Are You Studying for the LMSW Exam? Let's Understand Defense Mechanisms

By Emily Pellegrino on July 26, 2012

Brick wall and wodden floor

Oh defense mechanisms.  I think we're all guilty of using them and with good reason.  They serve an important role in our lives and our client's lives by helping us cope with the many challenges that we face in life. Here’s a sample question to start us off:

Sample Question:

All of the following statements describe defense mechanisms EXCEPT:

A. Conscious behavior used by the client to protect the client from the influence of the therapist

B. Justifying actions or thoughts to make them seem acceptable when unconsciously they are not

C. Rejecting or attributing unacceptable aspects of one’s personality to another individual

D. The process of protecting oneself from anxiety, feelings of guilt, or undesirable thoughts

According to The Social Work Dictionary defense mechanisms can be defined as, "A mental process that protects the personality from anxiety, feelings of guilt, or unacceptable thoughts. Psychoanalytic theories consider such mechanisms to be unconscious" (Barker, 2003). There are many defense mechanisms including, but not limited to: denial, displacement, idealization, compensation, intellectualization, reaction formation, projection, rationalization, and conversion defense mechanisms. Many clients come to us with their walls up and it is our job to help them identify their defense mechanisms and bring them into awareness.  While defense mechanisms protect clients from being vulnerable, they also protect clients from feeling and experiencing many good things as well.


The best answer here would be A.  If we look at the definition provided above we notice that B, C, and D all incorporate various aspects of defense mechanisms.  On the other hand, A is discussing conscious behaviors or thoughts, whereas defense mechanisms are on a more unconscious level.  That is why as clinicians we need to help client’s identify the various defense mechanisms they may use and bring them to a conscious level.

Coming up next week: Empowerment

Think our straightforward, sensible approach could help you PASS your LMSW exam? If you're preparing for the social work exam, check out our LMSW Study Materials. Learn more about our exam prep at the The Therapist Development Center home page.

Looking for more practice questions and some study tips? Check out our new Social Work Exam Study Guide:

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