social icons graphic

Personal Construct Therapy


In personal construct therapy subjects are seen as those who are unable to test appropriately and elaborate their construct systems for the same reason, so their understanding of themselves and their interpersonal worlds present problems.  Their construing may have become circular, so they are endlessly testing and retesting the same hypotheses, and are able to accept the implications they collect.  They may have moved into the kind of chaos where constructions are so loose they cannot provide any clear expectations to be tested.


Kelly’s “first principle” was, “If you don’t know what is wrong with a patient, ask him, he may be able to tell you”.  This is in contrast to many therapies which would see introspection as unhelpful.

A form of assessment called ‘self characterisation’ is used where the subject writes a character sketch about himself in the third person from the view point of an intimate and sympathetic friend.  It aims to get the person’s structures of their world in as objective a way as possible.

Another technique that Kelly formulated is fixed role therapy which can be used to get some movement in the therapy.  From the subject’s self-portrait, that of one who is psychologically at 90 degrees to the subject is drawn up and adjusted until the subject can feel comfortable with it.  The subject then acts this role for perhaps 3 weeks, seeing the therapist frequently to discuss experiences and how to play the role with the therapist.  The subjects will be less self-centred during this time and should see that people react differently to them.  The object is not to make them adopt this new role but to see that they are not trapped inside their own autobiography and their own customary thoughts and behaviour.

Repertory Grids  A grid is a way of getting individuals to tell you, in mathematical terms, the system of constructs they use in consideration of, say teachers.  The first step would be to ask them to think about three teachers, and state some important way in which two are alike, and thereby different from the third.  The person may differentiate between them in terms of sex.  With three other teachers the construct discrimination could be in terms of ‘lively v boring’; and with three others, ‘intelligent v stupid’, and so on, until fresh combinations of teachers fail to elicit any new constructs.  The teachers would be the elements used to elicit the constructs.

Kelly developed the Repertory Grid technique where the elements are written across the top of a matrix and the constructs down the side.  A tick is then placed in each cell where the element can be described by the emergent pole of the construct.  (The emergent pole of a construct is the one that embraces most of the immediately perceived content.)

As a demonstration of this technique we may elicit some constructs in respect of five people (elements), e.g. Freud, Jung, Rogers, Watson and Erickson.

A matrix should be drawn as in Figure 1, with the elements inserted.  The elements should be written on a card so that they can be presented to the subject in various combinations of three, or triads.  For each triad the subject is asked in what way two of the elements are alike, and thus different from the third.  The way in which the two are alike is said to be the emergent pole of the construct.  In this example, the first triad was between elements 1, 2 and 3 i.e. Freud, Jung and Rogers.  The subject said that the two which were alike were Freud and Jung, and that they were different to the third element in that they were analytical.  Thus ‘analytical’ was entered in the emergent pole column.

A tick was placed in the cell where the element was described by the emergent pole of the construct.  To make it clearer a cross may be put in the other cells.

The second triad consisted of elements 3, 4 and 5, Rogers, Watson and Erickson.  Rogers and Watson were said to be alike, and they were different from Erickson because they did not use hypnosis.  The construct non-hypnotic v hypnotic was inserted, and ticks indicated which elements were described by the emergent pole, i.e. were non-hypnotic.  Other constructs that were elicited were inserted and ticks placed in appropriate boxes.

A simple method of analysing a grid can reveal similarities and differences between the constructs.  Every construct is compared with every other, their similarities counted and entered in the matrix as in Figure 2.  One cell of a grid is said to be similar to another if they both contain a tick, or if they are both blank.  In Figure 1 the similarity ‘score’ between construct 1 and 2 is 3 (two elements have ticks for each construct and one element has crosses for each construct).  The similarity ‘score’ between constructs 1 and 3 is 0 because the elements all have a tick for one construct and a cross for the other.  (This figures as all analytical are non-American and vice versa.)  The matrix can then be completed, though only one side need be as the other is a mirror image.

Practice the technique by eliciting more constructs and completing another figure 1, then completing another figure 2.

This method of comparison can also be used for comparing each element with every other.  A matrix similar to figure 2 can be drawn up but elements compared instead of constructs.  When this technique is used in practice, using people as elements, it can be very revealing, as it shows how the person sees their social world in terms of similarities and differences between people with whom they are acquainted.

Figure 1


1 2 3 4 5
√ √ X X X Analytical Not Analytical 1
√ √ √ √ X Non-hypnotic Hypnotic 2
X X √ √ √ American Non-American 3
√ √ √ X √ Non-behavioural Behavioural 4
X √ √ √ √ Gentile Jewish 5


Figure 2

1 2 3 4 5
1 3 0 3 1
2 2 3 3
3 2 4
4 3

Shaun Brookhouse

Recent Posts