Changing Conversations: Persons in Transition


Vincent Kenny & Georgianna Gardner



Kelly describes two main forms of human relationships, that which is based on the Psychology of Understandings, and that which is based on the Psychology of Manipulations. In this paper we explore how personal construct therapy is based firmly in the Psychology of Understandings. Using the later writings of Kelly, this paper attempts to distinguish these two ‘psychologies’ with a set of criteria which are fundamentally ethical and moral.

One of the main concerns of Kelly was that of the depth and genuineness of human interrelationships. From the point of view of PCP the only genuine human social processes [in which all participants can personally develop and change] are to be found under the Psychology of Understandings, while the Psychology of Manipulations can only lead to pragmatic relationships [in which there is no reciprocal influencing processes for change] of [at best] mutual services / use, and at worse relations of abuse, violence and negation.



Changing Conversations: Persons in Transition



PART 1 -

1.1. The Two Psychologies of Understanding and of Manipulating.

1.2. So what kind of Society can we create together?

1.3. Being Under the Social Abuse of the Consumer Culture

1.3.1. ‘Suspiciousness Vs Being Exploited’.

1.3.2. The Culture of Manipulative Psychologies


PART 2 -

2.1. The Alternative of Living Constructivism

2.2. The Reconstruction of Life and Living

2.3. The Reach of Human Living

2.4. Two Very Different Psychologies of Human Relating


PART 3 -

3.1. The Psychotherapeutic Relationship

3.2. The Role of the Therapist

3.3. Transfers & other Sticky Labels

3.4. Conversing Within the Psychology of Understandings : Mutual Changes in an Ethical Drift

3.5. Maintaining Relevance in a Universe of Change : - Living in a Universe of Change



4.1. Living the Constructivist Outlook / Ethic

4.2. The Ethical Choice





THE TWO PSYCHOLOGIES: - Of Understanding or of Manipulation



In our everyday social actions we have two main options in terms of how we relate ourselves to other people. We can either treat others in a pragmatic, superficial and manipulative manner, or we can attempt to actually relate our Self to the Selves of the others. This latter option is NOT superficial or manipulative, but is rather a serious effort to be in a living and changing relationship through our efforts to understand the other, and to make ourselves understood by the others in significant ways.

Obviously, much of our everyday social action is of the pragmatic form where, for example, we rush into a shop to buy some bread. In this type of case there is neither the time nor the mutual invitation to engage in an interaction of the non superficial kind - and the busy check-out attendant will not take kindly to you holding up the long queue behind you by exploring conversational themes that have nothing to do with buying bread. However, the tendency in western society generally is to extend the pragmatic-manipulative formula into all types of social occasions, even those in our more intimate relationships where it is not appropriate. In the case of personal and familial relationships it is more appropriate that we engage in the effort to understand one another’s experiencing, because it is in this way that what Kelly calls ‘genuine social relationships’ can develop.


Kelly calls these two options for social relatedness the Psychology of Understanding on the one hand, and the Psychology of Manipulations on the other hand. In this paper we are going to explore what these two ‘psychologies’ consist in for Kelly, and also look at how the PCP approach to psychotherapy is based on the Psychology of Understandings.



1.1. The Two Psychologies of Understanding and of Manipulating.

Far from a vision of solipsistically alienated individuals who can never contact one another Kelly sees the human situation as containing the choice between two very different pathways for being together. The first way that we can be together is by being reciprocally open to one anothers’ influences or specifications, which means flowing together in a living drift within which we undergo personal transformations together. The fact that transformations are undertaken together is extremely important in human affairs because whatever changes occur will be more likely to be compatible one’s changes with another’s changes. The personal changes that emerge in the participants will have an internal coherence

The opposite situation is where someOne undertakes personal changes in a unilateral manner - that is, in a way that does not take into account the living of any of the other participants in the network of conversation in which he has his existence - with the likelihood that whatever changes emerge will tend to be ‘problematic’ for the others, with the added likelihood that the already strained relations between the person who is seeking change and the others in his living system will become more difficult to sustain.

This is often seen in therapy where someone presents to the therapist alone, with a problem that involves all the other members of the family, but who insists that they do not want the others to be present. This presents a special problem for the therapist who would prefer to engage in a family therapy instead of an individual therapy with certain clients - especially from the point of view of how to make the personal changes of the presented change-seeker relevant to the ongoing drift of living of the other [non present] family members. It is not unusual for a spouse to deliberately use this strategy in order to make radical changes which render her living with her husband a future impossibility. In other words, she uses the therapy to strengthen her resolve and capacity to separate from a husband she can no longer live with.

The Psychology of Manipulation

In the Psychology of Manipulation the person who is being manipulative of others is NOT open to being reciprocally influenced by the others with whom he is interacting. Rather, he holds himself ‘in reserve’, as if at a distance from the others and their experiences, in such a way that he concentrates on getting what he wants ‘out of’ the others. He is concentrated on stimulating them to produce that which he is desiring, like a hungry farmer trying to get his chickens to lay him some eggs for his breakfast. He is not too concerned about the ‘inner states’ of his chickens, or of how they feel about this pressure to ‘lay eggs’ at such an uncivilised hour, or even of what they might prefer to be doing if it was left up to themselves - no, all of this is ignored and instead what is focused upon are the end egg products.

If we follow this manipulative farmer’s example, and construct a social system based on this type of focus and value, what type of society would we generate?


1.2. So what kind of Society can we create together?

The Parasocial System

A social system can be characterised either by -

[a] the subordination of society's institutional structures and rules to the realization of the humans who constitute it, or, alternatively by

[b] a system of non-social [or parasocial] relations - i.e., where humans undertake relations and interactions which do not give priority to their own individual realization but require only their social behavior.

Hence, most relations within the context of 'work' are not social relations.

To quote Maturana where he says -

"This is why I say that work relations as relations in which the only important element are the actions, as is apparent in the fact that in these relations the humans can be replaced by robots, are not social relations. ... in work relations the human condition of the workers is an impertinence, and that systems of work relations are always open to human abuse of the human beings that realize them" .

Thus in defining third-order systems as "social" or "parasocial" we are making an ethical selection based on our valuing the realisation of personal properties [qualities] as paramount or not. In terms of Kelly's personal construct psychology we are choosing between a 'psychology of understandings' (the search for novelty, differences, evolving relations) or a 'psychology of manipulation' (the search for certainty, control, final solutions). Thus a genuine social system is that where we privilege the process of ongoing mutual changes in our living together, rather than a system in which some one individual is privileged to impose, unilaterally, his designs upon others, without taking any account of what this means for those others who are seen as mere examples of ‘disconnected events’ and who are constituted as what von Foerster calls 'trivial machines'.

The necessary consequence of the Trivial Machine thinking is the irrelevance of the personal individuality of those others who compose the system. At the same time their individual desires, intentions and requirements for being satisfied or realised are also irrelevant.

What type of living system are we describing here? Its central feature is that it renders the other participants as ‘victims’ or at least as ‘passive recipients’. The more a human system acts as if it is unilateral and autocratic the more ‘patient-like’ its members become. The personal properties of the participants are ignored, abused, or actively negated.


1.3. Being Under the Social Abuse of the Consumer Culture 

A recent APA publication entitled ‘Consumerism can spoil the good life’ highlighted this issue exactly in terms of the social and psychological problems increasingly arising from living in a culture premised on ‘individual action’ within a psychology of manipulations.

This article shows the growing awareness among American psychologists as to the psychological dangers of having to live within the ‘free-enterprise system’ as a constituent consumer. Here are some illustrative quotes from the article that we want to use, to vividly exemplify what we have been saying so far about living under a social system of Manipulation.

"Consumption has become so intricate and arduous that Americans mindlessly sacrifice time with family, friends and pleasurable pursuits in their quest for the most economical car, the most durable running shoe, the best mortgage rate or the cheapest bran cereal."

"A host of economic and psychological dynamics intertwine to immerse us in a game of buying and selling, at the expense of relating on a deeper level...".

"The system holds few incentives for honesty and courtesy, particularly when it means respecting a customer’s wish to decline a purchase. Instead, it rewards the hustling, unscrupulous salesperson who will use any method to make a sale."


1.3.1. ‘Suspiciousness Vs Being Exploited’.

The dominant choice for the American consumer under the hard-sell manipulativeness of the highly-trained sales force is along a construct dimension which we can label

‘Suspiciousness Vs Being Exploited’.

The choice is to either be wary and suspicious of what is being sold to you, or to risk ending up having been tricked and exploited by the salesman or woman. Indeed this is the core choice when living under the Psychology of Manipulations. We are obliged to remain distant and wary [alienated from] of the other who otherwise will be likely to exploit us for their own purposes. Equally, when it is we who have to achieve a particular goal, we will be obliged also to use manipulative methods to trick the others and overcome their wariness in order to get them to agree with our proposals

The main thrust of this article was to ask how it is that psychologists can help people who are experiencing the problems mentioned. The responses made can be readily gathered into the same basic choice. i.e. to teach them to be better participants in the Psychology of Manipulation. For example, the article suggested giving people assertiveness training to avoid being exploited by unscrupulous salespersons. Alternatively, to help them and society at large to become aware of the problems endemic in this way of living [eg. by the re-introduction of ‘community values, justice and honesty’] with the aim of helping them develop the alternative Psychology of Understandings at a community level.

So, not surprisingly, these American psychologists are also operating within the assumptions of The Psychology of Manipulation [teach them to be ‘assertive’!] or the Psychology of Understandings [reconstruct the value systems of the community at large]. We see at least the beginnings of an effort to get outside of the Manipulative Psychologies and to bring into question the very basis of the cultural interrelationships.


1.3.2. So the Culture of Manipulative Psychologies is that of -

From this list we can see that its main characteristic is to stay on the Surface of social and personal realities, and by doing so, to reduce the complexities of living to those aspects which may have Entertainment Value for the observer.

We might read the addictive popularity of the Tele Soap Operas in most countries as an individual effort to reclaim the interior complexities of life’s relationships by watching other people express pain, suffering, joyousness, and other complex interpersonal phenomena. Such phenomena are increasingly preempted from our own lives due to our being immersed in a western manipulative culture which leaves us NO TIME to delve below the shiny Surface of superficial living. Even when there IS time, we find there is NO INCLINATION for ourselves or others to be ‘bothered with’ the human phenomena buried below the Shiny Surface.

So to live Manipulative Psychology is to stay on the surface of events and show no interest in HOW these events have actually been generated by the human participants involved [or not involved].

To understand what Kelly is saying is characteristic of a Psychology of Understandings we have begun by contrasting it as in the above discussion of the consumerist Psychology of Manipulations in which persons are treated as if they were Trivial Machines.




Putting all of the above together we can get a better idea of what Living Constructivism can be about. Each catch-phrase of the Psychology of Manipulations has its counter-response in the Psychology of Understandings. We can characterise each pair of opposed phrases as itself a bi-polar construct, at one side of which we find the Psychology of Manipulations and on the opposite side of which we find the defining characteristics of the Psychology of Understanding.

It is living in relationships in such a way so as to value -

Unpacking these a little more we have: -

1. Processes Vs Conclusions

The ways whereby someone comes to act in a particular way is of more interest in the Psychology of Understandings than merely a description of what the person ended up doing [Concluding].

2. The Complexity of Self-Reconstruction Vs the Quick Fix

We must have an understanding of the complexities involved in any personal change processes, rather than a pragmatic interest in ‘getting people to behave themselves properly’.

3. Opportunities Arising from Unintended Consequences Vs The Main Outcome

Kelly puts a big value on the change opportunities offered by those events that we did not expect, intend or seek out. This value for the ‘surprising nature of living’ is contrasted with the attention given by therapists and others to the ‘obvious outcomes’ of their client’s explorations.

4. Creative Reconstruction Vs the Final Analysis

In the Psychology of Understandings there is a high value placed upon the human creativity required for radical change in interpersonal and personal space - including in the diagnostic phase - in contrast to approaches that focus upon reaching a ‘clear and final diagnosis of the case’.

5. Observers’ Consensuality Vs Simple Solutions

Of great importance to PCP is the ways in which groups of participants - eg. in a family - organize their conversations for agreements according to specific rules and procedures. This highlights the need for the therapy to focus on the consensual orientation of the network of conversations of the clients rather than hoping to unilaterally invent a ‘simple solution’ out of relation to the network in question.

6. Reflexive Awareness Vs Immediate Gratification

It is necessary to build a reflexive frame of reference for the person to be able to ‘make a pause’ between his everyday spontaneous interactions and the ultimate effects and impacts of these actions on the others in his system. This can be read as a necessary form of ‘Self-Interruption’ which is in stark contrast to the image of the endlessly consuming person who is in effect being consumed by those products to which he seems to be so addicted.

7. The Domain of Ignorance Vs the Cover Story

The orientation of the Psychology of Understandings is to look always for that which is not present - for that which has been systematically ignored by the choices of the person. This contrasts with ‘staying on the surface’ of events, and believing everything that you read, hear and tell yourself. Many of the things that we habitually tell ourselves can be seen to be ‘convenient lies’.


2.2. The Reconstruction of Life and Living

The psychologist or therapist using the Psychology of Manipulation to effectively ‘predict and control’ his clients may not understand very much about those other persons. Again Kelly observes –

"... I often tell my students that a psychopath is a stimulus-response psychologist who takes it seriously. This is to say that our classic model of the psychopath [whether anyone actually conforms to that model altogether or not is another question] describes a man who thinks he can get along with his fellow man by producing the right stimuli in order to invoke accommodating behavior. In other words, he thinks of his fellow man only as an organism which mediates between stimulus and response, and he is continually looking for the stimulus which will produce the response he wants....

But if we understand our fellow man as a creature who himself has an outlook - who invents and tests and revises in terms of his outlook - our own interaction with him will be of a different order. In this case our construction of him will be a construction of a creature who himself devises constructions. If we are to understand the person then we must seek out some interpretation of his construction rather than of his behavior merely." [Kelly in Maher, p.220]

So depending upon how we orient ourselves in any given situation, whether, that is, we choose to align ourselves on one side or another of these several contrasting choices listed above, determines our possibilities for new learning and change. On one side we will remain largely in comfortable ignorance, on the other side there is the danger of coming to know more than we had imagined or wanted to know. In both pathways for going on in life there are serious consequences for how we develop, for who we continue to be, and for who we might become.

The pathway of Manipulation promises the repetitive Certainty of our past being projected into our near future, but the pathway of Understandings promises personal changes which will be materialised in a novel future with discrete breaks with the past personal history.

The opposite way of living [to that of being a Trivial Machine] is that in which the society recognises each of its members as an Important Living-Being’. As von Foerster pointed out, it is more accurate to call human beings ‘human becomings’, since we are never fully present in the sense of being finally evolved. So the full sense of Kellian psychology is that contained in the image of the ‘Important Human Becoming’ -

This person is exactly an ‘Important Human Becoming’.

2.3. The Reach of Human Living

The person is Important because they ought never to be ‘trivialised’

The person is Human rather than ‘machine-like’, and

The person is a form of Becoming rather than a ‘finished packaged consumer product’

Kelly has expressed all of these values in his synthetic proposition which he called the Fundamental Postulate which says -

" A person’s processes are psychologically channelized
by the ways in which he anticipates events".

Kelly elaborates this outline where he says -

"A person lives his life by reaching out for what comes next and the only channels he has for reaching are the personal constructions he is able to place upon what may actually be happening. If in this effort he fails, by whatever criterion, the prudence of his constructions is laid open to question and his grasp upon the future is shaken." [Kelly in Maher, p.228]

Living in Reciprocal Understanding is therefore the constructivist preference for humanity. Kelly comments -

"To suggest that each man contrives his own system and plots events within it is not to say that each of us is bottled up forever in his own private world. Two people, say a mother and a newborn child, may not have a full intellectual meeting of minds the first time they try to enter into a discourse with each other in the maternity ward. But by sharing their encounter with events - ... some mothers and daughters do develop a fair understanding, each of what the other is talking about. ...

Children and men, therefore, cease to be altogether alone when they try to see events through the spectacles others use, even while reserving the privilege of using their own. And when they couch this interrogatory effort in behavioural terms they make roles for themselves. ... A society thrives on the roles its members play. It can emerge and remain viable as long as men see each other as construing beings rather than merely reactive objects, as long as questions are asked through deeds and as long as the reconstruing of outcomes continues apace. " [Kelly in Maher p.28]

In this quote Kelly describes and affirms a number of very important things:-

[1] That the trap of solipsism is awaiting only those who pursue a vision of others as mere ‘reactive objects’.

[2] In contrast, for those who pursue their efforts to understand what others are up to [rather than just trying to ‘make them behave’ as they ought to], they generate together a different form of social living in which they are all joined together by the consensual efforts to and values for accounting for social actions and reciprocal understandings.

[3] For Kelly this describes a viable society rather than one in danger of extinction from manipulative greed.


2.4. Two Very Different Psychologies of Human Relating

So the above comments can be summarised in the following Figure like this -


Figure 1 - Contrasting the Two Psychologies of Relating




1. Emphasises Processes

2. Sees Complexity of Self-Reconstruction

3. Benefits from Unintended Consequences

4. Values Creative reConstruing

5. Explores Observer Consensuality

6. Elaborates Reflexive Awareness

7. Is Oriented to the Domain of Ignorance


1. Emphasises Conclusions

2. Wishes for the simplicity of the Quick Fix

3. Looks to the Main Predictable Outcome

4. Asks for the Final Analysis

5. Hopes someone knows a Simple Solution

6. Encourages Immediate Gratification

7. Swallows the Cover Story


These items listed here can be gathered into two main clusters that define and describe two main superordinating principles for kellian psychotherapy. The first 4 items all describe the necessity for ‘Creative Effort’ , and the last 3 items describe the necessity for taking ‘Personal Responsibility’. Let us unpack this clustering briefly:-


Item 1 - on ‘processes’ shows the kellian interest in the spontaneous Creativity of the personal construing system, even in terms of how it gets itself in very tricky spots.

Item 2 - on ‘Self-ReConstruction’ shows the complexity of self-Other changes: and that a major Creative effort is needed to transform the Self-Other patterns of living, especially starting from the point where difficulties have already arisen.

Item 3 - on ‘Unintended Consequences’ shows the challenge of perceiving and creatively utilising the invalidational results of experiencing Unintended Consequences of one’s actions.

Item 4 - on ‘Creative ReConstruing’ shows the emphasis on continually reinterpreting that which has already been stabilised as ‘real’.



Item 5 - on ‘Observer Consensuality’ shows the necessity for bringing into questioning awareness one’s habitual ways of bringing forth and conserving one’s everyday reality.

Item 6 - on ‘Reflexive Awareness’ shows the necessity for bringing into questioning awareness one’s habitual ways of ‘being OneSelf’ - as if an independently existing ‘fact’.

Item 7 - on ‘the Domain of Ignorance’ shows the necessity for bringing into questioning awareness one’s habitual ways of Obscuring, Ignoring and Negating other choices which we have decided NOT to elaborate in our living, and to which we have become ‘Blind’.

These two principles can fully characterise the nature of the personal construct psychology approach to human change processes. At this point two quotes from Kelly can help to illustrate the values contained in the these superordinates which we have called

The first quote illustrates the importance of how the clients take up an active responsibility for what they are doing in their lives, and the manner in which we all have a ‘theoretical orientation’.

"[Beyond these] there is the commitment of the patient. His outlook had something to do with the kind of relationship he was prepared to establish with the interviewer, the questions he must have asked or avoided asking, those he choose to answer and how he choose to interpret them, what he remembered, what he considered important enough to report, and how he put his observations into the formal language of words. No matter how clever the rest of us may be, it was this fellow’s deeply engrained theory that structured the field, not merely as to what was produced in the protocol, but as to the very course of the events in his own turbulent life." [Kelly in Maher, p.310]

also, more specifically -

"I regret to say that it took me a long time and the persistent efforts of a number of able and determined patients to make it clear to me that psychotherapy is not simply a form of treatment by which they could be managed. At last they were somehow able to demonstrate that what I did to them did not make them well or compel them to conduct themselves with propriety. It was their behavior that eventually made them well, just as their original distress had been an ill-fated undertaking of their own contrivance.

The second quote looks to the creative process of self-transformation as embodied in the novel actions of the clients.

"The exciting thing about the psychology of man is that he, for one, tries what he has never tried before and thus transforms himself before the psychologist’s eyes..." [p. 41]

To the degree that we engage in relationships based upon the Psychology of Understandings we are capable of growing and changing as persons in fruitful and fulfilling directions with others. To the degree that we engage largely with others under the Psychology of Manipulations we are bereft of the opportunities for making any relevant changes in ourselves as social and private beings.




From Kelly’s point of view, whatever is good practice for general human relating is, reflexively, good also for whatever happens between people who are engaged in the activity of changing problematic issues and experiences in human living - this means the relationship between the ‘therapist’ and the ‘complainant’.

So whatever happens in relation to the generation of change in human living generally [in human relationships; human experiences] must also happen within the relationship which exists between the Personal Construct Psychologist and the Personal-Complainant.


3.2. The Role of the Therapist  - Not Exploitation / Not Unctiousness

In discussing the therapy process as a ‘cooperative venture’ Kelly insists that it is not correct to take a manipulative or ‘exploitative’ attitude to the client.

"There is a difference between exploitation and doing something unconventional in psychotherapy. Two considerations underlie this difference: first, the client has to be a participant in the experimental venture. He should himself be looking for new solutions emerging out of the experience and just as ready as the therapist to accept disconfirming evidence. What is proposed to him as an interpretation should always be in the form of a hypothesis, not in the form of a natural truth exempt from any human appraisal. In other words, it should be clear that the psychologist is his fellow experimenter, not an unctuous priest. ...Second, both of them should keep themselves, moment by moment, as sensitive as possible to what emerges from the undertaking; no waiting for fifty cases to accumulate before concluding that your method has brought half of them to the brink of suicide. ... [Kelly in Maher, p.53]

Furthermore -

"The personal construct theorist who serves in the psychotherapeutic capacity does not consider his objective the production of certain classes of behavior. He is concerned, rather, with the constructions that man, including himself and his patient, places upon the world and how these constructions are tested out. For him, behavior is not the answer, it is the principle way in which man may inquire into the validity of his constructions. ...

And in this theory, then, the task of the therapist is to join with his client in exploring, by the only means available to man - by behavior - the implications of the constructions he has devised for understanding reality. From this point of view therapy becomes an experimental process in which constructions are devised or delineated and are then tested out. ... Moreover, the answers at which they arrive during the course of formal therapy are never the final answers. What, hopefully, the therapy has demonstrated is a way of getting on with one’s life, not an answer to the question ‘how shall I behave?’. "


3.3. ‘Transfers’ and Other Sticky Labels

One of the first issues to understand from the PCP point of view is that of ‘transference’. From Kelly’s approach to this we can see that what clients do with therapists in the rarefied atmosphere of the therapeutic conversations ( that is, engage in a ‘transference relationship) is no different to what each of us does in the non-rarefied interrelationships which we engage in everyday - including in this congress right here and right now.

"...transference of one sort or another is the only device by which one may approach a stranger. This is to say that constructs must be employed which were originally devised for dealing with others, and it is to be anticipated that they will, at best, be an imperfect fit. But how else can we start? ..

Transference becomes a problem in psychotherapy, however, when a person keeps imposing the same transferred construction upon his therapist and is unable to make anything of the disconfirming evidence that is elicited by his behavioral questions. The problem of transference not that a person construes his therapist in terms of transferred constructions, but that he is unable to complete the experiential cycle and devise new constructions so as to get on with his interpersonal relationships with the psychotherapist and others." [Kelly in Maher, p.222]


3.4. Conversing Within the Psychology of Understandings -

Mutual Changes in an Ethical Drift

The relationship between the PCPist and the Change-Seeker is marked most of all by its character of constructivist ethics which include the following features:-

1 The need for Participative Equality in relationships

2. The need for Reciprocal Respect in relationships

3 The use of the Hypothetical Mode

4 The notion that ‘Anything said can be reConstrued’

5 The notion that ‘No One can know the WHOLE story’

6 The need for Self-Observing Reflexivity

7 The notion that ‘Instructional Interactions do NOT exist’

Each of these general constructivist principles can be read as having a Doubled Directionality for psychotherapy when interpreted under the two superordinate principles of ‘Creativity’ and ‘Responsibility’ as outlined earlier. In the following Figure we look at what some of the general principles mean in relation to the injunctions to be both Creative and Responsible in the process of psychotherapy as an Ethical undertaking.





1 The need for Participative Equality in relationships

1 We are BOTH responsible for what we do together in therapy

1 We must BOTH be inventive, stir up Novelty, be Innovative.
2. The need for Reciprocal Respect in relationships 2 We listen with Respect to one another especially when we do NOT agree 2 Positive Respect for the Creative efforts of the other [great or small]
3 The use of the Hypothetical Mode 3 We take Responsibility to formulate what we Affirm & Deny as a Hypothesis 3 There are no limits to the Type & Number of Hypotheses to be proposed

4 Anything said can be reConstrued

4 Take responsibility for whatever we SAY as a construction of MINE 4 No limits to one’s imaginative reInterpretations which transform ‘facts’
5 No One can know the WHOLE story 5 To contextualise MY STORY description in relation to all OTHER versions / viewpoints 5 Free to reView the ‘old story’ and reWrite it from new vantage points
6 The need for Self-Observing Reflexivity

6 To be sensitive to how my Subjectivity operates to materialise the ‘troubled story’

6 Make efforts to Creatively Alter one’s own ‘subjective being someOne’

7 Instructional Interactions do NOT exist

7 Take responsibility for our own learning, changing, knowing, and living.

7 Creative Self-Other transformations alter our being-in-the-world.


Kelly has emphasised the change process as a creative undertaking. For example in this quote where he says -

"We have ruled out the notion of psychotherapy as the confrontation of the client with stark reality, whether it is put to him in the form of dogma, natural science, or the surges of his own feelings. Instead, we see him approaching reality in the same ways that all of us have to approach it if we are to get anywhere....the client needs to assume that something can be created that is not already known or is not already there.

In this undertaking the fortunate client has a partner, the psychotherapist. But the psychotherapist does not know the final answer either - so they face the problem together. Under the circumstances there is nothing for them to do except for both to inquire and both to risk occasional mistakes [Investment]. So that it can be a genuinely cooperative effort, each must try to understand what the other is proposing and each must do what he can to help the other understand what he himself is ready to try next. They formulate their hypotheses jointly [Anticipation]. They even experiment jointly and upon each other [Encounter]. Together they take stock of outcomes [InValidations] and revise their common hunches [ReVision]. Neither is the boss, nor are they merely well-bred neighbours who keep their distance from unpleasant affairs. It is, as far as they are able to make it so, a partnership. " [Kelly, p.228 - 9]

Embedded in this quote we have the elements of the full Cycle of Experience which is a process with 5 distinct phases to it all of which together are necessary for the creative production of new experiences, new learning, new knowing and new ways of living together.

1. They Formulate their Hypotheses Jointly = ANTICIPATION

2. Both Inquire & Risk Occasional Mistakes = INVESTMENT

3. They even Experiment Jointly and upon Each Other = ENCOUNTER

4. Together they take stock of Outcomes = IN - VALIDATIONS

5. They Revise their common hunches = REVISIONS

6. And they produce NEW ANTICIPATIONS


3.5. Maintaining Relevance in a Universe of Change

Living well in a changing world requires that we are able to prepare ourselves for periods of Transition and for the recurrent experiences of Anxiety, Fear, and Threat. Only a sincere and courageous preparation can put us in a position to personally learn from the difficult experiences of Transition. Unfortunately, we spend a considerable amount of our time in preparing to evade or entirely pre-empt such Transitional opportunities from arising.

Courageous Self-Preparation is to put yourself in the way of change perturbations, while Preparations for Evasiveness is to put yourself out of the way of change perturbations. In the first case we are getting ready to welcome change, in the second case we are getting ready to ‘turn off change’.

From what we have said in this presentation so far it is by now clear that the Psychology of Understandings is a way of getting ready for personal transitions and change, while the Psychology of Manipulations is a way of getting ready to ‘turn off personal change’ in self and others.

Kelly again -

"What I am saying is that it is not so much what man is that counts as it is what he ventures to make of himself. To make the leap he must do more than disclose himself; he must risk a certain amount of confusion. Then, as soon as he does catch a glimpse of a different kind of life, he needs to find some way of overcoming the paralyzing moment of threat, for this is the instant when he wonders what he really is - whether he is what he just was or is what he is about to be. "

Whether we are in the habit of making the appropriate personal readiness for Transitions or we are in the habit of being ‘ready to evade’ such Transitions tends to lead us into two separate pathways of living. At each point in our personal unfoldings this represents a crucial choice for our selves and for the others in our living.


PART 4 - THE PARTING WAVE : -The Ethical Choice

4.1. Living the Constructivist Outlook / Ethic

The Therapy relationship must therefore be marked with the capacity to prepare the change-seeker for entry into the domain of transitional events, to enter into the domain of confusion and dis-orientation. Obviously, this is not an entirely new prospect for the person, since many people enter therapy exactly for the reasons that they either

[a] feel they are already arriving to a large transitional experience for which they are poorly prepared - but which is at this point unavoidable, or

[b] they feel that they are seriously blocked and paralysed from going forward from their living in an experience that is entirely certain [and deadening] into some new possibility for living in a different manner, in a different pattern of relationships.

This preparation for change is not something that can be achieved by teaching the client ‘new tricks’, or otherwise operating within a formula of Manipulations. According to the PCP outlook this can only be obtained within a Psychology of Understandings as outlined in this paper. This means that in order to become a therapist it is necessary to undergo a learning process exactly analogous to that which one expects the clients to undergo - that is a psychotherapy training experience oriented towards personal Creativity and Responsibility as we have defined these terms earlier. It is not enough for the training therapist to learn a lot about new therapy ‘tricks’ with which they can get their clients to ‘jump through the required hoops’, rather it is a learning process marked by a personal change in all of the 7 Principles outlined previously.



As a concluding observation we wish to quote Kelly once again where he notes -

‘The therapist should do his best to prepare himself for the kind of responsibility he carries. This... means training himself as a scientist, not merely as a practitioner. It seems to me that the extensive training of therapists in theory and technique only, and failing to demonstrate scientific methodology as an actual interview-room procedure, is itself unethical. Only as the therapist approaches his client’s problem as a scientist, and invites his client to do the same to the limit of his ability, can he avoid the tyranny of dogmatism and the professional exploitation of his clients.

...a lot of the most prestigious preparation today seems to me to unfit the therapist for joining his client in a truly sensitive and humble exploration of the world. Too often the training substitutes doctrine for inquiry; it makes the therapist feel respectable rather than responsible - and there is a lot of difference between the two.’



All the Kelly quotations are taken from the text edited by Maher and published as ‘Clinical Psychology & Personality: The Selected Papers of George Kelly. Wiley: New York.

Edward Herman & Noam Chomsky [1994]. Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media. Vintage:London.

Scott Sleek [1985]. ‘Consumerism can spoil the good life’. APA Monitor, July 1995, Vol. 26, No. 7, pp.9 - 10.


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