Student finds success in controversial field

Douglas Rojas

Popular TV host Oprah Winfrey wants everybody to see her as a warm and loving person.
But in reality, she is ruthless and cold. Or so her handwriting revealed, said Treyce Villarreal, a University graduate student in criminal justice and psychology.
Villarreal can interpret handwriting patterns and their relationship with personality traits, a controversial field known as graphology. She has been a handwriting analyst for more than 12 years.
In 1994, Villarreal was invited to Winfrey’s show to analyze author John Bradshaw’s handwriting. Bradshaw has written self-help and motivational books that have reached the best-selling lists in the United States.
Winfrey refused to be analyzed, but Villarreal got a sample of Winfrey’s writing from a thank-you card after the taping of the show.
“It makes me sick knowing that there are people and children looking up to her,” Villarreal said. “I thought, ‘Boy, what a chameleon.'”
Graphology is based on the connection between the unconscious mind and the writing hand, which enables handwriting to reflect aspects of the unconscious mind.
A signature or a sentence can only provide few details about personality, Villarreal said. An in-depth analysis requires several samples of cursive handwriting and drawings, she said. It takes three hours for Villarreal to do a full analysis of handwriting.
Analysis can go as far as to show likeliness to develop an illness, sexual frustrations or faithfulness to spouses, Villarreal said. She can also see in handwriting if a person is a rapist, or a good date.
“It’s kind of funny, I can look at somebody’s handwriting and say, ‘This person won’t pay the loan,'” Villarreal said.
In 1992, Villarreal saw clues for cancer on her father’s handwriting. He was diagnosed with cancer six months later and died in 1997.
To increase the degree of accuracy, a graphologist has to look at several samples of handwriting for a long period of time, said Rose Toomey, a graphologist with the Association of Graphological Studies.
In addition, said Patricia Siegel, president of the American Society of Graphologists, a graphologist has to take into account the age and gender of the subject. Individual graphics alone do not have linear relationships with personality traits, she said.
“They must be evaluated in clusters and the graphologist must understand personality dynamics,” Siegel said.

Controversial science
With many organizations and people claiming to be experts in graphology and without a legitimate certification, graphology leaves room for questions.
An examiner can determine the authenticity of a written document and if handwriting forms and patterns belong to the same individual, said Karen Rhoute. A forensic document examiner, Rhoute has been with the Minneapolis Police Department for about 20 years.
She said while graphology is a useful study, it doesn’t have a methodology that can prove consistent results in determining personality traits.
“These people are fortune tellers. They always tell people what they want to hear,” Rhoute said.
Graphologists are not allowed to testify in trials, Rhoute said. If they were as accurate as they claim, “we could solve most social problems, prevent crimes, arrange perfect marriages,” she said.
Although all handwriting experts trained by the government criticized graphologists, Siegel said, graphology is still a great diagnostic tool for describing personality.
Siegel, who has been teaching graphology for about 17 years and works as a document examiner, has written about how government-trained document examiners can improve their accuracy if they are trained in graphology.
Graphology has many detractors because there are a lot of badly trained practitioners and mail-in certifications, said Joanna Fancy, a graphologist for 27 years.
In Europe, graphology is highly respected, Fancy said. Studies testing graphology’s accuracy have taken place at the University of Paris and Budapest University in Hungary.
In the United States, there is no program in graphology at the university level.

Changing personality traits
Studies on graphology started back in the 1600s. But it wasn’t until 1908 that Dr. Edgar Berillon, a French psychologist, introduced the concept of graphotherapy, discovering that written exercises could change mental disorders.
Further experiments, led by Dr. Pierre Janet of the French Academy of Medicine, by the late 1930s confirmed Berillon’s work.
German neurologist and graphologist Rudolph Pophal conducted research for 30 years that showed handwriting has a physiological and psychological impact in the brain, said Jeanette Farmer, a graphologist and graphotherapist for more than 22 years.
Graphotherapy goes beyond analyzing the personality by looking at the handwriting, to changing the personality with writing exercises.
Villarreal has been a graphotherapist for almost 10 years.
Rhoute finds it hard to believe that people can change personality traits by doing writing exercises.
However, Siegel said she is not convinced that graphotherapy by itself can account as a way to correct personality flaws.
“I do not rule out the possibility that graphotherapy can be effective,” Siegel said, “but I do not have enough information to counter my skepticism.”
But the powerful impact of the brain in handwriting cannot be ruled out, said Farmer.
Anna Beecroft, a counselor with a group home in Willmar, Minn., remembers how Villarreal helped her to identify a teenager staying at the home who was lying about his missing wallet. Villarreal worked at the group home last summer.
In the group home, an adolescent claimed that somebody stole his wallet. None of other teens staying at the home revealed who took it. By doing a handwriting analysis, Villarreal found that the teenager who said his wallet was missing had actually lied about it, Beecroft said.
Sgt. Julie Asmus from the Willmar Police Department had a few sentences of her handwriting analyzed by Villarreal. Although Asmus didn’t agree with some of adjectives used to described her personality, she said overall the analysis was accurate and a fun experience.
“I’ve never, ever had a person say that I was wrong,” Villarreal said.