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Kelly’s personal construct therapy

Kelly (1955): personal construct therapy.This theory has led to the formulation of therapies which can be seen as broadly cognitive in their approach, although Kelly is regarded by some as a humanistic psychologist because of his emphasis on the importance of experience and individuality. According to Kelly, our view of the world and of ourselves is coloured by our personal constructs, i.e. the concepts which we use to make sense of the world, such as ‘good-bad’. These will be maintained as long as they seem to give an accurate prediction of what to expect.

People who need therapy are ‘stuck’ with inappropriate constructs, and need to be helped to find alternative ways of evaluating themselves and their problems. A wide variety of techniques may be used in personal construct theory to help them to do this, a selection of which are outlined below: Techniques used in personal construct therapy

1 The repertory grid is a procedure for finding out what constructs the client uses and how the client views him/herself and others. It is useful for monitoring change over time.

2 Laddering. The client is asked to explain constructs at a progressively more abstract level. For example, a preference for friendly rather than aggressive people may be explained on the basis that friendly people are less likely to attack the client; if the client is then asked to explain why being attacked is a problem, she may say that she doesn’t know how to handle the situation.

3 ABC model. The client is asked to explain the advantages and disadvantages of each pole of a construct. Taking the example of aggressive versus friendly again, aggressive behaviour may have the advantage of not being picked on by others but the disadvantage of discouraging friendships; friendly behaviour would show the opposite pattern.

4 Self characterisation. The client is asked to write a character sketch as if he/she were the main character in a play.

5 Fixed-role therapy. The therapist uses the fixed-role sketch to write another version which has been modified, until the client feels that it describes a person he could potentially be. The client then has to enact this fixed role for a few weeks. The idea of this is to convince the client that change is possible and that this will produce different responses in others. The applicability of this approach to therapy depends very much on the resourcefulness of the therapist. Verbal fluency in the client and shared cultural expectations between therapist and client are helpful. In practice, withdrawn schizophrenics or violent clients will be difficult to deal with. In general, it is not applicable to group therapy, although there are some examples of its use in this context (e.g. Beail and Parker 1991).

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