George Kelly

Main article: Personal construct theory

Personal construct theory or personal construct psychology (PCP) is a theory of personality and cognition developed by the American psychologist George Kelly in the 1950s.[1] From the theory, Kelly derived a psychotherapy approach and also a technique called the repertory grid interview that helped his patients to analyze their own constructs (schemas or ways of seeing the world) with minimal intervention or interpretation by the therapist.[2] The repertory grid was later adapted for various uses within organizations, including decision-making and interpretation of other people’s world-views.[3]

Kelly explicitly stated that each individual’s task in understanding their personal psychology is to put in order the facts of his or her own experience. Then the individual, like the scientist, is to test the accuracy of that constructed knowledge by performing those actions the constructs suggest. If the results of their actions are in line with what the knowledge predicted, then they have done a good job of finding the order in their personal experience. If not, then they can modify the construct: their interpretations or their predictions or both. This method of discovering and correcting constructs is simply the scientific method used by all modern sciences to discover the truths about the universe we live in.

Kelly’s fundamental view of personality was that people are like naive scientists who see the world through a particular lens, based on their uniquely organized systems of construction, which they use to anticipate events. Personal construct theory explores the individual’s map they form by coping with the psychological stresses of their lives. But because people are naive scientists, they sometimes employ systems for construing the world that are distorted by idiosyncratic experiences not applicable to their current social situation. A system of construction that chronically fails to characterize and/or predict events, and is not appropriately revised to comprehend and predict one’s changing social world, is considered to underlie psychopathology (or mental illness.)

On the other hand, Kelly’s fundamental view of people as naive scientists was incorporated into most later-developed forms of cognitive-behavioral therapy that blossomed in the late 70s and

early 80s, and into intersubjective psychoanalysis which leaned heavily on Kelly’s phenomenological perspective and his notion of schematic processing of social information.[ Kelly’s personality theory was distinguished from drive theories (such as psychodynamic models) on the one hand, and from behavioral theories on the other, in that people were not seen as solely motivated by instincts (such as sexual and aggressive drives) or learning history but by their need to characterize and predict events in their social world. Because the constructs people developed for construing experience have the potential to change, Kelly’s theory of personality is less deterministic than drive theory or learning theory. People could conceivably change their view of the world and in so doing change the way they interacted with it, felt about it, and even others’ reactions to them.

Kelly believed in a non-invasive approach to psychotherapy. Rather than having the therapist interpret the person’s psyche, which would amount to imposing the doctor’s constructs on the patient, the therapist should just act as a facilitator of the patient finding his or her own constructs. The patient’s behavior is then mainly explained as ways to selectively observe the world, act upon it and update the construct system in such a way as to increase predictability. To help the patient find his or her constructs, Kelly developed the repertory grid interview technique.

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