Local psychiatrist, YSU psychology chair collaborate

Local psychiatrist Robert Roerich of Southwoods Counseling in Boardman presented a psychoanalytical diagnostic technique on Saturday at the Association for Psychological Science convention in Chicago.

The poster session featured a study conducted by Karen Giorgetti, chairwoman of the psychology department at Youngstown State University. Working alongside Roerich for the past year, she gathered and presented empirical statistical data for Roerich’s clinical work.

Roerich has been working on the technique, named the Road Interview, since he was a 16-year-old college freshman. It’s based on the work of Sigmund Freud, who pioneered psychoanalysis around the turn of the 20th century.

“Imagine yourself on a journey,” said Giorgetti, describing how Roerich implements his technique. “You’re walking down a road. Tell me what you see.”

In a structured therapy session, Roerich asks his patients to visualize an imagined journey, in which the patient is both protagonist and narrator. He asks a series of open-ended questions that prompt the patient to describe his or her surroundings and other observations, such as the height of the grass in a field, ways around a series of obstacles and the amount of coffee in a cup.

Roerich uses a patient’s responses to analyze his or her state of mind. When the patient is told to discover an animal along the way, discovering a venomous snake as opposed to a lost puppy, for example, would suggest very different emotions.

But Roerich’s analysis is more nuanced than that. Giorgetti said even colors hold certain meanings, and Roerich’s interpretations are based on years of research and analysis.

The interview gives Roerich access to the patient’s subconscious, allowing him to diagnose and treat deep-seated underlying problems that are inaccessible through normal therapy.

“It goes back to Freud’s school of thought, but not exactly as Freud envisioned it. It’s several iterations later,” Giorgetti said. “It’s a matter of you conveying what you see.”

The seemingly arbitrary answers that the patient gives are analyzed and interpreted by Roerich, giving him an understanding of what is happening in the patient’s unconscious mind. There is no right or wrong answer, only interpretable responses.

Despite success in his own practice and widespread recognition in Bucharest, Romania, where his work has garnered support from psychologists, Roerich has yet to provide enough data on this theory to sway the broader scientific community. Last year, he contacted Giorgetti, who agreed to work with him to gather that data. Their teamwork led to this month’s presentation.

Clinical trials will attempt to further prove the viability of this work. Roerich said research will “gather more data, which will show the strength and power of mental imagery.”

Roerich said he hopes that his research, backed by Giorgetti’s data, will lead to better mental health for his patients and, ultimately, save lives.

“One aspect of my work that hasn’t been mentioned is that certain symbols appear that indicate that a person is thinking about death or suicide. So that’s something in which we have a major interest,” Roerich said.

Giorgetti was eager to professionally back Roerich with statistical data, and she said her observations of his work continue to pique her interest.

“I’ve watched him do this, and he’s often quite accurate,” Giorgetti said.