Personal construct psychology (PCP) is the application of personal construct theory (PCT) to several areas of psychology, mainly but not exclusively the clinical, educational, developmental, and organisational fields, in addition to psychotherapy.
PCT starts from the phenomenological assumption that people interpret their experience of the world and themselves. It is the invention of an American psychologist, George A. Kelly (1905-1967), who presented it in 1955 in a work in two volumes, The Psychology of Personal Constructs, as a theory of personality mainly devoted to clinical diagnosis and psychotherapy.
Soon after its publication, Kelly’s ideas aroused incomprehension and misunderstanding in the psychological community, due to their being radically different from the most popular approaches of the period – psychoanalysis and behaviourism above all. Such originality of PCT had three main consequences: the difficulty to classify PCT into the traditional schools of psychology (it has been considered a cognitive, a phenomenological, and a humanistic-existential theory, to say the least), its suffering from the external perception of a sort of intellectual isolationism, and its survival thanks to groups of fervent followers throughout the world and the organisation of international, European, North American and Australasian congresses since 1976.
In the last few decades, with the spread of psychological constructivism, PCT has been recognized as its first expression, and as the most rigorous and cutting-edge constructivist approach to psychotherapy.
The theory rests on a philosophical assumption and a fundamental postulate and is composed of eleven corollaries. Being interested in how people give meaning to their experience, it can be considered a metatheory, a psychological theory about personal theories.
“All of our present interpretations of the universe are subject to revision or replacement”. This epistemological position, named by Kelly constructive alternativism, is contrasted with the more popular assumption of accumulative fragmentalism, according to which truth is collected piece by piece. If science advances by means of conjectures and refutations, the person-as-a-scientist – Kelly’s well-known metaphor – makes something similar: asking him- or herself questions about the nature of the universe, observing the world, construing structures of meaning (the personal constructs), and – behaving on the basis of such interpretative hypotheses – verifying their viability and eventually revising his or her construction of experience.
The implications of such epistemological choice are rigorously carried on by Kelly, with radical changes in the view of the person, the relationship of the person with other people, the personal suffering, and the psychotherapeutic process.
The latter is not aimed at the correction of maladaptive behaviours or irrational ideas, but rather at favouring in the client the re-interpretation of personal experience.
Differently from the period in which PCT was born, nowadays, the fields of psychology and psychotherapy number many approaches which make reference to psychological constructivism, such as some cognitive perspectives, the social constructionist approach to psychotherapy, the developments of certain systemic-relational therapies, and some contemporary elaborations of psychoanalysis. However, unlike its “cousins”, PCT remains the only constructivist perspective which is not nothing but a theory, but is, in fact, a total psychology.
Lastly, worth mentioning, is an instrument of research and assessment that Kelly invented to explore personal constructs, the repertory grid technique, which has always interested even researchers and practitioners who are not based on personal construct theory.
The George Kelly Society (GKS) is a multidisciplinary professional society founded in 2016 on the initiative of J. Scheer, which supports the study of, and communication about, the life and work of George A. Kelly, the Psychology of Personal Constructs, and Kelly’s ongoing influence in the many fields to which he contributed.
The focus of the organisation is the Psychology of Personal Constructs, its theoretic developments and practical applications, and its relationships to neighbouring fields.
The Journal of Constructivist Psychology (formerly International Journal of Personal Construct Psychology) – official publication of the Constructivist Psychology Network – is the first publication to provide a professional forum for such diverse expressions of constructivism as personal construct theory, dialogical self theory, radical constructivism, social constructionism, narrative psychology, and postmodern psychology. JCP is co-edited by R. A. Neimeyer and J. D. Raskin.
Personal Construct Theory & Practice is an international journal devoted to the psychology of personal constructs. Founded by J. Scheer in 2004, this journal publishes papers on personal construct theory as well as its applications in a variety of disciplines, such as psychotherapy and counselling, education, and organisational behaviour. It also serves as a forum for practitioners in the various professions involved.