Brief summary of PCP

Personal Construct Psychology (PCP) is based on the philosophy of Constructive Alternativism in which present interpretations are always open to revisions and replacements based on new knowledge and experience.

The theory focuses on human uniqueness, approaching change through personal meanings and is highly adaptable to different settings. PCP has been effectively applied in organisations, education, business and sport as well as clinically.

PCP can be distinguished from so-called drive theories and behavioural theories because people aren’t seen as being  motivated by their instincts (as in drive theories) or their learning history (as in behavioural approaches). But rather they are understood to be guided by their need to anticipate events in their social world.

Human beings are understood as being mainly concerned with anticipating events and making their world predictable. Like scientists in a laboratory, they achieve their knowledge of the world by conducting experiments.

PCP approaches individual change through the exploration of personal meaning, with an emphasis on understanding how each person endeavours to navigate their worlds in the social and cultural contexts of their everyday lives.

Some key elements of PCP

What is a construct?

We don’t simply react to events, we create patterns, known as constructs, to help us make sense of them, of ourselves, our environment and other people.

It is only possible to know something by discriminating it from something else.  In this way, human beings make their world understandable. They can recognise both patterns of similarity as well as difference from what has gone before, therefore, a construct is an act of discrimination between two or more events and is bi-polar in nature – for example “cold vs hot” , “good vs bad” etc

People as personal scientists

The scientist’s ultimate aim is to predict and control” Kelly (1955)

We all have our own theories about the situations and events of our lives. We all have expectations and anticipations. As we live, we test our theories through our actions and choices.

Everyone is trying to make the best guess they can about how things will turn out. We experiment with our behaviour as we go along and the results of our experiments either confirm our anticipations of the world (which affirms for us who we think we are, who we think everyone else is and how we think the world is) or they don’t.

We may make changes to our ideas accordingly though sometimes we are better or worse scientists and sometimes we ignore the evidence altogether, or even cook the books, but we are all experimenting just the same. And through our behaviour and interactions, we keep testing our theories – in this way, we are personal scientists

Some Other Key Features of PCP

  • There is always an alternative
  • Exploring and creating meaning
  • Examining similarities and differences
  • Staying curious and staying propositional so that interpretations and theories are always open to reconsideration and adjustment
  • Asking what if ….?   Acting as if …..
  • Adopting a credulous approach with others
  • Optimism – “No one needs to paint themselves into a corner” (Kelly  )

This is a very simplified account of Kelly’s vision of people. His theory is developed in very abstract terms, making it challenging even to the best-willed reader. This may be one of the reasons why despite its applicability to a wide range of settings, PCP has not been largely employed in clinical psychology or other developmental settings, but remains largely on the fringes. For a deeper understanding, take a look at the Outline of a Theory section and our Resources page.

About PCP