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Personal Construct Theory

  Personal Construct Theory, the work of George Kelly, was first published in 1955. Kelly thought that the most useful way to look at the nature of humankind was as a model scientist. All human beings, whatever the culture, had, he decided, scientist-like aspects. His psychological model of humankind, unlike a biological one, did not look at aims but at a type of attitude towards being in the world: it was an ontological standpoint. Kelly questioned our motivation, and finds us seeking to predict and control the cause of events which are our life; in every human act we make theories, test hypotheses and weigh up experimental evidence. The many differences in personal viewpoints correspond to the differences between the theoretical points of view of different scientists.

Kelly\'s ‘constructs’ are the total set of hypotheses about reality that any person holds at one time. A person\'s aim is to control and predict the environment. The method of enquiry used by a therapist to encourage the use of these tools is a form of cognitive therapy. The therapist in turn puts aside his constructs and attempts to enter into the world of constructs belonging to the other person. It assumes that we are all unique and do not construct the world alike. People are seen to experiment with information, to make it meaningful and become master of their own lives. The human baby is dependent for a long period, and has to make sense of its existence using this scientific apparatus. At some point the baby will have to decide what is my body and what is my mother\'s body. This is a construct: what is and what is not.

Personal Construct theory is a philosophical standpoint (like phenomenology), as well as a theory of personality. We are not driven by unconscious forces (as we are in Freud\'s model), but are agencies whose anticipation looks towards the future. The therapist using Personal Construct Theory will also use tools: grids, questionnaires, drawn models, reflecting the scientific process which goes on in the patient and in the therapy. MJ

Further reading G.A. Kelly, A Theory of Personality: the Psychology of Personal Constructs.



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