LMSW Exam Prep 2019: Defense Mechanisms

By Emily Pellegrino on December 17, 2019


Oh defense mechanisms.  The ASWB loves to test us on this topic so it's an important part of your LMSW exam prep. 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, conversion, reaction formation, projection, rationalization, and intellectualization. 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.

A common question that folks have is how to remember the defense mechanisms on the lmsw exam. A good way to remember this information throughout your lmsw exam prep is to come up with your own examples of what defense mechanisms are present in your own life. Maybe you notice a friend who is constantly projecting their feelings on you, or a client who is using repression as a means of not wanting to remember painful memories. When you come up with your own examples, it's much easier to remember each defense mechanism that you come across on the lmsw practice questions and on the actual test itself.

lmsw exam prep


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.

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.

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Coming up next week: Empowerment



Commenter Name
December 18, 2019

I love it when TDC provides practice questions! I wish you could post one every day.

Commenter Name
February 15, 2020

I'm seeking a personal tutor in Manhattan.

Commenter Name
February 20, 2020

Hi Donald, If you sign up for your program and need additional support, you can purchase an hour of phone coaching from one of our awesome social work coaches!

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