Jonathan D. Raskin, Ph.D.

Making Meaning

Want to Learn about Personal Construct Psychology?

George Kelly’s theory is alive, well, and being celebrated this week.

Posted Jul 04, 2017

I’m heading off by train tomorrow to attend the 22nd International Congress on Personal Construct Psychology, which takes place later this week at Concordia University in Montreal, Canada. To ring in the congress, here’s a quick post and some pertinent links on the basics of personal construct psychology, the theory at the center of the proceedings.

George Kelly Society
George A. Kelly, founder of personal construct psychology.
Source: George Kelly Society

In 1955, the American psychologist George A. Kelly published two-volumes introducing the world to personal construct psychology. The premise of Kelly’s theory was straightforward, yet radical. Kelly contended that people never know the world directly, but only via a set of “personal constructs” that they themselves create. A construct, said Kelly, consists of an idea and its perceived opposite. To define what something is, Kelly theorized, you must discern what it isn’t. Thus, “happy” to me may differ from “happy” to you, depending on how we construe its opposite. Obviously, this is just a summary of the basic premise of Kelly’s theory. If you’re hungry for more, check out this selection of essential readings. Or, buy the first three chapters of Kelly's two-volume magnum opus.

Personal construct psychology, or PCP, has a lot to offer researchers and clinicians alike. It invites them to understand people’s personal meanings by measuring their constructs. Instead of using concepts made up by psychologists to understand people, personal construct psychology tries to understand people in their own terms. What constructs do they employ to make sense of themselves?  And how might we best measure those constructs? That’s what research on the repertory grid is all about. The repertory grid, introduced by Kelly, is a way to elicit people’s personal constructs. Want to test it out yourself? You can fill out your own rep grid here. You can also watch a video of personal construct psychologist Vivien Burr talking about PCP and the rep grid here.

Eliciting constructs using the repertory grid is just one way that PCP can be quite useful for psychotherapists. What makes PCP so unique is that it tries to understand clients as they understand themselves, rather than relying on technical diagnostic language that fails to take into consideration how clients themselves make sense of their plight. For more on personal construct therapy, check out this brief video.

Personal construct theory remains alive and well. It has organizations in the US, Europe, and Australia. The Constructivist Psychology Network and the George Kelly Society maintain websites that regularly post updates on the latest developments in PCP, including how to join and when and where upcoming conferences will be held.

Speaking of which, I’ve got a train to Montreal to catch!