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Page 2

The Essential Practitioner’s Handbook of Personal
Construct Psychology

Page 154



Who has What Problem?

Kelly eventually recognized that the complaint about a child which led to a refer-
ral arose from the teacher’s construction of the child’s behaviour. Different teachers
may indeed vary in the extent to which they see the same child as a problem. It is
worth a thought that, on occasion, a child’s ‘problem behaviour’ may be indeed a
solution, albeit inadequate, to some underlying issue in relation to that specific

This needs to be taken forward. When a child presents ‘difficulties’ to a teacher
there may well be grumbles in the staff room and, perhaps, some invalidation of
the teacher’s peripheral ‘self-constructs’. By contrast, ‘problems’ which lead to
a referral may represent challenges to a teacher’s ‘professional core constructs’.
These latter problems can be seen as four-fold:

1. This child’s behaviour/failings is a challenge to my professional understanding.
2. Whatever I do with this child makes no difference. My professional competence

is at stake.
3. In my view this child has ‘special needs’ and it is not my job to deal with such

4. This child is a ‘problem’ but I have been able to cope. I don’t want the next

teacher to blame me for not referring.

The importance of this analysis lies in the fact that the referral of a child represents
double problems, problems separately to both teacher and child. An investigation
of the child should hopefully lead to some understanding of his or her putative
underlying problem and, sharing that with the teacher, should lead to an enlarge-
ment and simultaneous validation of the teacher’s professional ‘sense of self’.

The aim of an interview with the child is not specifically to investigate the valid-
ity of teacher’s complaint since that is his or her construction of events. In fact the
first part of the intervention needs to be a preliminary discussion at the school in
order to find out what the complaint is all about. That means going beyond obvious
generalities to a more precise statement of the troubling happenings.


Language in the Interview

The myth of the two-faced Janus provides a suitable metaphor for the nature of
language. Language, at one and the same time points in contrasting directions. In
one it points to ‘commonality’, to commonly accepted or dictionary meanings. In
the other it points to ‘individuality’, to that which is personal and experientially
based. Whereas in ordinary discourse we can get by with an assumption of
‘commonality’, the acceptance of such an assumption between interviewer and
interviewee may lead to serious misunderstandings.

Page 155

It is a part of the function of language in the interview to go beyond assumed
‘commonalities’ of meanings by seeking their ‘individuality’ aspects and this is done
through the elaborative exploration of ‘obvious’ answers. In this way new ‘com-
monalities’ or shared meanings may be developed between interviewer and inter-
viewee. This argument is reflected in the style and structure of the interview.


The first part of the interview with the child involves getting his or her view of ‘what
it is all about’. Children have not asked for an interview so why has he or she been
taken out of class to see this strange person? They seldom know, hence ‘your teacher
is worried about you, do you know why’? ‘I’m not learning’, ‘I don’t behave myself’,
‘I don’t get on with other children’, ‘I don’t get on well with teacher’ and so forth.
It is useful then to say, ‘I like to explore with children how they see themselves and
their world. In that way they can sometimes then understand themselves better and
in the outcome that can help teachers to understand them better too.’

The second part of the interview involves the exploration with the child of his or
her ways of making sense of ‘themselves and their circumstances’. Since this explo-
ration needs to be methodical it involves using a range of interviewing techniques.
It is important not to rely on words alone but also to use pictures and a child’s draw-
ings in order to elicit matters which are not so easily verbalized. This may then
suggest underlying issues which make the child and the behaviour potentially more

The third part of the interview will be ‘reconstructive’. It will attempt to create,
out of the substance of the preceding part of the interview, alternative views of the
‘child’s sense of self and circumstances’. That can be communicated to the child, not
as a prescription, but merely as a different way of seeing things, as an extension
of potential awareness. Occasionally, in the light of this alternative view, a child
may indeed be invited to experiment, for a limited time only, with some change of
habitual behaviour.

A caution surrounds the use of the motivational ‘Why?’ When adults ask the ques-
tion of a child it is usually perceived in a threatening or accusative way, implying
that the child is somehow ‘in the wrong’ or ‘ought to know’. And if the child says
‘Don’t know’ is he or she then guilty of prevarication? The use of ‘Why?’, therefore,
is usually ambiguous and is not necessarily motivational. How much less threaten-
ing it is to ask quite simply ‘How come?’ The interview with the child, however, is
not the end of the matter. The teacher’s problem, given shape by the ‘complaint’,
will be considered later.

Once we are in the business of asking questions in the interview, my observations
on the Janus nature of language require that we become circumspect in accepting
answers at their face value. At the back of the interviewer’s mind the following
further elaborative explorations have been found helpful as ways for clarifying
meanings and arriving at understanding.

1. What, at the same time, is being denied. This is in line with Kelly’s bipolarity
principle and is fertile in illuminating meaningfully the original statement,


Page 308

methodological distinctiveness 12–13
multiple 73–4
nurses 176
opportunistic coaching 35–6
psychometric issues 74–5
relating elements to constructs 70
sampling 70
in sport psychology 187
teachers 199–200
team development 34–5, 47
thought process disorder 96, 97
Threat Index 47–8
traumatic loss 239–40

research–theory relation see theories,
research and practice and

risk, organizational change 220
rivers of experience 64, 201
role playing 119, 120
rotating dyads 241–2
rules of behaviour 90–1, 92–3

schizophrenia 95–7, 129
school setting, therapy in 133–43
Science, thought–feeling dichotomy 28
scientists, individuals as 90, 93–4, 204, 252

guilt 25–6
Multiple Self-Awareness Groups 242
personal construct therapy and 116
repertory grids 72

self-characterization 13, 57, 118
fixed role therapy 120

self-characterization sketches 59–60
self-description grid 138–40
self-esteem, measurement 56
Self-Image Profile 56
self-narrative, traumatic loss 239
self-organized learners 196
self–other constancy 154
self-regulating Earth 251–2
serial validation, thought process disorder

97, 129
sexual abuse survivors see abuse survivors
Shakespeare, literary criticism 246–7
single-loop learning 207, 210, 211
singular-value-decomposition 72–3
situation–resource (dependency) grids 74,

78, 79–84
skills for practitioners 41–5, 117, 237,

see also laddering

snakes, career 63–4
see also rivers of experience

social change, work change as 208
social constructionism 180
sociality, anger and 158, 160

Sociality Corollary
definition 253
stuttering 98
subsuming 42
teaching 197

sport psychology 185–7
stereotyping, constellatory construing 78–9,

stimulus response psychology 22, 110, 111
story-telling 143

mutual 140–1
teacher education 200–1
see also narrative therapy

strategic change 216
structured interviews, laddering 49
stutterers and stuttering

evidence base for therapy 128–9
laddering 49–51, 53
narrative therapy 100–1
theory–research–practice relation 98–101,

substance abuse 129, 238–9
subsuming a client’s construing 41–2, 43,

super-patterns 204–6, 207, 208, 210–12
suspending personal values 42

teaching and teachers 195–202
referral of children 134, 135, 136, 141–2

team development 34–5, 36
exchange grid 47
illuminative incident analysis 61–2

temporal flow 248–9
temporal projection problem 189–90

definition 29
personal construct theory see personal

construct theory
research and practice and 95–106

choosing not to change 102–5
organizational change 206–7
relapse 100, 105
resisting change 102, 105–6
stuttering 98–101, 103–4
thought process disorder 95–7
weight disorders 101–2

uses of 29–30, 37–8
therapeutic enactment (TE) 243
therapists see personal construct

therapy see personal construct

psychotherapy and counselling
thought–feeling dichotomy 15–28

emotions in personal construct theory

limitations of 17–18


Page 309

in literature 16
personal test 26–7
transition constructs 21–6, 27

aggression 21, 22, 24–5
anxiety 21, 22–3
guilt 21, 25–6
hostility 21–2, 23–4

uses of 16–17
words 26

thought process disorder 95–7, 129

in change 103–4
constructive revision 119, 120
definition 255

Threat Index 47–8
tight construing and tightening 118–20

aggression 25
choosing not to change 103
definition 255

time dimension 248–9
tools for practitioners 41, 45–56,

see also elicitation of constructs;

repertory grids
training, organizational groups 35

see also education
trait psychology 22
transference 117

case examples of 218–21
characteristics of 215–16
constructs relating to 21–6, 103–5, 219
coping with 217–18
definition of terms 255
processes to aid 218

transitive diagnosis 117–18
translating language 145–52

loss 239–40
post-traumatic stress 129, 163–71
therapeutic enactment 243

treatment, Kelly on 109–12
see also personal construct psychotherapy

and counselling
Turing test 88

unconscious the 11
undispersed dependency 77, 78, 81–5

Vaihinger, Hans 7

post-traumatic stress 165
thought process disorder 97, 129

clarifying corporate 223–31
implementation in practice 229–30
suspending personal 42

verbal skills 45
Viney Content Analysis Scales 56

culture and 156
gender and 155
post-traumatic stress 169–70
regnancy 157

war veterans
therapeutic enactment 243
trauma reliving 169–70

WebGrid 93
weight disorders 101–2, 129
words, thought–feeling dichotomy 26
work contexts 30–8

across Europe 145–52
bullying 31–2
change ‘burnout’ 217
charting change 213–21
choosing not to change 102–3
clarifying corporate values 223–31
coaching 35–6
core construing 102–3
counselling 35–6
diagnostic research method 30–1, 32
equality 213–21
family capitalism, shift from 223–31
functional processes 33–5
group mind 203–12
historians 247–8
integrity 30
interpersonal relationships 36
knowledge management 32–3, 215
literary critics 246–7
management processes 33
managerial capitalism, shift to 223–31
mentoring 36–7
musicians 245–6
non-decisions 215
nursing 173–6
organization structure 33
police forces 181–4, 218, 219, 220–1
strategic change 216
super-patterns 204–6, 207, 208, 210–

teachers 195–202
team development 34–5, 36, 47, 61–2

youth, thought–feeling dichotomy 28


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