Piero Porcelli

Piero Porcelli

University of Rome, Italy, 1986

Current Positions

Clinical psychologist at the IRCCS De Bellis Hospital in Castellana Grotte, Italy. Adjunct professor at the PhD program of Clinical Psychology at the University of Rome-Sapienza for psychosomatic medicine

How did you become interested in Personality Assessment?

I have been trained first in the Bohm Rorschach system in post-graduate programs. In my days it was one of the main Rorschach systems in Europe. After some years of clinical practice using the main Rorschach systems widespread in Europe (e.g., Bohm, Klopfer, Loosli-Usteri, and Rapaport-Schafer), I carefully studied the wonderful 1969 book of John Exner on the Rorschach systems that I found in a university library in Paris in the late '80s. Some years later I knew John Exner when he came in Milan for introducing his new Comprehensive System that was almost completely unknown in Italy in those old days when US books were extremely expensive for Italians and the web was not born yet. Many years later, I have been glad and honored by editing an Italian book on the Comprehensive System together with John Exner to contribute to the knowledge of this Rorschach system in my country.

Tell us about your current job. We are interested in hearing about the different things that people do who work in the area of personality assessment.

My main area of clinical and research interest is psychosomatic medicine. In this area, you need to assess at least 3 separated but however inter-connected domains. The first is the domain of somatic symptoms. If physicians are interested to specific symptoms to reach a differential diagnosis in medicine, psychologists need to evaluate the whole range of somatic symptoms experienced by the patient for at least two reasons: to evaluate the biopsychosocial burden of the disease and to relate different symptoms to the specific medical disease or to a broader somatization field. The second domain is that of personal, subjective experience of illness. A lot of factors are in order here as emotional reactivity, illness behavior, somatosensory amplification, attributive cognition, etc. The third domain is related to personality organization and implicit motives underlying behavior and cognition. You have to assess carefully as most factors implicated in each domain as possible.

What are the most interesting and/or meaningful aspects of your job?

I think that medical patients have a great need to be considered as persons. Hippocrates of Kos, the Greek father of medicine who lived in the V century BC, wrote that "it is more important to know what sort of person has a disease than to know what sort of disease a person has." In this contemporary era of high-tech biomedicine, listening to suffering people and giving them a meaningful framework to make sense of their conditions is the most important aspect of my work.

Tell us how you initially learned about and joined SPA.

It was in the early '90s when I first came in contact with John Exner and the Comprehensive System. In that period, personality assessment was considered marginal in clinical work in Italy and you were requested to empathically feel the patient. It was a shared opinion that is very close to the "Ouija board approach" so well described by Irv Weiner in his classic book on the Rorschach interpretation. Becoming familiar with the CS had also the effect of learning about a lived society behind the official journal. Thus I subscribed to the JPA and joined the SPA.

How has SPA impacted or benefited you or your career?

My professional maturity started about 25 years ago when I met outstanding persons who introduced me into the different domains of psychotherapy, psychosomatics, and personality assessment. All of them were highly under-developed in the Italian academic system when I was a student. My education and training in psychotherapy, psychosomatics, and assessment occurred therefore outside university. As for personality assessment, the SPA has been my university during the last 2-3 decades. Attending SPA meetings in this period has been for me as attending master courses at the university. With the big difference that SPA meetings are much more attractive, interactive, warm and friendly than university rooms!

As we look forward to SPA's 100th anniversary in 2038, what do you think is important in order for the field of personality assessment to thrive and to benefit others?

In my opinion, paradoxically the risk of SPA is in its strength. I mean, thanks to ongoing development of research, we know many tools of personality assessment are as strong as other diagnostic tools. And also we are well aware of the limitations of our instruments and a lot of people worldwide do hard work to improve our practice and knowledge. In this aspect, SPA members are highly specialized psychologists that should be recognized as such by all the other psychologists. However, the risk of SPA members is to shut ourselves into a sort of golden ghetto, as super-scientists looking for God particle closed into the caves of the CERN in Geneva, Switzerland. In my view, personality assessment is not (only) a science in itself but a reservoir of knowledge serving clinical psychology. That means to me that we need to open our meetings to other scientific societies that share overlapping areas with us, as for example societies of psychotherapy research or psychiatry or health psychology. We have to take benefit from each other and to each other.

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