Dr. Jane Loevinger, the Washington University Sentence Completion Test of “Ego Development,” and Why It Matters When You Find Yourself Abusing Alcohol, Suffering From “Alcoholism,” Considering Outpatient Treatment or Residential “Rehab,” and Wondering Why AA is Such a Dangerous Cult For Most of Us.
Beginning after WWII, Dr. Jane Loevinger of Washington University in St. Louis, began constructing a model and measure of “Ego Development” which became the W. U. Sentence Completion Test. She spend the next 50 years refining the test which is, essentially, a measure of emotional and psychological maturity – or lack thereof.
Loevinger described 8 stages of development, coded E-2 through E-9, beginning with Impulsive and continuing through Self-Protective, Conformist, Self-Aware, Conscientious, Individualistic, and Autonomous, to Integrated. Each of these stages has a chronologic age when it’s the appropriate level to be as one progresses through life, though no such progression may, in fact, occur. Both arrested and precocious development are common factors in substance abuse as well as the most important component of individual treatment design.
Understanding and using “ego development” as a tool efficiently and effectively assists us in rapidly establishing a therapeutic alliance with you, the client. This also facilitates designing a specific “mosaic” of components to incorporate into an effective treatment plan based on your underlying world view, coping skills, and presenting strengths.
To see how this is done, first consider the test itself which consists of 36 sentence stems. These are brief, consisting of a phrase similar to “When I am angry…” to be completed in a single, untimed session which usually runs between 30 minutes and two hours.
Once completed, each stem is rated on the same 8 point scale of Loevinger’s stages, using her Measuring Ego Development, Second Edition, as a guide. The number of responses at each level is then tabulated, and the results processed through her algorithm which gives a “Total Protocol Rating (TPR).
With the process completed it becomes possible to use the results in a number of ways.
First, the TPR tells us the level at which you are willing to operate at this specific time, in this setting, and under these circumstances. It is important to remember that E-levels are always “floors,” never ceilings, but we must still meet you, and work with you, at your preferred level. Therefore, we can adjust our level of interaction in order to be neither patronizing nor incomprehensible.
Next, the responses themselves can be analyzed with the highest rated reflecting those topics or themes which are of greatest interest to you. This makes it possible to begin discussion with those topics most apt to engage you and, therefore, promote the positive exchanges as we work together. Likewise, the lowest rated stems will identify topics or themes of little or no interest or concern and therefore can be safely avoided, at least for the time being.
The E-Levels also correspond to specific recommendations for treatment planning, client selection, and even marketing.
Specifically, Dr. Barnes and I work primarily with individuals – 70% women, 30% men – aged 40-70, and who rank at the top of Loevinger’s scale. Because you are precociously “mature” you are frequently lonely, isolated, and bored but don’t know why. Simply explaining that you have very few chronologic peers capable of the intimacy you seek helps. A little.
Knowing does help, but doesn’t fix anything. And this isn’t a case where “higher is better.” But it does explain why programs like AA are counter-productive and how the creation of unique solutions is possible. It also explains using alcohol for its regressive properties to drink one’s way down to others’ levels.
But that temporary regression is just that, temporary. Solutions mean learning how to find and identify others of similar developmental maturity. Again, individualization is required. Here too, you learns who to stay away from as well as how to find more compatible associates.
It is no surprise that higher level clients tend to be professionally successful but personally passive in their attempts to find intimacy. You are also frequently manipulated because of your ability to adjust and accommodate.
Among other things, this means eschewing groups and labels in favor of individual activities within semi-social situations. Many of our clients respond well to weight lifting, kick boxing, and other physically challenging exercise options that they would not have otherwise considered.
While that applies to our niche, and defines our work, web design, newsletters and other materials, the same SCT results can also be used to refer or treat clients at other levels.
For example, AA is most effective with clients whose development matches Loevinger’s E-4 Conformist Stage, and the E-3 Self-Protective.
Looking at the traits it is easy to extrapolate why. Conformists’ behaviors are dictated by whatever group they adhere to. By joining AA they are simply exchanging one reference group, active drunks, for another, “in recovery” alcoholics, enamored of slogans, medallions, exclusivity and in-group status.
Likewise the E-3s find, as Bill W. did, an endless supply of self-identified and very vulnerable targets for 13th Stepping and other forms of financial and emotional exploitation.
Additionally, AA also “works” for a tiny number of the rigidly Conscientious E-6 individuals who try their utmost to protect the “flock.” Referring to their protocols will help identify them by a lack of range in their responses. Healthier protocols will always have a range of responses, usually from E-4 to E-6 or 7, and a lack of range suggests an exhausting amount of inner tension and over responsibility.
Viewing efficacy from a maturity viewpoint also explains other aspects of traditional “recovery.”
For example, any number of individuals, particularly those at what Loevinger defined as normal in American society, the E-5 Self-Aware, go to AA, or rehab, and sober up long enough to overcome the regressive effects of drinking. With regression reversing, and depression eased, they begin to bounce back to their actual maturity levels – levels at which AA becomes an impediment to “getting a life.”