An Outline of the Theory

According to Kelly (1955), human beings are mainly concerned with anticipating events and making their world predictable (Fundamental postulate). Like scientists in a laboratory, they achieve their knowledge of the world by conducting experiments.

PCP conceives humans as willing creatures capable of changing their view of the world and thus able to choose their destiny for themselves through the way they interact with the world. Their experiences lead to possible revisions and the formation of new perspectives which also frees people from the narrative of being victims of their biographies. This is what Kelly referred to as Constructive Alternativism.

Human beings are continually experimenting with their hypotheses and theories about the world, seeking to either extend or confirm their sense of who they are. The laboratory where they test their ideas is their relationships with others.

Whereas such a metaphor simplifies Kelly’s vision of people, his theory is developed in very abstract terms. Many find that it is not easy to grips with, which may be one of the reasons why PCP has been less widely employed in clinical psychology, psychotherapy and other developmental settings than other theories.

Kelly used eleven corollaries to provide the detail of how a personal construct system works – these are summarised below.

Constructs are acts of discrimination between two or more events. It is only possible to know something by discriminating it from something else (Dichotomy corollary).

Through discrimination between events, human beings make their world understandable and recognise replications of similar patterns (Construction corollary), which are then used as coordinates to navigate the world. Constructs are tested and retested in everyday experience.

Depending on the success of their experiments, people may change the way they construe events and, therefore, change their constructs system, which ultimately means changing themselves (Experience corollary).

Constructs are hierarchically organised (Organization corollary). The higher a construct is positioned in the hierarchy, the more significant the impact of it’s change will be on the construct system as a whole. The most important constructs, which define the person’s identity (core constructs), are positioned at the top of the hierarchy and encompass other constructs in their range of convenience.

Each construct can be used to understand a limited range of events (Range corollary) or, we could say, can be used within limited and specific contexts (e.g., “tall vs short” is usually used only in those situations where height is relevant).

Constructs can be more or less able to assimilate new elements within their range of convenience and generate new visions. Some constructs are relatively impermeable. Where this is the case, they do not incorporate many new elements, whereas others keep assimilating new elements and changing throughout our life (Modulation corollary). So-called permeable constructs allow us to navigate new situations better than impermeable ones, but both permeable and impermeable constructs are helpful in different contexts.

The criteria for using certain constructs rather than others in a given situation depends on the opportunity they provide to better explain the events in the person’s life (Choice corollary).

Kelly recognises that sometimes there are incompatibilities between the person’s behaviours and beliefs (Fragmentation corollary). Such inferential incompatibility may appear at a subordinate level but can sometimes be resolved at a super-ordinate level.

Discriminating and construing are completely subjective acts, as they depend on the person’s lived experience. This means people may make completely different discriminations of the same event depending on their constructs system. In this sense, any person is unique in making meaning (Individuality corollary).

At the same time, people share a similar understanding of similar or different events, and their experiences may resonate. This often happens when people share similar cultural backgrounds (Commonality corollary), but it is not always true.

The possibility of being in relation to one another is not connected to sharing similar construction systems, but it instead has to do with being able to use one own’s construction system to make sense of the other person’s experience (Sociality corollary). Not understanding the other person and not being able to construe their viewpoint put us in a position of “doing things to them” rather than actually being in a relationship with them.

More recently, as the Sociality corollary referred to the construing of only one person, Harry Procter introduced the Relationality corollary (1978) which includes a person’s construing of relationships and interactions with two or more others, giving us a deeper understanding of group situations. You see a video of Harry explaining this here.

For more videos and other resources, take a look at our Resources page.

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