveal the person’s inner identity and the responses given by the client introduce a more perceptive view of the person’s personality. Projective personality tests already used figure drawings long before Buck formulated HTP. Early utilizations of HTP were only for assessing intellectual functioning but Buck believed that figures of houses and trees could also provide dependable knowledge regarding the client’s attitude and self-image. Furthermore, patients having brain or neurological impairment take HTP tests.

Method of House-Tree-Person Drawing Test

To start a HTP drawing test, the client is given three pieces 8.5×11″ plain white bond paper. The first paper should have a drawing of a house. Upon providing the first paper, the therapist may now utter her instructions. For example, “Here I want you to draw a good house as possible as you can.” This is necessary because one aspect of HTP is an accurate drawing for a detailed examination. The next sheet is for the tree and the last is for the person. After the each of the pictures is drawn, the therapist will ask questions.

Some sample questions include:

Who is this person? How old are they? (Person)

Who lives here? Are they happy? (House)

What kind of tree is this? Who waters this tree? (Tree)

The examinee will answer 60 questions that contain unscripted follow-up questions.

In addition, the examiner can choose between a one-phase test or two phase test. The only difference between the two is the writing instrument used. With a one-phase test, a pencil or crayon may be used but a two-phase test uses a crayon for first phase and pencil for second phase. Ideally, persons over the age of three can take HTP test. Children and adolescent often take the exam due to necessary picture drawing. It will take 150 minutes to complete the exam but a much lesser time of completion with normally functioning adults. Moreover, a variation of administering the test involves a depiction of two separate persons, one of each sex or both on one page.


The scoring of HTP is both objective quantitative manner and subjective qualitative manner. The former gives a general assessment of intelligence using a scoring method devised by test creators plus a careful examination of the details of drawings. Studies also show some resemblance of the objective quantitative manner with other intelligence tests like Wechsler Adult Intelligence Test (WAIS). The latter describes the primary use of HTP in which the scoring scheme subjectively approaches the drawings and the answers to questions by the patient. This measures the test taker’s personality. Various parts of a drawing is also interpreted by focusing on their functions. Furthermore, evidences show the efficacy of HTP on persons with brain damage particularly on patients with schizophrenia. However, this subjective approach becomes the waterloo of HTP because of little support regarding validity and reliability.

Symbolic Interpretations


Primarily, a little house exhibits rejection of family life while those who prefer a big house overcome his life. Strong lines reveal a strong ego and vice versa. The roof, with multiple ideations, symbolizes the dreams of a person. Burning roofs or those tiny and incomplete roofs simply overpowering or frightening fantasies. In addition, roofs reveal the intellectual side of a person. Windows, doors and sidewalks are the routes providing entrance to the house which reveal openness, willingness to interact with others and ideas about the environment. Cars depict visitors or people that will leave the house. Unwillingness to reveal about oneself depicts a window with a shutter or a winding road leading to home. Big windows in the bathroom resemble an exhibitionistic character. Open windows or many windows exhibit an urge to relate with others. Lights in a house indicate welcoming visitors.

Psychotics commonly draw ground lines (their need for grounding), clear visions of the indoors (believe that their thoughts and mind are open to others), strange angles (strange thoughts), or a house on an edge of collapse (like their ego).


The trunk represents the ego, sense of self and the wholeness of personality. Therefore, strong lines or shadings imply anxiety about one’s self; small trunks represent limited ego strength and large trunks, greater ego strength. A tree hit by lightning, split in half, implies a sign of organicity. Detached limbs often represent difficulties of reaching out and small branches are limited skills to reach out. Big branches may mean too much of reaching out. Signs of aggressiveness come from club-shaped branches and gnarled branches, being twisted. Dead branches represent emptiness and hopelessness. Leaves mean that relation with others is successful. Pointy leaves are those with tendencies or have Obsessive Compulsive condition. On the other hand, roots represent reality testing and orientation. Dead roots mean emptiness and despair. Other details also include knotholes would mean an absence of ego or trauma. Depressed people repeatedly sketch weeping willow trees. High needs of nurturance draw apples. After season Christmas trees signify regressive fantasies and small animals like squirrels depicts intrusion into an area free from ego control.


Arms indicate our tendency to reach out while hands are the way we affect it. Open arms indicate willingness to relate, defensiveness for close arms and disconnected arms for powerlessness. Balled fists imply Agression or pointed fingers and hidden or gloved hands exhibit antisocial tendencies. Legs and feet indicate grounding and power like roots of trees. Small feet indicate insecurity while loss of feet represents loss of autonomy. The mouth signifies how we get our needs and so open mouth is neediness, sexual needs for cupid or luscious lips and denial of needs for closed mouth. Slash mouths and teeth imply verbal aggression. The head represent cognition while the body represents drives and needs. Thus, the neck separates the two. No neck mean no separation and long neck is the desire for more separation. People with obsessive tendencies draw excessive details and lack of detail signifies withdrawal, low energy or boredom.

Concerning clothes, baggy pants indicate “nerdiness” while a collar on a shirt suggests dignity and formality. Simple pants imply competence and authority.

In general, depressed patients frequently draw pictures lacking of details and a ground line sloping downward and away signify hopelessness, isolation and exposure.

Observations on the House-Tree-Person Drawing Test Before and After Surgery

A group of 22 surgical patients took the HTP test before and after surgery. Recommended psychiatric investigations were briefly conducted at approximately the same time. This study resulted to the following conclusions:

Patients with infrequent refusals to participate in the test showed subtle or gross paranoid attitudes.In contrast to the usual findings of HTP drawings regarding patients of normal individuals, pre and postoperative drawings showed striking dissimilarities.The preoperative drawings were usually characterized by multiple indications of psychologic regression, far exceeding any clinical impression (Meyer, Brown, & Levine, 1954).

The person’s drawings hardly ever exhibit their somatic illness, site of pathology and surgery. In contrast to these drawings, the references to these factors were likely expressed symbolically or through a graphic equivalent of familiar psychologic defenses. In many instances, such representations attained their clearest expression in the house drawings.

Postoperative drawings often revealed an abandonment of the regressive aspects noted preoperatively, leading to the surmise that the latter arises as a response to anxiety and a sense of imminent catastrophe. Where the operations resulted in obvious mutilation, the postoperative drawings appeared to reflect psychic reactions to it. Here again direct representation of body change was unusual. Allusion to the physical alteration tended to be expressed either symbolically or through multiple psychic defenses and through changes in mood. In cases with a more fortunate outcome, the postoperative pictures revealed appropriate changes in mood as well as in the abandonment of the several defensive measures employed in the preoperative pictures (Meyer et al, 1954).

Pre- and postoperative drawings also depicted the identity of these patients, besides from their response to the acute surgical emergency. Speculative deliberations were discussed and the suggestion is offered that although the sketches are produced upon request they serve as a psychotherapeutic function in aiding the subject to adapt with life-threatening and traumatic reality.

House-Tree-Person Drawing Test of Drew Barrymore

Drew Barrymore is a student currently enrolled in Western Kentucky University. She voluntarily submitted herself to the test conducted on March 2, 2007. Her chronological age is 32 years, 2 months and 15 days and a Caucasian female.

Primarily, the behavioral observations made on Ms. Barrymore were her physical appearance and psychological capacity. She was dressed appropriately and was of average height and above average weight. She appeared to be in good hygiene. Rapport was easily established between her and the examiner. She is in good mental condition showing mental alertness and very responsive to the questions asked by the therapist.

The tests administered on Ms. Barrymore were Bender Gestalt Visual Motor test 2nd Edition to measure her perceptual-Motor capabilities. She also passed the Copy Phase test with a standard score of 110 that fell within High Average concerning the range of functioning. Her test result in the Recall Phase placed her in the 81st percentile with a score of 113. All the scores showed no problems of Ms. Barrymore about visual-spatial functioning.

The first figure Drew draw was a female resembling femininity, maternal instincts, aspiration and ambition. Broad shoulders imply aggressive tendencies. The collar seen on the shirt denotes formality and dignity. Overall, Drew’s first drawing signifies a strong personality. However, some aspects depict her weaknesses such as large eyes that imply suspicion and hands behind the back showing social reluctance and unwillingness to confront problems. On the contrary, figure 2, that showed a male picture, implied a weaker personality. The positioning of the figure denotes guilt. The legs show rigidity and tension. A sense of vulnerability, lack of control and weakness overall is the result of figure 2.

The tree picture emphasized self-esteem sociability and expression. One unlikely interpretation is a closed crown, depicting self-contained or non-dependence with other people. Like the tree’s interpretation, it is implied on Drew’s house but an addition of future, masculinity and activity. The coldness of the house seen on the absence of chimney voiced out Drew’s problem with her father. A well-proportioned pathway denotes Drew’s security and grounding. The house, with many windows, incorporates Drew’s openness in terms of relation with others.

The last figure showed her family. The other interpretations regarding figures 1, 2, 3, and 4 are also seen in this figure but in this case, Drew’s weak relations with her children is suggested. To sum it up, Drew’s dependence with other people strongly suggests insecurity. Her husband, shown in the last figure, confirmed her dependence to him. In addition, Drew’s relationship with her husband is more important than her relationship with her children. She feels scrutinized by the opposite sex in her second drawing and tensed concerning sexual matters as interpreted in figures 1 and 2. Social reluctance, also, is evident in figures 1 and 2.

The House-Tree-Person test is an aid for measuring the patient’s whole attitude whether inter or intrapersonal. The individual’s perception of himself or herself as a member of the society is represented by drawings of trees and houses and other individuals. HTP is a well-known psychoanalytic task and is widely used as part of art therapy. Although HTP measures a person’s personality, its subjective measurement is questionable due to little support in reliability and validity. That is why those administering the test must have proper training and knowledge. The scoring methods are similar to other intelligence tests giving it a chance to prove it further in implementing figure interpretation as means of therapy and assessment of personality. Lastly, the contribution of various doctors and psychotherapists developed HTP into art therapy.


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