John Suler's Teaching Clinical Psychology

Defense Mechanisms

defense mechanisms

Defense mechanisms protect us from being consciously aware of a thought or feeling which we cannot tolerate. The defense only allows the unconscious thought or feeling to be expressed indirectly in a disguised form. We all use defense mechanisms to cope with the stresses of everyday living, but in mental disorders these defenses become chronic, intensified, and rigid. For these reasons, the topic of defense mechanisms is both fascinating and important in teaching psychology. I've used two different exercises in my classes. In both, students apply the ideas in this handout that describes defense mechanisms.

Group Role Play

I divide the class up into groups of 3 to 5 students and give them these instructions: "In your group develop a role play that you can perform in front of the class. In it demonstrate several defense mechanisms. Try to give everyone in the group a part to play. Good role plays usually spend a minute or so to develop the scene, the characters, and the situation at hand. At that point start to introduce the defenses into the scene. The whole role play should last about 3-5 minutes. After you finish the scene, the class will try to guess which defense mechanisms you were demonstrating."

Defense Mechanisms for Lunch

I give the students this handout that contains an imaginary story of three people talking during lunch. The story is chock full of defense mechanisms. Working in small groups, the students are instructed to underline and identify the parts of the story that portray the defense mechanisms. When they are finished, we discuss the results as a whole class. My suggested answers for this exercise are indicated on this handout.

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