Background: This paper presents an idiographic approach to evaluate the self concept and the self-object-relationship of patients suffering from affective disorders. Methods: Significant dimensions of the personality and the object relations of 127 depressive patients and 34 orthopaedic patients were investigated with the repertory grid-technique. The self concept and the object relations were compared by means of nomothetically used idiographic results after recovery from manifest depression. Results: 'Low self esteem' was frequently found in patients with a long lasting course of illness and the ICD-10-diagnoses of 'bipolar affective disorder' and 'dysthymia'. The object relations of the depressive sample were characterised by the dimension 'symbiotic near'; 'ambivalent' and 'indifferent' partnership relationships were found much more frequently in the controls. Conclusions: The idiographic results help to differentiate the spectrum of affective disorders. They underline the importance of the interpersonal dimension of depression and may be used as a basis of a therapeutic appraisal. Limitations: The repertory grid-technique may not be used as a diagnostic instrument. However, the combination of idiographic results with further clinical informations enables the multidimensional assessment of the self concept and psychosocial coping mechanisms. (C) 2000 Elsevier Science B.V.
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